washingtonpost.com
Bush's Third Climate-Change Fake-Out

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, April 16, 2008 11:38 AM

Taking a brief break from all the papal pomp, President Bush today rolls out yet another wave of climate-change flim-flam.

It took so long for Bush to even acknowledge the human role in global warming that whenever he even mentions the topic, some people act like it's big news.

But in an era where a consensus has emerged that forceful action is required to save the planet, Bush's essentially empty words are not very different from silence. And to the extent that their intent is to subvert sincere attempts to find solutions, they're actually worse.

Bush's trick on climate change is to wait until others are about to embrace mandatory limits on greenhouse gases, then make a major speech about goals and process, without any specifics on measures or penalties.

His planned speech this afternoon recalls his two earlier attempts to muddy the debate and buy time.

I chronicled his first such effort in my June 1, 2006, column, Bush's Climate-Change Feint. In a clear move to derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions, Bush proposed a new round of international meetings that would take up most of the rest of his presidency. The purpose of the meetings, he said, would not be to write rules, but to establish what the White House, in breathtaking new euphemism, called "aspirational goals."

Andrew Gumbel of the Independent offered an instant "translation" of Bush's basic message: "In recent years, my refusal to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of global warming has turned me into a laughing-stock and contributed to my record low poll ratings. So now I have to look interested."

The BBC reported: "Mr Bush's statement has caught the media's attention, but - so far - lacks the detail needed to assess whether the proposal marks a change of heart in the White House over the need for globally binding emission targets."

In my Oct. 1, 2007, column, Bush's Climate Charade, I wrote about Bush's second effort, at a climate-change conference in Washington. While his speech superficially gave the appearance of favoring a global reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, he once again embraced unspecific goals and voluntary compliance that left other nations and serious advocates unmoved.

Today's Speech

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush will endorse an 'intermediate goal' today for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but he will not put forward any specific legislation or proposal on how the goal should be met, White House officials said. . . .

"'The president will announce tomorrow an intermediate goal that will lead to a long-term goal' through ongoing negotiations on global climate change, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. . . .

"In an afternoon address in the Rose Garden, Bush will also reiterate his long-standing opposition to mandatory emissions regulations without simultaneous agreements from large developing nations such as India and China, officials said. . . .

"Bush's announcement appears unlikely to contain much in the way of new proposals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to environmental advocates and industry representatives."

James Gerstenzang writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush, who has been criticized for inaction on what is widely seen as one of the most crucial issues facing the world, is seeking to set the boundaries for a debate occurring across multiple fronts, and which threatens to spiral beyond the administration's control."

H. Josef Hebert and Deb Riechmann write for the Associated Press: "The new goal for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions is an attempt to short-circuit what White House aides call a potential regulatory 'train wreck' if Congress doesn't act on climate change. The president's speech is aimed at shaping the debate on global warming in favor of solving the problem while avoiding heavy costs to industry and the economy. . . .

"Senate Democratic leaders plan to begin debate in June on legislation that would cap greenhouse gases and allow polluters to ease some of the cost by buying emissions credits. This cap-and-trade approach is aimed at cutting the emissions by 70 percent by mid-century. The House also is moving toward considering a cap-and-trade proposal. And many industry lobbyists have become resigned to some type of cap-and-trade proposal moving forward, if not this year probably next, and are trying to find ways to limit the damage. . . .

"The Environmental Protection Agency already is under orders from the Supreme Court to determine whether carbon dioxide is endangering public health or welfare. If so, the court said, the EPA must regulate CO2 emissions.

"Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas, so named because its accumulation in the atmosphere can help trap heat from the sun, causing potentially dangerous warming of the planet.

"At the same time, the Interior Department has been told by another court to decide whether the polar bear should be brought under the protection of the Endangered Species Act because of disappearing sea ice -- a phenomenon blamed by scientists on global warming."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino "says the administration is concerned about a potential regulatory 'train wreck' as a result of climate-related court rulings.

"'Recent court decisions hold the very real prospect that the federal government will regulate greenhouse gas emissions with or without a new law being passed,' Perino said. 'To us, having unelected bureaucrats regulating greenhouse gases at the direction of unelected judges is not the proper way to address the issue.'"

Holly Rosenkrantz of Bloomberg quotes people on both sides of the issue who agree on one thing: "'I think it's a mistake to view what's under discussion as an abrupt shift,' Jeffrey Holmstead, [Bush's] former top official on climate change at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said in a phone interview yesterday.

"'After seven and a half years of being the major roadblock to global warming solutions, it's hard to imagine President Bush will reverse course,' said Daniel Weiss, climate strategy director at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress."

Weiss was also quoted in The Post as saying: "It's just another way of Bush saying no."

So what, if anything, is Bush saying that's different today?

Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times that Bush "until now has fought new congressional mandates on carbon emissions" and is now telling Congress "to pass a bill that won't harm the economy and that includes a mechanism to make sure international economic competitors don't gain an advantage."

Dinan also describes some last-minute watering-down of Bush's proposal: "One person briefed on White House deliberations said a cap-and-trade program for electric utilities was dropped from the package yesterday, after the White House was flooded with complaints from industry officials and lobbyists.

"'It got pulled out. It happened somewhere between this morning and five o'clock,' said the person, who said the Bush announcement still marks a significant departure from its policy for the last seven years."

And here's the story the White House chose to feature in its daily e-mail blast.

John D. McKinnon and Stephen Power write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "In a significant shift on global warming, President Bush will propose stopping growth in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025 and signal that he is open to lawmakers reining in pollution from power companies.

"The stance . . . indicates Mr. Bush's willingness to grapple with the growing legislative debate over global warming. It marks an acknowledgment by the Bush administration that the U.S. likely will adopt some sort of broad new legal system to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in coming years. Mr. Bush has opposed comprehensive legislation to curb emissions. . . .

"In the most specific part of his speech, Mr. Bush will carve out a more ambitious goal for power generators, source of about 40% of U.S. emissions. He will call for a halt in the growth of greenhouse gases from electric power plants within 10 to 15 years. . . .

"The White House wants to shift financial incentives to favor emissions-reducing energy sources, such as nuclear power and renewable fuels, in part to boost U.S. manufacturing. . . .

"He will make the case that elected lawmakers, not bureaucrats, should decide how to reshape the regulatory framework.

"He will also argue against legislation that raises taxes or makes demands that are technologically unattainable and could hurt the economy, such as by raising fuel costs. He will call for more emphasis on new technology rather than raising the price of old technology."

The President and the Pope

Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein write in The Washington Post about how Bush, the first lady and their daughter Jenna greeted Pope Benedict XVI at Andrews Air Force Base yesterday, in "a special show of deference" for the Catholic leader who is "bringing his hopes for a religious revival to this country. . . .

"It is the first time he has personally greeted a visiting head of state upon arrival in the United States. . . .

"Benedict's visit will be limited geographically but will embrace a range of issues, including the Iraq war, immigration, the sex-abuse scandal and the state of Catholic education in the United States, through 11 public addresses and a private meeting with Bush at the White House today. His overall agenda for the trip, as he laid it out to journalists on his plane, dubbed Shepherd One, is to bring encouragement and attention to the struggles of the U.S. Catholic Church, to immigrants and their families and to what he sees as the religious foundation of human rights.

"On the issue of immigration in the United States, Benedict said he considered the separation of families to be the most serious aspect. 'And this really is dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric,' he said."

Cokie Roberts was invited to ride in the Bush limousine from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base. She reports for ABC News: "The president said that he doesn't expect to be lectured on Iraq. The pope, he knows, disapproved of military action but that he now thinks that a precipitous drawdown of troops in Iraq would be dangerous to the Christian community in Iraq. . . .

"The president said he shares many of the same beliefs as the pope. The thing he likes about the pope is that he speaks with moral clarity about certain truths and that he does not believe in moral relativism."

AFP reports: "Pope Benedict XVI was expected Wednesday to raise sensitive issues such as the Iraq war and Hispanic immigration when he meets with President George W. Bush on the second day of a US visit that began under the cloud of a clergy sex scandal. . . .

"The United States must do 'everything possible to fight ... all forms of violence so that immigrants may lead dignified lives,' the pope said in response to a reporter's question about whether he would address the issue of Latin American immigrants with the US leader. . . .

"Benedict said in his Easter message last year that 'nothing good comes out of Iraq' and more recently lamented the 'grim sound of arms' in the world's conflict zones, in particular 'Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land.' . . .

"While Benedict XVI condemns terrorism, he does not approve some means used by Washington to combat it, including hardline CIA interrogation methods such as waterboarding, which Bush has defended as necessary to effectively interrogate terrorists.

"'The Catholic Church condemns use of torture as a means of getting the truth,' said in 2005 Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"'Torture is a humiliation of a human being, and, therefore, the church does not accept it.'"

Jennifer Parker and Bill Blakemore write for ABC News: "While Bush and Benedict generally agree on their opposition to abortion rights, gay marriage and stem cell research, there are far more areas where they disagree.

"'There are many areas in terms of international relations where the pope and the president are not on the same page,' Reese said. 'It's true that they both oppose abortion, but once you get off that topic, they're pretty much in different places.'

"The Vatican has spoken out against the death penalty, which Bush supports, and has called the U.S. embargo against Cuba 'immoral.' Benedict and Bush also disagree about the urgency of environmental issues, especially the dangers of global warming, and how much government support the poor should receive.

"'The pope is also much more supportive of multinational institutions, [such as] the U.N.,' Reese said. ' He doesn't think that individual nations should just try to exercise their power independent of what the rest of the world is doing.'"

And yet it was clear at yesterday's press briefing that there would be no public ugliness today.

Q: "Last year in his Easter message, the Pope said, 'Nothing positive comes from Iraq.' How does the President speak to the Holy Father about that subject?"

Perino: "Well, they have a relationship that is based on trust and they are able to have frank conversations. I will say that while Iraq has come up in the past when the President has talked to the Pope, as I understand it, they're not prolonged conversations about it. Obviously there was a difference of opinion back in 2003 and beyond, in subsequent years. But now I think that there is an understanding that with the strategy that's working in Iraq right now, the most important thing we can do is help to solidify the situation, root it into freedom and democracy so that people of religious minorities -- I'm sorry, people of a religious faith who are minorities in their countries can practice freely and be free from persecution. And that is something that they share. I expect them to touch on that a little bit."

At today's massive public welcome at the White House, Bush used the pope's presence to make a pitch against abortion -- "we need your message that all human life is sacred" -- and moral relativism: "In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism."

For his part, Benedict didn't mention Iraq by name. But it will take someone more expert in papal parsing than me to know whether some of Benedict's public comments were meant as an endorsement or scolding of Bush.

"Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation," he said.

The pope also said: "America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes. I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress. In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish -- a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced."

Iraq Watch

Ernesto LondoƱo writes in The Washington Post: "Two bombings killed nearly 60 people Tuesday in parts of Iraq where U.S. and Iraqi forces have claimed significant success in combating Sunni insurgent groups."

Kim Gamel writes for the Associated Press: "The bloodshed -- in four cities as far north as Mosul and as far west as Ramadi -- struck directly at U.S. claims that the Sunni insurgency is waning and being replaced by Shiite militia violence as a major threat."

Alissa J. Rubin writes in the New York Times that the violence was "a stark reminder that American and Iraqi forces are still fighting a war on two fronts.

"While the militaries battle Shiite militias in the south and in Baghdad, the two deadliest attacks on Tuesday occurred in cities to the north and west that American forces say they had largely taken back from Sunni insurgents."

Raviya H. Ismail and Nancy A. Youssef write for McClatchy Newspapers: "A spate of explosions across Iraq killed at least 60 people Tuesday and resurrected fears that the security gains that the U.S. has been touting are now unraveling."

And Michael R. Gordon writes in the New York Times: "A company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions on Tuesday night in Sadr City, defying American soldiers who implored them to hold the line against Shiite militias."

John Diamond writes in a USA Today op-ed that "at some point in the not-too-distant future our massive and unsustainable troop presence of 160,000 will be drawn down. Whatever military planning might be going on about how to withdraw, about what reduced level of force will ensure the Iraqi government's survival, and about how Iraqi insurgents might react, that planning is not being discussed openly with the Congress and the American public.

"It should be.

"Though secrecy in contingency planning is a military axiom, excluding the public from the entire process of looking ahead and testing the possible results of various changes in U.S. military posture amounts to a repetition of the mistake that has cost us so dearly."

For instance, Diamond writes: "There seems to be an assumption that if we draw down to a level of, say, 40,000 troops -- slightly larger than the contingent we maintained in South Korea for many years -- chaos and civil war would erupt and that we would be powerless to stop it. We must test that assumption thoroughly, the core issue being: Will the resulting chaos be substantially worse than the violence we see in Iraq today, and will the elected Iraqi government be able to survive?"

Bush's Intentional Deception

Phil Carter blogs on washingtonpost.com about Bush's interview last week with ABC's Martha Raddatz, in which Bush said he was worried in 2006 that the United States would fail in Iraq but stated publicly at the time that it was winning because he needed to maintain morale.

Carter writes: "I was in Iraq during this time in 2006. I remember well how the violence spiraled out of control after the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. How every single indicator pointed in the direction of doom; how all our advisory efforts seemed to produce little to no security improvement; how we felt like spectators watching a civil war engulf Iraq, with too few troops to make a difference, and no political direction to do so.

"All through this period, I remember the president, his senior aides and senior military commanders toeing the party line that things were going swimmingly. The dissonance between the rhetoric from Washington and our experience in Iraq was stark. We knew the ground truth. Being deceived by our senior political leaders certainly didn't change that, nor did it help morale at all. If anything, it hurt morale by undermining confidence in the chain of command. Put bluntly, if you can't trust your generals and political leaders to tell you and your families the truth, how can you trust them at all?

"It's disappointing to hear now, two years after the fact, that the president was knowingly bull----ing us the whole time. And that he justified such dishonesty in the name of supporting the troops and protecting their morale. That's an insult to America's men and women in uniform (and their families), who deserve to be told the truth by their political leaders about what's going on. It's also an insult to us, as voters, who deserve the truth so we can make the right decisions in the voting booth."

Iran Watch

Patrick J. Buchanan writes in his syndicated opinion column: "[B]e not surprised if President Bush appears before the TV cameras, one day soon, to declare: 'My commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, has told me that Iran, with the knowledge of Ahmadinejad, has become a privileged sanctuary for two terrorist organizations - Hezbollah and the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard - to train, arm and direct terrorist attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, despite repeated promises to halt this murderous practice.

"'I have therefore directed U.S. air and naval forces to begin air strikes on these base camps of terror. Our attacks will continue until the Iranian attacks cease.'

"Because of the failures of a Democratic Congress elected to end the war, Bush can now make a compelling case that he would be acting fully within his authority as commander in chief. . . .

"This is Bush's last chance to strike and, when Iran responds, to effect its nuclear castration. Are Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney likely to pass up this last chance to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and effect the election of John McCain? For any attack on Iran's 'terrorist bases' would rally the GOP and drive a wedge between Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton."

Cheney's People

Christopher Dickey writes in Newsweek: "Scott Atran is an anthropologist who studies the kids who keep Al Qaeda and its spinoffs going. They're young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005 and hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006.

"Atran has looked at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them. And he's reached an unconventional but, to me, convincing conclusion: what has inspired the 'new wave' terrorists since 2001 is not so much the Qur'an as what Atran calls 'jihadi cool.' If you can discredit these kids' idols (most notably Osama bin Laden), give them new ones and reframe the way their families and friends see the United States and its allies, then you've got a good shot at killing the fad for terror and stopping the jihad altogether.

"For Atran, a senior fellow at the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, this is pretty much Public Diplomacy 101. But he's found that the battle of ideas is not just hard to win in the field, it's a very tough slog at home. In Washington last year he was briefing White House staffers on his findings when a young woman who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney said in the sternest tough-guy voice she could muster, 'Don't these young people realize that the decisions they make are their responsibility, and that if they choose violence against us, we're going to bomb them?'

"Atran was dumbfounded. 'Bomb them?' he asked. 'In Madrid? In London?'"

Cheney Off the Hook -- For Now

DeeDee Correll writes in the Los Angeles Times from Denver: "Vice President Dick Cheney does not have to testify as an eyewitness in a civil lawsuit filed against Secret Service agents by a man who says he was wrongfully arrested for criticizing the vice president -- at least not yet, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer ruled Tuesday.

"The judge, who issued a written decision, left open the possibility that he may change his mind if Steven Howards can prove that Cheney has information that others can't provide about the 2006 encounter in the Colorado ski resort town of Beaver Creek.

"Howards, a 55-year-old environmental consultant, said that he had approached Cheney while the vice president was on a walk in town and told him: 'Your policies in Iraq are disgusting.'

"Howards said he also had lightly touched Cheney on the shoulder, then walked away. A Secret Service agent later caught up to Howards and arrested him on suspicion of assault."

Jon Stewart Watch

Dubbing the White House the "House of Pain," Jon Stewart shows clips from a recent ABC News report on the White House torture meetings, and explains: "[T]he story is that the highest levels of this administration not only knew of these techniques and condoned them, but actively managed the interrogations."

Guest Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, tells Stewart: "I'm sure that none of them were happy about discussing what they were discussing."

Stewart scoffs at Goldsmith's defense: "But isn't that saying: We will abide by the rules, unless we're in trouble? Isn't that -- when you talk about human rights and those types of things, you don't talk as though we will honor these human rights unless we feel a certain fragility of our own safety. The whole point of being founded on that bedrock -- you know, the Constitution -- is that it exists in tough times. It's what we cling to in tough times."

To which Goldsmith replies: "If you're in that situation . . . you have an intense responsibility to keep people safe."

In part two of his interview with Goldsmith, Stewart says: "My position is: Free societies are not safe -- and that's the price you pay for your freedom. And you can't have it both ways."

Cartoon Watch

Joel Pett on the Dubya-2 form; Dwane Powell on the White House torture chamber.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive