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Bush's Mysterious Iraq Policy

AFP reports: "The White House has torn up its familiar playbook and is embracing diplomacy in addressing some of its thorniest foreign policy challenges -- among them stalemate in Iraq and Iran -- in the waning months of George W. Bush's presidency. . . .

"It was not clear however how deep the embrace of diplomacy is, or how long it will last.

"White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that little, in fact, has changed.

"'The president has always believed that we don't want American troops in Iraq one day longer than they're needed,' he said. . . .

"Meanwhile, Graham Allison, a security expert who teaches at Harvard University, suggested that the administration's recent readiness to talk could be a prelude to a return to a reliance on military solution to some of Washington's intractable foreign policy problems.

"'The hard-liners in the Bush administration, for example, will do their best to insist on unachievable objectives that will ensure failure of negotiation,' he said.

"'If talks collapse, they will be able to argue that the US went the extra mile and exhausted all reasonable alternatives' leaving the military option squarely on the table, he said."

Iran hawk Michael Rubin writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: "Diplomacy is not wrong, but President Bush's reversal is diplomatic malpractice on a Carter-esque level that is breathing new life into a failing regime."

Pardon Watch

Charlie Savage writes in the New York Times: "Felons are asking President Bush for pardons and commutations at historic levels as he nears his final months in office, a time when many other presidents have granted a flurry of clemency requests."

Savage suggests it may be an uphill battle for those seeking clemency: "Mr. Bush has made little use of his clemency powers, granting just 157 pardons and six commutations. By comparison, over eight years in office President Ronald Reagan granted clemency 409 times and Mr. Clinton 459 times. More than half of Mr. Clinton's grants came in his final three months."

But my ears really pricked up when Savage raised this question: "Will Mr. Bush grant pre-emptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs?

"Such a pardon would reduce the risk that a future administration might undertake a criminal investigation of operatives or policy makers involved in programs that administration lawyers have said were legal but that critics say violated laws regarding torture and surveillance.

"Some legal analysts said Mr. Bush might be reluctant to issue such pardons because they could be construed as an implicit admission of guilt. But several members of the conservative legal community in Washington said in interviews that they hoped Mr. Bush would issue such pardons -- whether or not anyone made a specific request for one. They said people who carried out the president's orders should not be exposed even to the risk of an investigation and expensive legal bills.

"'The president should pre-empt any long-term investigations,' said Victoria Toensing, who was a Justice Department counterterrorism official in the Reagan administration. 'If we don't protect these people who are proceeding in good faith, no one will ever take chances.'"

Bush Legacy Watch

David Lightman writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The White House wants the American public to think it's on the rebound, scoring important triumphs in Iraq and North Korea and on domestic spying while taking tough stands on oil drilling and relief for homeowners.

"The White House, the experts and the polls say, however, is wrong. President Bush hasn't begun a comeback.

"'All this is pretty much a lot of noise. He's going out with a whimper,' said Erwin Hargrove, presidential scholar at Vanderbilt University and the author of 'The Effective President.' . . .

"Analysts say that unless the president's approval rating jumps -- unlikely as long as the economy wobbles and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue -- his clout is likely to remain diminished.

"'It's not clear he's turned anything around, so the current view of him will probably endure for a while,' said Bruce Buchanan, professor of government at the University of Texas."

Matthew Benjamin and Heidi Przybyla write for Bloomberg: "When George W. Bush became president in 2001, his main goals included restoring 'honor and dignity to the White House' after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, raising school-test scores and figuring out how to spend a record budget surplus.

"The next White House occupant will inherit the deepest housing recession in a generation, growing fears of bank failures, a sinking dollar, $4 gasoline and an economy bleeding jobs. He'll confront wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mounting tensions with Iran and the U.S.'s flagging international reputation.

"Historians say the economic and foreign policy crises in Bush's wake will present either Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain with the biggest challenges to a new president since Herbert Hoover left office during the Great Depression.

"'What a burden the next president is going to confront,' says Robert Dallek, a presidential historian and biographer of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. 'It'll be like Franklin Roosevelt coming in, in 1933.' . . .

"In 2000, the last time no incumbent was running, consumer confidence was at record levels and the economy had created 1.3 million jobs in the year's first six months. In August 2000, 89 percent of Americans said the economy was doing well, according to a Los Angeles Times poll."

Pete Davis writes for (where I am deputy editor) about how Bush broke the government: "Bush and his appointees have attacked the heart and soul of agency after agency and have soured relations with both parties in Congress, almost like Lou Gehrig's disease, an autoimmune response gone awry.

"It's one thing for a presidential appointee to order a policy change. But it's quite another to ignore the law. It's quite another thing to rid the government of the people needed to make it function. It's quite another thing to flout Congress's oversight, so public opinion only focuses on governmental failure and wrongdoing well after the fact."

Eric Lotke writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "Some government regulatory agencies that we trust to protect us have shrunk to insignificance or serve private industry rather than consumers. . . .

"How many more people have to get sick before the government reclaims its mission to serve the people?"

The Bush Effect

Somini Sengupta writes in the New York Times: "A deepening friendship with the Bush administration has pushed the elected government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the brink of its own demise. Now, with a confidence vote in Parliament scheduled to begin this week, the government's scramble to stay in power and its rivals' efforts to oust it have set off an intense and often brazen round of political bargaining."

Contempt of Congress Watch

House Democrats last week announced that Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) "introduced the Special Criminal Contempt of Congress Act. The bill provides for a Special Division of the U.S. Court of Appeals to appoint an independent, 'special advocate' to investigate and prosecute alleged Contempt of Congress against current and former Executive Branch employees when the U.S. Attorney refuses to act. The bill is co-sponsored by Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, and Subcommittee Chairs Linda Sanchez and Jerrold Nadler. . . .

"'The law explicitly requires the Justice Department to present Contempt of Congress charges to the grand jury, but the Bush Administration claims Congress can not compel a U.S. attorney to prosecute contempt cases where the White House claims executive privilege,' said Rep. Miller. 'Other presidents have made bodacious claims about their powers, but always compromised in the end. No president, not even Nixon, has gone this far before.'"

The above-mentioned Linda Sanchez writes on "[W]e saw the arrogance of former White House advisor Karl Rove when an empty chair sat for him in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee where he was required by subpoena to testify. Not only did he refuse to appear before the committee -- let alone testify -- but he defiantly left the country thereby blatantly ignoring his obligations under the congressional subpoena served on him. When he did return to the country, Rove found the time to gab with TV reporters on a summer press tour in Beverly Hills, but failed to stop by the Judiciary Committee in Washington....

"Mr. Rove needs to understand that he is not above the law and should obey a subpoena just like any other American is required to do.

"Mr. Rove should not be able to hide behind the president to avoid the American public. Americans are fed up with this administration flaunting the law. They expect Congress to hold people accountable and that is exactly what we intend to do. Letting Mr. Rove get away with this would set a dangerous precedent. I have recommended that we hold Mr. Rove in contempt of Congress. If we need to revive the inherent contempt procedure which gives Congress the authority to arrest those who defy Congressional subpoenas, then so be it."

Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek: "House Democrats were fuming recently when Karl Rove defied a congressional subpoena and refused to show up at a House Judiciary Committee hearing into whether he meddled in Justice Department prosecutions. Instead of grilling the former White House political chief under oath, the members found themselves talking to an empty chair. What they didn't know is where Rove was that day: on a jet flying to a speaking engagement at Yalta, the historic Black Sea resort in Ukraine. Rove, who generally charges a reported $40,000 per talk, appeared on a premier panel (along with Democratic strategist Bob Shrum) on the upcoming U.S. election at the fifth annual conference of the YES Foundation, a confab of world luminaries bankrolled by billionaire Victor Pinchuk, the Ukrainian steel magnate and son-in-law of the country's former autocratic president, Leonid Kuchma."

Katharine Q. Seelye writes in the New York Times about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's appearance at Netroots Nation, the gathering of progressive bloggers. "Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, appeared on stage with Gina Cooper, the moderator and an organizer of the conference. The bloggers had submitted questions in advance and voted on them; the first was why Democratic leaders in the House were reluctant to take up impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Ms. Pelosi said the House was considering contempt resolutions against Karl Rove, the president's former top adviser.

"Ms. Cooper asked Ms. Pelosi whether Mr. Rove, if found in contempt of Congress, would be put 'in that little jail cell that's in the basement of the House.' The audience cheered. Ms. Pelosi replied that Representative John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had told her, 'Leave it up to me.' "

Poll Watch

"George W. Bush's overall job approval has dropped to 21% as 76% of American say the national economy is getting worse according to the latest survey from the American Research Group.

"Among all Americans, 21% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 72% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 17% approve and 77% disapprove."

Late Night Humor

Jay Leno, via U.S. News: "Human rights activists have sent a letter to President Bush, asking him to raise human rights issues with the Chinese government during the Olympics. Unfortunately, they also sent a letter to the Chinese government asking them to bring up human rights issues with President Bush. So, it's pretty much a wash. . . .

"The Dalai Lama says while he loves President Bush, he feels President Bush has a lack of understanding about reality. And in response, President Bush said today, 'Yeah, right, like there's such a thing as a talking lama."

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich and Tom Toles on appeasement; Ron Rogers, Lee Judge, Joel Pett and Nick Anderson on Bush's energy policy; Scott Bateman on Bill O'Reilly and Karl Rove.

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