Archive for December 5th, 2006

US President George W Bush’s nominee to replace Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced his first confirmation hearing Tuesday, backed by an appeal for quick approval from the president. Robert Gates, 63, a former director of the CIA spy agency, was expected to sail through the hearings by the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, setting the stage for his confirmation as early as this week.

When asked by incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) if he believed that the United States was winning the war in Iraq, Gates replied with a terse “no.”

“What we are now doing is not satisfactory,” Gates said.

“In my view, all options are on the table, in terms of how we address this problem in Iraq,” the former CIA director added.

Gates, who has headed a Texas university since retiring from public life, was expected to face questioning from senators about how he plans to handle the war in Iraq, where the Bush administration is weighing a change of strategy in the face of sectarian warfare.

“I hope for a speedy confirmation so he can get sworn in and get to work,” Bush said Tuesday at a White House meeting, shortly before his nominee headed to the Senate.

Rumsfeld resigned on November 8, a day after Bush’s Republican Party lost control of both houses of Congress in national elections that the victorious centre-left Democrats cast as a referendum on the war in Iraq.

As the hearings began, the committee’s senior Democrat, Carl Levin, told Gates he “will face the monumental challenge of picking up the pieces” of a failed policy in Iraq.

Gates served at the CIA for more than 26 years. This year, he served on a high-level panel set up by Congress to offer recommendations for a change of course in Iraq. The group is due to present its report in Washington on Wednesday.


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An article in the coming issue of Vanity Fair discusses rumors that the White House was aware of former Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s e-mails to underaged boys.

The article by Gail Sheehy and Judy Bachrach looks back to 2003 when Mr. Foley was running to unseat Democrat Senator Bob Graham, and was facing constant threats of being outed as a gay man. As Graham’s plans to retire became clear, and the seat became open, Sheehy and Bachrach ask why Foley’s campaign suddenly withdrew from the race and gave way to Mel Martinez, the eventually elected Republican senator who is now the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

One Florida Republican speculates that Karl Rove didn’t believe a gay man could be elected to the Senate from Florida. Another source, Eric Johnson, who is Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler’s openly gay chief of staff, believes that the White House knew something about the e-mails Foley had written to the former congressional pages, and a cut a deal to keep Foley in the House if he avoided the Senate run.

By the time, in 2003, Foley began full-time campaigning to unseat Senator Bob Graham, the periodic threats from his opponents to out him reached a peak. After a Florida alternative newsweekly reported he was gay, he called an unusual press conference in May of that year specifically to address the issue, but refused to reveal his sexual orientation. He suggested that Democratic activists were behind the mounting rumors. The Palm Beach Post chose not to make mention of the press conference, later writing that their policy was to report on a politician’s sexual orientation only when it was “relevant to a news story.” Eric Johnson was astonished. “I thought the media made a real mistake in keeping Mark’s secrets for him. They played into his sense of invulnerability.”

That summer, Foley’s Senate primary campaign looked like a sure winner. A statewide swing with his sister in August brought even some conservative Republican state officials on board. Then, it seems, national G.O.P. officials got wind of Graham’s intention to retire, so the seat was more seriously in play. Out of the blue, at summer’s end, Foley stunned just about everyone by withdrawing from the race. He called political editor Brian Crowley at The Palm Beach Post and gave as his reason the health of his father, who was in the hospital with prostate cancer. (Edward Foley died in November.)

“For the real political types, it just didn’t ring true,” says Sid Dinerstein, the chairman of the Republican Party in Palm Beach County. “The reason he wound up with a couple of million dollars in campaign money was because we [the state party] were funding his Senate bid. He barely had opponents.” Even this passionate party man is among many who speculate that the White House shut down Foley’s campaign. “Maybe there’s a belief by the powers that be, which is code for Karl Rove, that a gay couldn’t win a Senate seat in Florida,” says Dinerstein. (A spokesperson for Karl Rove says, “Not only did Karl never say that, he doesn’t believe that to be true, either.”) “One could argue it’s untrue, since there’s plenty of rumors about Charlie Crist. [Crist, Florida’s governor-elect, has publicly denied he is gay.] But there were enough whispers that the Foley campaign could have produced embarrassments—and maybe the same embarrassments that we just saw, maybe exactly the same.”

Commissioner McCarty goes even further: “I believe somebody took him into a room and showed him a videotape or something pretty definitive, because without a smoking gun, he would have denied it.” Eric Johnson believes the White House possibly knew something about the messages to pages and cut a deal with Foley and Fordham. “Then Foley could stay in the House, Martinez would run in his place [Mel Martinez, who later won the Senate seat], and Kirk could move into a Senate race [by becoming Martinez’s finance director].” Fordham, however, says, “No one ever called—the president, or Karl Rove, or the head of the Republican Party—to discourage him in any way from running.”


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Bush says rarely talks policy with dad

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
President George W. Bush facing growing public discontent over the Iraq war, admitted on Monday his parents are worried about him but insisted he rarely talks policy with his father.

Bush acknowledged, however, he did consult with the 41st president before nominating Robert Gates, CIA director under his father, to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary. But he said the elder Bush had no advance knowledge of the appointment.

In a rare glimpse of his relationship with the former president after recent signs of possible strains between the two men, Bush said he calls his parents every two weeks.

“I love to talk to my dad about things between a father and a son, not policy,” he said.

“Washington can be a tough town at times and there is nothing better than hearing a loving voice on the end of the phone call occasionally and so I check in with Mother and Dad,” Bush said.

“Of course, they’re worried about their son … they’re paying too much attention to the newspapers, I guess.”

His comments follow the release of a book, “State of Denial,” by journalist Bob Woodward, that said the 82-year-old George H.W. Bush was “anguished” over how the Iraq war had played out, although he quickly dismissed that account.

Bush gently admonished his father before the November 7 midterm elections for saying he hated to think what life would be like for his son if the Democrats won control of Congress. Bush’s Republicans lost their majorities in both houses.

Asked whether he consults constantly with his father, Bush said: “No … He understands what I know, that the level of information I have relative to the level of information most other people have, including himself, is significant and that he trusts me to make decisions.”

Despite that, Bush has reached back to his father’s administration for advice on a possible course shift in Iraq.

Besides nominating Gates, he is awaiting recommendations on Wednesday from a bipartisan panel co-chaired by James Baker, his father’s former secretary of state.

Asked to comment on widespread view that his father’s influence was coming to bear on his administration, Bush insisted: “I am the commander-in-chief.”


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