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Lunch of the POTUSes

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes: "Panetta is expected to try to restore a moral compass to the CIA, which periodically loses its way. . . . Panetta is a proven Washington figure, but he must be confirmed first, and his lack of expertise in intelligence issues could provide a pretext for senators who are comfortable with the status quo."

The Boston Globe editorial board writes that Panetta is a good choice: "Under Panetta, the CIA will no longer cut the cloth of intelligence to suit the designs of policy makers. And Panetta can be counted on to enforce the rule he set down last year, when he wrote that the United States 'must not use torture under any circumstances.'"

The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board writes: "The CIA, like the rest of the nation's intel operations, is in serious need of renewal after reckless rule-bending by the Bush team.

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the CIA famously missed the warning signs, the list of miscues has grown: secret prisons, harsh interrogations including waterboarding, and warrantless wiretaps. Inexperience - meaning a distance from these disastrous practices - sounds like an advantage."

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board writes: "[W]e like where this is going: a United States of America that once again holds sacred civil liberties and human rights."

Obama's Two Number-One Challenges

Deb Riechmann and Lolita C. Baldor write for the Associated Press: "Israel and militant Palestinians are locked in deadly battle in the Middle East, but Iran poses the biggest challenge in the region to the incoming Obama administration, President George W. Bush's national security adviser says.

"At the same time, the Mideast offers President-elect Barack Obama the greatest opportunity to put his imprint on world affairs, Stephen Hadley said, referring to the need for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace accord that eluded both Bush and former President Bill Clinton."

Biggest challenge, Iran. Got it. But wait.

John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "The biggest foreign-policy challenge awaiting President-elect Barack Obama isn't Iraq or Afghanistan but Pakistan, President George W. Bush's national-security adviser said.

"In an interview previewing a valedictory speech he plans to give on Wednesday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Pakistan's increasingly turbulent border region poses threats not just to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, but also to neighboring India, as evidenced by the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks, as well as to urban areas of Pakistan itself -- and the world beyond."

Obama, Bush and Gaza

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "After days of studied silence on the Gaza conflict, Obama promised yesterday 'to hit the ground running' on achieving a broad Middle East peace deal.

"'We are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East,' he told reporters, adding that 'the loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern to me, and after January 20th I am going to have plenty to say about the issue.'"

Kessler also traces today's crisis, in part, to a series of Bush decisions. Consider:

"[T]he Bush administration encouraged Israel to withdraw from Gaza and demolish its settlements there, arguing that it was a step forward on peace. But, as a condition, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 demanded a letter from President Bush in which the United States conceded two critical peace issues on settlements and refugees to Israel. The Israeli government later cited the letter as giving implicit permission to continue some settlement expansion during peace talks brokered late in the Bush administration, undermining those efforts.

"The Bush administration also did not effectively push Israel to negotiate its 2005 withdrawal from Gaza with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who had just been elected president after [Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser] Arafat died. Abbas wanted to demonstrate that he could negotiate with the Israelis, but Jerusalem withdrew from Gaza unilaterally, as had been the plan when Arafat was still alive.

"Ghaith al-Omari, a former top Abbas aide, remembers bitterly that Hamas strung up a huge banner after Israeli troops departed: 'Three Years of Intifada Beat Ten Years of Negotiations.'

"'Hamas took all the credit for the withdrawal,' Omari said. 'It was a clear strategic mistake.'

"Then the United States pushed for legislative elections in the Palestinian territories in early 2006, hoping for a demonstration of democracy on the march in the Middle East. The Israelis tried to sound a warning about including Hamas on the election list. In October 2005, then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (now foreign minister) flew to Washington to plead that Hamas not be permitted to run, only to be told by U.S. officials: 'Don't worry, Hamas won't win.'

"Hamas defeated Fatah, instantly elevating its status and spawning the crisis that led to today's conflict. Hamas eventually took over all of Gaza, giving it the ability to terrorize Israeli cities with increasingly sophisticated rockets."

Bush and the Oceans

As expected, Bush yesterday designated three huge new marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean.

The New York Times editorial board writes: "It's strange but true. Mr. Bush, who has been monumentally indifferent to the health of continents and the atmosphere, is going down in history as a protector of the oceans. . . .

"Big as they are, the monuments are not nearly enough to offset eight years of Mr. Bush's bad environmental policies, marked by inaction on climate change, the sacrifice of millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas exploration, and indifference bordering on hostility to endangered species and fragile ecosystems. . . .

"Melting ice caps and ocean acidification are an urgent threat to the very fish, reefs and islands that Mr. Bush lately has seen fit to protect."

Legacy Watch

Lydia Saad and Jeffrey M. Jones write for Gallup: "[T]he American public perceives that more ground has been lost than gained in the United States over the past eight years on a whole range of issues. Bush leaves office with his efforts to combat AIDS being the achievement Americans are most likely to give him credit for improving. . . .

"The public also generally perceives that race relations have improved on Bush's watch -- 40% say the country has gained ground in this area versus 25% who say it has lost ground. But that could largely be ascribed to Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president. . . .

"While Bush argues that the country has been made safer by his anti-terrorism policies -- the proof being that no major terrorist incident has occurred on U.S. soil since 9/11 -- Americans are only marginally positive about the nation's progress on terrorism. Roughly 4 in 10 say the United States has made progress on terrorism and national defense -- two of the highest such marks for any issue in the poll. However, nearly as many say the country has lost ground in these areas, leaving net scores just slightly above 0 (+3 for both issues).

"Americans are overwhelmingly negative about the paths the U.S. economy and the U.S. position in the world have taken under Bush, and in general are more negative than positive about how conditions have changed in 10 of 14 major areas since Bush took office."

Garrison Keillor writes in Salon about Bush leaving the White House "with a big grin in a couple of weeks, his self-esteem apparently fully intact, imagining that his legacy will emerge golden and shining in a hundred years after all of us are deceased. He is one of the cheerfullest idiots you ever saw, a man who could burn down his own house and be happy that the patio was still standing."

Matthew Dallek writes in an opinion piece for Politico: "Conservative intellectuals, pundits and policymakers will be more likely to tar Bush as a traitor to conservative principles than to defend him as a clear-eyed comrade-in-arms and a man of foresight and wisdom. Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, George and Laura Bush, and Rice and Donald Rumsfeld will continue to give interviews. Some will write memoirs. And all will defend Bush as a good man who restored 'honor' and 'dignity' to the Oval Office, who kept Americans safe after Sept. 11 and who will be vindicated by historical developments that have yet to happen. But this will be a tiny coterie of courtiers and loyalists whose spin will not be enough to save Bush from the historical juggernaut that is coming his way."

By contrast, Hugh Hewitt, also in Politico, concludes: "Here was an extraordinary and controversial man who accomplished a great deal, lost many battles, stood by his friends sometimes too long and could be stubborn beyond political calculation but who accomplished his most urgent task of protecting the union against its many enemies. The successful completion of that task is what all great presidents have in common."

The View of Bush From Beyond the Beltway

Lots of Washington-based journalists are looking back on the last eight years, of course. But I find myself particularly interested in the views of Bush's presidency from outside the Beltway. How did Bush affect the lives of ordinary Americans? What do people who aren't necessarily obsessed with politics make of his legacy? And what do people in other countries think was most important?

So I'd like your help finding examples of news stories and opinion columns from outside the Beltway that look back on the Bush era. I already read the major national newspapers, and the work of many Washington bureaus, so what I'm looking for are examples from local and regional papers -- and international sources -- written by people outside Washington. Let's try to collect as many as we can - and then call attention to the most interesting and evocative.

For this project, I'm collaborating with, a non-profit social news network devoted to quality journalism. Based on ratings from its reviewers, NewsTrust offers unique web review tools that help people find good journalism online.

Check out NewsTrust's special topic page on the Bush Legacy: Beyond the Beltway, then join the "news hunt." Sign up as a NewsTrust member to review some of these stories yourself, as well as submit new stories from outside the Beltway.

You can also share your thoughts in my White House Watchers discussion group.

Packing Up

From yesterday's press briefing:

Q. "Dana, how will it work around here -- I mean, two weeks out -- how did it work around here? When do boxes start coming out? When do you start putting things away? When do the -- when does the First Family pack up and the moving vans come in? How does all that work?"

Perino: "Well, you know how -- the President's style is always to be one that's a little bit prepared early, and he and Mrs. Bush have been working to box things up. They didn't come with a lot of things; they didn't bring a lot of furniture here. So mostly what they have are books, obviously their clothes, and then some of the things that they've picked up along the way on their travels as they've traveled.

"So they're trying to box those things up, and then they'll be headed down to Texas I think over time -- over the next couple of weeks, a little bit before the 20th."

The Blair House Mystery

Al Kamen writes in The Washington Post: "The veil is lifted. We now know who is booked at Blair House, kicking President-elect Barack Obama and his family to the waiting list and across Lafayette Square to the Hay-Adams Hotel.

"The only overnight visitor at the presidential guest manse is none other than John Howard, a former Australian prime minister and leading member of President Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq.

"Howard and his entourage will be bunking at Blair House on Jan. 12, the night before he, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe are to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bush, said Sally McDonough, a spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush."

'I Don't Hear Voices'

Another mystery resolved in the latest Bush "exit interview," this one with conservative columnist Cal Thomas:

Thomas: "Before a major decision, before launching the toppling of Saddam, do you say, 'you know, God, if I'm not making the right decision, step in and check -- stop me'? How does it practically work?"

Bush: "For me, prayer is wisdom and strength, protect my family; protect the troops. Look, you make the best decisions you can at the time and you listen to a lot of advisers who are here to provide you good, sound advice. I'm spiritual; I'm not mystical."

Thomas: "What does that mean?"

Bush: "It means that I don't hear voices. I don't hear voices. I know that I have to make tough calls based upon the circumstances at the time. And so that's why I say, for me, prayer is a very personal, personal matter."

The Bush Brand

Damien Cave writes in the New York Times: "Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said Tuesday that he would not run in 2010 for the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez, ending speculation about whether he could renew the Bush brand from Congress."

Bush Library Watch

The Dallas Morning News editorial board writes: "The question has loomed since the earliest discussions about President George W. Bush's presidential library: Will the donors' names be disclosed? . . .

"Now, the library foundation has confirmed what had become apparent. No contributor lists will be made public.

"That's disappointing. . . .

"Although not a single brick has been laid for the Bush library, the venture already has faced opposition from professors, religious groups and their supporters. Bush could underscore his commitment to creating a credible academic institute by disclosing donors.

"Otherwise, critics will be free to speculate: What's there to hide?"

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on Bush's secret plan, Jim Morin on Richard Milhous Cheney, John Darkow on turning over the keys, Chan Lowe on Bush's memoirs, and Pat Bagley on the Bush legacy.

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