2004-03-20 : 7:38 a.m.
"Who In the World Likes Bush?"

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Who in the World Likes Bush?

By Dan Froomkin

Special to washingtonpost.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2004; 10:17 AM

Maybe we should just go to the United Nations and ask for a show of hands?

Questions about how foreign leaders would vote in November election -- which they most assuredly cannot do -- continue today.

As many have noted, this campaign feels more like October than March, with all the name-calling. It sometimes also feels a bit more schoolyard than Oval Office.

As Thomas M. DeFrank and Kenneth R. Bazinet write in the New York Daily News: "President Bush's spokesman called John Kerry a liar yesterday unless the senator comes clean with the names of world leaders he has claimed prefer him to be President."

And in a press release, the Kerry campaign responded: "If the President wants his White House press secretary to be the press secretary for the reelection campaign, he ought to get him off the taxpayers' payroll and stop using the White House for political purposes."

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: "Administration officials yesterday sharply challenged the credibility of Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) for suggesting that there are foreign leaders who are pulling for him to defeat President Bush in November as Kerry attacked the president for failing to wage war on terrorism more aggressively."

Vice President Cheney took a few licks.

" 'At the very least,' Cheney said, 'we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.' . . .

"White House press secretary Scott McClellan called on Kerry to explain his remarks. 'If he's going to make those comments, he ought to back them up,' McClellan said. 'If he refuses to, one can only come to the conclusion that he's simply making up these assertions to attack the president.' "

Richard C. Holbrooke, President Bill Clinton's delegate to the United Nations, told Jodi Wilgoren of the New York Times: "It's so obviously the truth what Kerry said, and the Republicans are just having fun with it -- everybody knows it's true. . . . In the last six or seven months, I've been in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. I've met with leaders in all of those regions, and they have overwhelmingly -- not unanimously but overwhelmingly -- said that they hope that there's a change in leadership."

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero: Not a Fan

It wouldn't be a leap to suspect that Spain's incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, might vote for Kerry in November, if he could. (But he can't.)

As Keith B. Richburg reports in The Washington Post, Zapatero "offered sharp criticism Monday of the Iraq war and the U.S. occupation and reaffirmed a campaign pledge to withdraw Spanish peacekeeping troops unless the United Nations takes control of the operation by the end of June.

"In comments a day after the surprise victory of his Socialist Workers' Party, Zapatero made clear that he would pursue a 'cordial' but decidedly more distant relationship with the United States than did his predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, one of President Bush's closest allies in Europe."

Mike Allen reports in The Washington Post: "President Bush telephoned congratulations to Spain's incoming prime minister yesterday as the White House worked to mitigate the diplomatic and political damage from the Socialists' upset victory after a terrorist attack on a crucial ally.

"Bush's aides said he began talking to other world leaders about his determination to remain on the offensive in the war on terrorism. . . .

"A White House official, insisting on anonymity to speak more bluntly than diplomacy might dictate, said Bush would work to be sure it is 'clear to all around the world that nations cannot make a separate peace with terrorists.' "

Hans Blix: Not a Fan

Warren Hoge writes in the New York Times that Hans Blix, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector now on a book tour, said yesterday that "he did not share the Bush administrations' view that the war had made the world a safer place.

" 'Sorry to say it doesn't look that way,' he said. 'If the aim was to send a signal to terrorists that we are determined to take you on, that has not succeeded. In Iraq, it has bred a lot of terrorism and a lot of hatred to the Western world.' "

Hoge writes that on the Today Show, "Mr. Blix charged the Bush administration with invading Iraq as retaliation for the terrorism strikes on the United States, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attackers."

" 'So in a way, you could say that Iraq was perhaps as much punitive as it was pre-emptive,' he said. 'It was a reaction to 9/11 that we have to strike some theoretical, hypothetical links between Saddam Hussein and the terrorists. That was wrong. There wasn't anything.' "

Jean-Bertrand Aristide: Not a Fan

Peter Eisner writes in The Washington Post about former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to the Caribbean. Eisner joined him on a flight from Africa to Jamaica.

"During an extended interview on the flight, Aristide was adamant that he remained Haiti's legitimate leader, but was coy about his plans. . . .

"During the interview, Aristide gave a detailed account of what he alleged was 'a coup and a modern-day kidnapping' carried out by the United States. U.S. officials have disputed his account. . . .

"Aristide's account was supported by two witnesses present on the evening of Feb. 28 and the morning of Feb. 29."

Jan Peter Balkenende: A Fan!

Bush meets today in the Oval Office with the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country has contributed 1,100 troops to the occupation of Iraq.

John Hassell of the Newark Star-Ledger writes that Balkenende said yesterday that "more cooperation between Europe and the United States -- not less -- is necessary to defeat al Qaeda, which is suspected of mounting the deadly attacks in Madrid last week."

Daniel Williams reports in The Washington Post that Britain, Italy, Poland -- and yes, the Netherlands -- are among the European countries remaining steadfast with Bush on Iraq.

The Bush Doctrine

Doyle McManus and Sonni Efron wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that the yearlong experience in Iraq has had many far-reaching effects on U.S. foreign policy. For example:

"The war was the first test of what has been called the Bush doctrine, the assertion that the United States may launch a preventive war against any country thought to hold weapons of mass destruction if it consorts with terrorists. But the war also has been the only instance of that rule being invoked; Iran, North Korea and Syria, which all arguably qualify, have not been attacked. As a result, scholars aren't sure whether Iraq was the beginning of a pattern or, as now appears possible, merely the high-water mark of an assertive policy."

(Thanks to reader Dean Campione for pointing out that I missed this story yesterday.)

The Optimistic, Conversational Bush

The president limos over to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today to participate in a "conversation" on health access.

Yesterday, as Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post, he was outside Philadelphia, conversing about home ownership.

"Increasing the proportion of Americans who can buy a house has been a prong of Bush's agenda of 'compassionate conservatism' since his 2000 campaign. This year he is invoking the theme often, because the nation's housing industry is relatively healthy, providing the White House a piece of good news as Bush rests his case for reelection partly on the assertion that the nation's economy is improving. The housing issue also fits into Bush's strategy to attract more minority voters."

Read the president's remarks.

In the New York Times, Richard W. Stevenson writes that "the political overtones of the trip, which was billed to taxpayers, were clear even before he took off for the Philadelphia area aboard Air Force One. Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is up for re-election this year, told reporters on the plane that he had spoken to Mr. Bush and Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser, and that they hoped to eat into the traditional Democratic advantage in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania."

Specter, who is seeking reelection, is facing primary opposition. Carl Hulse reports for the New York Times that Specter's presence on Air Force One was a clear endorsement by Bush, in spite of the fact that Specter "has angered some conservatives over the years with a voting record that they see as too friendly to labor and government spending programs and not friendly enough to conservative causes."

The thinking: that "having Mr. Specter on the ballot in November could be a greater help in holding on to moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania" than his more conservative primary challenger.

Bush made it even clearer during his remarks: "I consider Arlen Specter an ally and a friend. Oh, he doesn't do everything you ask him to do all the time, but when you need him -- when you need him, he's there. He's an independent voice for the great state of Pennsylvania and he's doing a fine job as a United States Senator."

Thomas Fitzgerald writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "President Bush swept into Ardmore yesterday to tout the highest rate of home ownership in the nation's history, hoping to change the economic conversation from dour talk of job losses in an electoral battleground state.

"At the town-hall forum, Bush called himself an 'optimistic fellow' and argued that an increase in home ownership, historically low interest rates, and an uptick in industrial production last month were all signs of underlying health in the economy - despite polls showing that most voters are pessimistic."

Poll Watch

Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder write in the New York Times about its latest poll, in conjunction with CBS News. They find that "the number of Americans who think that the nation is heading in the wrong direction is now 54 percent," and that "nearly half of respondents have not yet formed an opinion about Mr. Kerry. That result suggests that Mr. Bush has an opening to mold public opinion of his largely unknown challenger. . . .

"At the same time, there is sweeping concern among Americans about the president's economic policies, including his ability to create jobs and the effectiveness of his tax cuts, according to the poll. By a margin of greater than 30 points, more people said the policies of Mr. Bush's administration had reduced the number of jobs in the country rather than increased them."

Another note: "Nearly two-thirds of respondents said it was unacceptable for candidates to use images from the World Trade Center's destruction in political advertisements."

Not mentioned in the story, but there in the data, is that Bush's overall approval rating was up to 51 from 47 two weeks earlier. A blip? A resurgence? Stay tuned.

Susan Page and Richard Benedetto write in USA Today that a new Gallup Poll similarly shows that Americans "are increasingly gloomy about the state of the economy and the direction of the country."

The poll data shows overall approval for Bush up a tick from 49 to 50.

Medicare Watch

Charles Babington writes in The Washington Post: "Two Democratic senators wrote to President Bush, calling on him to bar any retaliation against Medicare's chief actuary, who last week said an administration official had threatened to fire him if he showed Congress his projected costs of the bill to add a drug benefit to Medicare."

Here's that letter.

Libya Watch

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post: "Flanked by guards armed with automatic rifles, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham led journalists past wooden crates containing 50,000 pounds of machine parts used for enriching uranium -- the 'tip of the iceberg' of a vastly larger quantity of sensitive technology sold to Libya. . . .

"White House officials have hailed Libya's decision as vindication of the administration's tough line against states with unconventional weapons programs. 'It is the president's hope that other nations will find an example in Libya's decision to disarm,' Abraham said.

Trade Watch

Steven Greenhouse and Elizabeth Becker write for the New York Times: "The A.F.L.-C.I.O. will file an unusual trade complaint on Tuesday to press President Bush to punish China, which it asserts has gained a commercial advantage through violating workers' rights by suppressing strikes, banning independent trade unions and not enforcing minimum wage laws.

"Timed to maximize pressure on Mr. Bush as the presidential campaign heats up, the complaint asserts that the United States has lost up to 727,000 factory jobs because the labor violations it cites artificially lowered China's production costs and unfairly undercut American companies."

Commission Watch

Timothy J. Burger writes in Time: "The Blue-Ribbon panel named by George W. Bush to study intelligence prior to the Iraq war has been billed as a bipartisan effort to get answers. But how evenhanded will it be? A TIME examination of the panel members' backgrounds reveals a web of sticky connections to the Bush team and, in one case, an alleged lack of investigative curiosity. . . .

"Questions of objectivity won't be resolved until the panel completes its task. Five weeks after being appointed, the group has not met, and it is unclear when it will."

In-Joke Watch

Expressing his appreciation for the various dignitaries who joined him yesterday in Ardmore, Bush said:

"I see that Chairman Jim Matthews is with us. Chairman, I'm glad you're here. (Applause.) He is the smart brother. (Laughter.) Well -- it's an inside joke."

White House Briefing tries its best to explain all White House in-jokes. This one wasn't very hard.

Jim Matthews is chairman of the Montgomery County (Pa.) Commission. His brother is MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

Unintentional-Joke Watch

Richard Leiby, in The Washington Post's Reliable Source column, has the skinny on the Ford's Theater gala Bush attended Sunday night.

For instance, actor David Spade to Bush, about the size of his motorcade: "I don't care how many [limos] you have, Puff Daddy's always got you beat by two Suburbans."

Referring to one of the performer's role on MTV's "Newlyweds," Bush told the audience, "Jessica Simpson is here with us, which means we've finally introduced reality TV to the Lincoln Theater."

Writes Leiby: "He meant Ford's Theatre, of course, but everyone knows President Lincoln was shot there."

And "Simpson, whose verbal gaffes are also legendary, pulled another one Sunday visiting the White House, our sources say. The singer was introduced to Interior Secretary Gale Norton and gushed: 'You've done a nice job decorating the White House.' "

Bush's Brain: The Movie

Christy Lemire reports for the Associated Press on the world premiere of "Bush's Brain" in Austin.

"The documentary, based on the book of the same name about presidential adviser Karl Rove, had been kept tightly under wraps before making its world premiere to a packed theater at the South by Southwest film festival. . . .

"The film, which screened Saturday night, begins with the image of Bush confidently descending the stairs of Air Force One with 'Hail to the Chief' signaling his arrival.

"Then comes the punch line. On a black screen with simple white lettering, the question is posed: How did this happen?

"(Laughter and applause erupted at this point among the crowd of 1,200.)

"The answer the movie supplies: Rove."

Here are reviews from eFilmCritic.com and filmthreat.com.

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