Tales from the Trail

Ridge says he was pushed to raise terror alert before election

The nation’s first Homeland Security secretary is airing some dirty laundry from the Bush administration: He says he was pushed to raise the terror alert level on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.

The level was never raised but Tom Ridge reveals how threats of terrorism were used to influence voters in his upcoming book ”The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … and How We Can Be Safe Again”.

According to the promotion material released by the book’s publisher, Ridge said the DHS was pressured to connect homeland security to the international “war on terror”. He also said he effectively thwarted a plan to raise the alert level before the 2004 election, which Bush won.

Several other Bush administration officials disagree with Ridge’s characterization. Former Homeland Security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend called it “way off base”. She said there was a debate about raising the alert level at that time but politics were never discussed at that meeting.

Politico quotes former White House chief of staff Andy Card saying the Bush administration was very disciplined in its efforts to make sure politics did not influence national security decisions.

The First Draft: Will Cheney spill the beans about Bush?

USA-SECURITY/CHENEYHow would you spend the dog days of summer, if you were a former vice president? If you were Dick Cheney, you would be ensconced in your new office above the garage in McLean, Virginia (just down the road from the CIA!), writing your memoir of the administration of George W. Bush. But would you tell all?

The Washington Post indicates Cheney might. In a front-page story that was one of the paper’s most-viewed online, unnamed sources say the former veep was frustrated with Bush, especially in the second term.

When Cheney was asked at an informal meeting to discuss his memoirs if he had any regrets, one meeting participant told the Post: “(Cheney) said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took … The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney’s advice. He’d showed an independence that Cheney didn’t see coming. It was clear that Cheney’s doctrine was cast-iron at all times — never apologize, never explain — and Bush moved toward the conciliatory.”

Obama official takes shots at Bush’s words

President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser on Thursday offered a pointed critique of several of former President George W. Bush’s catch phrases on terrorism.

USA/Veteran spy John Brennan, once in line to head the Central Intelligence Agency under Obama and apparently no great fan of the Bush White House, gave a lengthy speech outlining Obama’s strategy for fighting terrorism which attempts to go beyond, using military might to include economic and social policies.

Brennan criticized Bush’s moniker “global war on terror” as playing into the “warped narrative that al Qaeda propagates.” He added that it “plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world.”

from Left field:

Baseball brings ‘em together: all 5 U.S. presidents

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It's one thing they can agree on... baseball. 

Major League Baseball is bringing all five living U.S. presidents together at next week's 80th All-Star Game.

President Barack Obama and his predecessors George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter will appear in a 7-minute video presentation as part of the U.S. sports league's all-star festivities on Tuesday in St. Louis. Baseball called it the first time all living U.S. presidents would participate in a ceremony at a sporting event.

The video address will be part of a pre-game ceremony honoring 30 men and women being recognized by MLB and People magazine for acts of giving and service to their communities. Each person represents one of the sport's 30 teams.

Obama’s ties with Saudi Arabia? Solid gold

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - If you worried U.S. President Barack Obama might not handle diplomacy with the energy-rich Saudi rulers as deftly as Texas oilman George W. Bush, fear no longer.
 
No sooner had Obama landed in Riyadh for a day of meetings with King Abdullah than he was OBAMA/SAUDI ARABIAsporting a big gold medal around his neck — the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit.
 
It’s the country’s highest honor — named for the founder of the modern Saudi state.
 
Bush, too, was awarded one on his first visit to the kingdom. It just took the former president seven years — till January 2008 — to visit Saudi Arabia.
 
Obama managed to get his in under five months, at only his second meeting with the king.
 
During the first meeting — in London — the U.S. leader famously greeted the Saudi monarch with something that looked suspiciously like a bow but was hard to tell exactly because a guy was standing in the way.
 
Protocol-wise, heads of state do not generally bow by way of greeting. But then Michelle Obama was busy patting Queen Elizabeth on the back, so protocol was kind of out the window anyway.
 
There were other signs on Wednesday that the U.S. and Saudi leaders were getting along well.
 
The White House says Obama has been consulting with Abdullah regularly by phone about the speech to the Islamic world that he will give from Cairo on Thursday.
 
Their meeting at King Abdullah’s sprawling farm outside Riyadh was scheduled to go for about two hours. Instead it lasted about three.
 
For more Reuters political news, please click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama tries on gold medal received from King Abdullah)

Obama already getting gray hair

OBAMA/ECONOMYWell, that didn’t take long. President Barack Obama is already showing signs that the White House is aging him six weeks after he took office. He is getting gray around the temples.

The New York Times and the Washington Post seem to have discovered this at the same time. The Times had a front-page story about it. The Post ran a story on the front of its Style section.

Time seems to run faster in the White House than everywhere else. A president can enter the place looking youthful and vigorous, and come out four or eight years later looking worn down, hair turned gray or white, back bowed. The job does that to them, all the life-and-death decisions that are made, the long hours, the political battles.

What’s the difference between Obama and Bush?

If you want to know if there’s a difference between working for President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, ask the man who’s worked for both: Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates faced that question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

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Gates, a former CIA official, first responded without really responding. “That sounds like the subject of a good book,” Gates said, and declined to say whether he plans to write one.

When pressed, the Pentagon chief said, “I think that probably President Obama is somewhat more analytical and we makes sure he hears from everybody in the room on an issue and if they don’t speak up, he calls on them.”

Everything old is new again

Some things never change. Take, for instance, the fact that a president does not make decisions based upon the polls.

Polling seems to be a flourishing business. Pollsters survey us on just about anything. Click on the Pew Research Center’s website  and you’ll find polls on such issues as our views on torture and warrantless wiretapping, or President Barack Obama’s skills as a communicator.

George W. Bush said over and over again he did not make decisions based on polls. So we wanted to point out that Obama borrowed some of Bush’s phraseology in talking about polls with interviewer Jim Lehrer of PBS’ “Newshour.”

Meanwhile, in Dallas…

WASHINGTON – George W. Bush has kept a low profile since leaving the White House on Jan. 20 and moving back to Texas, but we’re starting to hear some bits and pieces of what he has been up to.

For one thing, we know that President Barack Obama phoned him on Friday to tell him most of the U.S. troops that Bush put into Iraq are going to come out over the next 18 months.

“President Bush appreciated the courtesy call from President Obama regarding the administration’s plans for Iraq,” said the former president’s spokesman, Rob Saliterman. BUSH-ARCHIVES

Obama’s Iraq speech draws lukewarm response from Marines

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina – So much for those adoring crowds.

President Barack Obama, who is used to screaming masses and loud applause from his 2008 campaign events, got a more tepid response on Friday from a hall of Marines and sailors who listened to his announcement on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. USA-OBAMA/

Obama, who said U.S. combat forces would be out of Iraq by August 2010, drew polite clapping from the crowd for his policy announcements, but most of his presumed applause lines fell a bit flat.

“We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done,” he said. Polite applause from the crowd of roughly 2,000.