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Bush's Secret Iraq Deal

Olmert chimed in that he and Bush had talked about "the main threat to all of us, which is Iran."

Here's national security advisor Steven Hadley's non-denial at a press briefing yesterday: "All I can say, really, is that we've talked a lot about Iran and about the options that are available."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press that the corruption scandal engulfing Olmert "was pushed into the background" as Olmert and Bush "displayed chummy relations. . . .

"Bush warmly saluted Olmert as 'my friend' twice in less than a minute of remarks before their Oval Office talks.

"Olmert, clearly delighted to be again at the side of the U.S. president whose popularity in Israel far exceeds his own, gushed over Bush and grinned broadly at him throughout his brief statement. He effusively praised Bush's speech last month before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, widely interpreted as favoring Israelis over Palestinians in their long-running dispute, as 'the best expression of the United States commitment to the security and the well-being of the state of Israel.' He even said he admired Bush's emotions. . . .

"In a post-meeting briefing for reporters, Olmert said Iran had been the dominant subject of his discussion with Bush, reflecting a 'shared, deep understanding about the danger of the Iranian threat and the need to deal with it in a way that will bring the result we want.'"

Yes, but did he push Bush to attack?

"'Every passing day we make another real step to deal with this problem in a more effective way,' he said. 'I don't think it would be helpful if I went into detail.'"

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post that Bush held an unannounced meeting with onetime Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky.

"Sharansky's 2004 book, 'The Case for Democracy,' helped Bush shape his second-term agenda of promoting freedom abroad. Now, Sharansky is pitching a new book, 'Defending Identity,' on the connection between freedom and identity, and he received a 40-minute Oval Office audience Tuesday with Bush and his top advisers. . .

"In a telephone interview, Sharansky said he found the president in a sentimental mood, with their relaxed conversation ranging from the new book, which Bush promised to read, to the status of Bush's 'freedom agenda' and the U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. By his own description, Sharansky offered a different perspective on the peace process than the one presented to Bush by Olmert."

For instance, Sharansky "said he voiced skepticism about the future of the Annapolis peace initiative promoted by Bush and Olmert. The two leaders, he said, are returning to 'the same old failed theory' of putting faith in a Palestinian leader (Mahmoud Abbas) without real power, while not doing enough to build civil society in the Palestinian territories. 'There is no way to bring peace from top to bottom. I am very critical about it. It is ridiculous,' Sharansky said."

Speaking of Annapolis

AFP reports: "Striking a full peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year will 'require a miracle,' top Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei said in Ramallah on Wednesday.

"'No concrete progress has been made to date,' Qorei said at a meeting of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party leadership."

Another Bush Favorite

Bob Minzesheimer reviews NBC correspondent Richard Engel's new book -- War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq.

"Engel, 33, who has been reporting in the Middle East since graduating from Stanford, was in Washington last year to be on Meet the Press. With little warning, he was invited to the White House for what turned into a 90-minute candid conversation with President Bush.

"It took place without cameras, more of a two-way briefing than a journalist's interview. Engel writes that NBC's Tim Russert warned him, 'You want to make sure you stay a reporter.'

"It doesn't appear he did. That's good for the book, even if it blurs the lines between reporting and commentary.

"'You have been a war president,' Engel told the president. 'You need to become a diplomat.'

"Bush was 'much more in touch with the inner workings of Iraqi politics than I expected,' Engel observes. He also writes, 'Bush's detractors say he doesn't have an attention span. He does.'

"In the end, however, Engel concludes, Bush 'had no idea how to deal with Arabs.' . . .

"Engel's publisher says his conversation with Bush was reconstructed from memory after it happened."

In excerpts published on the Muckraked blog, Bush suggests the war on terror will take four decades: "'This is the great war of our times. It is going to take forty years,' [Bush told Engel]. 'Bush said in forty years the world would know if the war on terrorism, and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, had reduced extremism, helped moderates, and promoted democracy.'"

Incidentally, that's about double Vice President Cheney's recent estimate. At the Coast Guard Academy commencement last month, Cheney said: "I am absolutely convinced that we will succeed in the war on terror -- and I'm also convinced that it will happen on your watch." A typical Coast Guard career is about 20 years.

Also from Engel's book, via Muckraked: "Bush admits to Engel that going to war was a decision based on his personal instinct and not on any long-range strategy for the Mideast: 'I know people are saying we should have left things the way they were, but I changed after 9/11. I had to act. I don't care if it created more enemies. I had to act.' . . .

"Bush tells Engel that the election of Hamas was actually a positive development because it pressured Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to make reforms. . . .

"And he says that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is an obstacle to peace in the region: 'The problem is Olmert. This is a man who came to power on a promise that he was going to unilaterally define a Palestinian state. You can't pressure democracies.'"

GI Bill Watch

Andrew Taylor writes for the Associated Press: "After promising to veto a huge Iraq war-funding bill because it contains unrelated domestic spending, the White House now wants to boost the costs even higher by letting troops transfer ramped up GI Bill education benefits to their spouses or children.

"The White House is signaling that President Bush could sign the hotly contested and long overdue war funding bill if the benefit transferability provision is added to the 10-year, $52 billion improvement to GI Bill college benefits proposed by Democrats and many Republicans.

"'It's like the Yogi Berra story: 'I don't like that restaurant. Besides, the portions aren't large enough,'' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview. 'They don't like it, but they want more.' . . .

"The imbroglio over the GI Bill is the biggest remaining hurdle to getting Bush's pending $178 billion war funding requests enacted. He has vowed to veto any measure exceeding his request, but the new veterans program is extraordinarily popular, and a veto might be difficult to sustain. That's one reason why White House representatives are trying to negotiate a compromise."

Protest Watch

Trish Mehaffey writes for the Cedar Rapids Gazette: "A federal jury has awarded two President George W. Bush campaign rally protesters $750,000 for being illegally strip-searched at the Linn County Jail in 2004."

The Associated Press reports: "Alice McCabe and Christine Nelson had brought a civil suit related to their arrest and later strip search at the jail.

"An eight-member jury found Wednesday that the Secret Service took lawful action, but that a strip search at the Linn County Jail was not warranted because the women were being charged with a simple misdemeanor."

Now Bush Knows

In the wake of Bush's congratulatory nod to Barack Obama on clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, here's an interesting anecdote from a 2004 William Finnegan article in the New Yorker.

Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Democratic congresswoman who represents Evanston and parts of north Chicago, told Finnegan about a "visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her 'OBAMA' button. 'He jumped back, almost literally,' she said. 'And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a "b." And I explained who he was. The President said, "Well, I don't know him." So I just said, "You will."'"

The Cheney Model

John Diamond writes in a USA Today opinion piece that the first order of business for Obama, when it comes to picking a vice presidential candidate, is "to decide how much power he will confer. Will he want a vice president who operates like Cheney, who takes control of entire chunks of U.S. policymaking and functions almost as a separate White House? The answer likely is an emphatic 'no,' as you'd be hard-pressed to find any nominee -- of either party -- willing to outsource the presidency. . . .

"He must lay down a firm principle that the presidency should be run by the president, and that not just Cheney but the Cheney model is flawed."

McClellan Watch

John Young writes in a Cox News Service opinion column about Scott McClellan's first broadcast to discuss his new book on NBC's Today Show with Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer.

"[A]nyone who tuned in seeking to get a better understanding about the mind-set of the policy makers who plunged a nation into that war instead got a further glimpse into how we could be so distracted.

"For 45 minutes, Matt and Meredith probed not the thought processes and decisions of George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or Condoleezza Rice. No, Meredith and Matt probed the thought processes of -- Scott McClellan.

"Why now, Scott? What do you think the president thinks of you? Will you two guys go fishing now? Why didn't you speak up then to the president?

"Watching this, one could easily see how America would be led into a pre-emptive war based on lies. We have watchdogs like Meredith and Matt."

Cartoon Watch

Jim Morin on Bush's house of cards; John Sherffius on Bush's stamp.

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