Tuesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 20, 2004 5:09PM (UTC)

How Powell helps Kerry
The Wall Street Journal (sub. only) reports that despite Colin Powell's protests on Monday that Bob Woodward's account of his shut-out from Iraq war planning wasn't quite right, the secretary of state and how he's portrayed in "Plan of Attack" could help John Kerry in the presidential race.

"For three years, Colin Powell has been a major political asset for President Bush, consistently rated in polls as the most popular figure in the administration. But could the secretary of state wind up helping John Kerry in the election? The catalyst for Mr. Powell's potential transformation is a new book, 'Plan of Attack,' by journalist Bob Woodward. The book on planning for the Iraq war portrays Mr. Powell as repeatedly raising questions within the administration about U.S. policies regarding Iraq, and being left out of key discussions leading up to the March 2003 invasion."

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"In an interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Mr. Powell sought to damp those impressions, saying, 'my support was willing and it was complete, no matter how others might try to impose their policy wishes ... on my body.'"

"Asked in the interview if he had spoken to Mr. Woodward, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, Mr. Powell replied: 'We all talked to Woodward. It was part of our instructions from the White House.' He added, though, that 'it was just a couple of phone calls.' He didn't elaborate on which portions of the book he helped with, but media coverage -- and Bush critics -- have portrayed it as reflecting Mr. Powell's real thinking. Democrats see it as one of the most damaging indictments of the White House to emerge in a season of steady questioning about Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks."

"'It's not only that he's secretary of state, but he's someone who is viewed with credibility by moderate Republicans and independents, the principal electoral targets we're aiming at,' said Bill Zimmerman, a California political consultant. Mr. Zimmerman has produced television ads for MoveOn.org, one of the cluster of liberal nonprofit groups aiming to unseat Mr. Bush, and said MoveOn might run ads based on the Woodward book as soon as next week. Even some Republicans worry about the potential fallout. 'It's never good if the guy running against you is quoting your own secretary of state,' said conservative strategist William Kristol, publisher of the Weekly Standard."

"Mr. Kristol thinks Mr. Bush should use the revelations to shake up his war cabinet by firing Mr. Powell, who according to aides was uneasy about the Iraq war and its execution, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has pushed for smaller deployment of U.S. forces than some critics, including Mr. Kristol, think wise."

Bush gains in new poll
According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, despite instability and bloodshed in Iraq, revelations from the 9/11 commission and a shaky performance at a primetime press conference, President Bush has actually gained in public opinion since last month.

"President Bush holds significant advantages over John F. Kerry in public perceptions of who is better equipped to deal with Iraq and the war on terrorism, and he has reduced the advantages his Democratic challenger held last month on many domestic issues, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll."

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"The poll also found that Iraq and the war on terrorism have surged in importance, and ranked with the economy and jobs as top voting issues. Despite signs of concern among Americans about the violence in Iraq, the poll showed Bush's approval ratings holding steady and Kerry's slipping on a variety of issues and attributes."

"By 49 percent to 44 percent, Bush was viewed as better able to deal with the country's biggest problems. Five weeks ago, those numbers were reversed. By comfortable margins, voters saw Bush as stronger than Kerry on key national security issues. On the economy, Bush has erased Kerry's 12-point edge and is tied with the senator from Massachusetts on who can better deal with the country's economic problems."

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"In a matchup, Bush held a lead of 48 percent to 43 percent over Kerry among registered voters, with independent Ralph Nader at 6 percent. In early March, shortly after he effectively wrapped up the Democratic nomination, Kerry led Bush by 48 percent to 44 percent."

"Bush's improved political standing has come during a difficult period for the president. Nearly 100 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month, more than in any month since major combat ended last year, and Bush faces growing criticism that he does not have a plan to stabilize the country. At the same time, the independent commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has heard testimony from former Bush White House counterterrorism head Richard A. Clarke that Bush ignored the threat of terrorism during the first eight months of his presidency."

"During the past five weeks, however, Bush's reelection campaign has spent about $50 million on television ads, many of them critical of Kerry. At the same time, Kerry has been less visible than he was during the heat of the Democratic primaries and has struggled to get out his message over the volume of news about Iraq and terrorism."

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Nader: I'll give Dems a "jolt"
Ralph Nader insists he will help, not hurt John Kerry in the fall election, the Hartford Courant reports.

"Ralph Nader pledged Monday to run both with and against the Democrats by using a strategy he claimed is collaborative, though he acknowledged it was counterintuitive. The independent candidate described his plan during a wide-ranging breakfast discussion with newspaper reporters. Even as he repeatedly criticized Kerry's campaign, Nader said an element of his controversial run is to help protect Kerry from President Bush. 'One is to show how moderate Kerry is, as opposed to the strategy of Bush to paint Kerry as an extreme liberal,' Nader said."

"He said he plans to stump on liberal issues too controversial for Democratic candidates worried about seeming unpatriotic in a time of war. As an example, Nader released his plan for Iraq, which calls for all American troops, military contractors and corporate interests to leave the country once independent elections are held. He said they should be replaced by U.N.-led peacekeepers from neutral and Islamic countries and by U.S. humanitarian aid. Nader said he would also criticize the 'redundant, wasteful' military budget and urge stronger environmental regulation and more corporate crime prosecution. He said he would argue for a realignment of the tax burden that would target the wealthy and companies involved in gambling, stock speculation and 'addictive industries,' which, he said, 'Kerry can't do.' At the same time, Nader said his primary goal is to win votes personally. He vowed to campaign in swing states, though Democrats worry his influence with liberal voters could hurt Kerry."

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"He chuckled when he said his methods were 'counterintuitive.' But he said they were also innovative and would both help and 'jolt' the Democrats."

A man on a mission
The Knight-Ridder Washington bureau analyzes the president's frequent public mentions of God when discussing policy, and says there are some concerns out there that this White House thinks it's on a mission from above.

"Nearly four years into his presidency, Bush's strong Christian beliefs are well known. But through [Bob] Woodward's book, and the president's own words, Americans are learning how Bush's faith drives his decisions, political and religion experts said. 'Clearly what I'm hearing ... is a sense of religious calling, and not even around the mission or goal of the country,' said Robin Lovin, a Southern Methodist University ethics professor and former dean of the university's divinity school. 'But a sense of religious calling for the policies of this president.'"

In 'Plan of Attack,' Woodward's book, Bush describes praying after giving the go-ahead to launch the war against Iraq. The president told Woodward he wasn't praying to 'justify war based upon God.' 'Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of his will as possible,' Bush told Woodward. The president's revelations have made some uneasy. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader on Monday called Bush a 'Messianic militarist' for mixing religion and policy in his public statements and interviews about the U.S. role in Iraq."

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"'He's an unsuitable officeholder,' Nader said. 'Talk about separation of church and state; it's not separated at all in Bush's brain. We want him to make decisions as a secular president.'"

Bush archivist choice prone to secrecy
The New York Times reports that the president's nominee to be the nation's archivist is infamous among historians for his penchant for secrecy.

"The nominee, Allen Weinstein, is a former university professor who for two decades has worked to bring about democracy in former dictatorships. As a historian, he is best known for a 1978 book on Alger Hiss, a work that still stirs anger among historians who say Mr. Weinstein refused to make his notes public."

"In an interview Monday, Mr. Weinstein did not address that accusation specifically, saying he felt he should reserve discussion of that until his Senate confirmation hearings. But he did defend himself, taking the rare step of speaking to a reporter while his nomination is pending, describing himself as a registered Democrat and saying, 'I am not in anybody's pocket, and I am committed to maximum access.'"

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"The nomination, first reported in Newsday, comes as the National Archives and Records Administration prepares the papers of Mr. Bush's father, the 41st president, which are scheduled for release in January. Critics of Mr. Weinstein say they fear that he could restrict or delay access to those and other important documents."

"'His history of sharing his information is not all that great,' said Anna K. Nelson, a professor of history at American University who teaches foreign policy. 'We don't know how he would run the archives. We ought to find out. How would he balance the public's right to know versus the president's right to protect his papers?'"


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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