In a meeting with conservative columnists, President Bush slammed Democrats over the recent MoveOn.org ad which suggests that Gen. David Petraeus is a liar who has “betrayed” his country.
“When I saw the ad by the far left-wing people, I was incredulous at first and then became mad,” Bush said. “It’s one thing to attack me; it’s fine. It’s another thing to denigrate the integrity of somebody who’s wearing this uniform, because I felt that this attack was not just on General Petraeus, it was on the military up and down the line.”
Bush went on to castigate Democrats for failing to denounce the ad.
“I expected there to be people on Capitol Hill standing up and saying this was wrong,” he said. “And I was listening for those voices from the leadership up there, from the Democratic Party, saying this isn’t right. I didn't hear many loud voices.”
Democrats Betray Us
“General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” the full-page ad in The New York Times said. It accused the four-star general who has reported progress in Iraq of “cooking the books for the White House.”
When asked if the ad was appropriate, both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama changed the subject.
Bush took the unusual swipe at the Democrats as I asked him about their efforts to gut a temporary revision to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Historically, the government could intercept calls and e-mails of targets situated in foreign countries. But because 90 percent of such communications now pass through U.S. switching systems in fiber optic cables, a FISA court judge ruled on May 31 that intercepting such communications requires a court order.
Obtaining a FISA court order requires an average of 200 man hours of preparation. Often, people who speak Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu have to be pulled off tracking leads to possible plots to help prepare the applications. Moreover, by the time an order is obtained for a new targeted phone number, the call is finished.
Because of the ruling, tens of thousands of calls and e-mails were not being examined. Any one of them could have contained clues to an al-Qaida plot to detonate nuclear devices in Manhattan and Washington. As FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has told me, these are al-Qaida’s twin goals.
Despite the danger, Clinton and Obama voted against revising FISA so that it would return to its original intent, allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept calls of individuals situated in foreign countries without a court order. Incorporating Bush’s original NSA intercept program, the FISA revision does not require a court order if a foreign target communicates with someone in the United States and the communication involves terrorism or foreign intelligence. Surveillance directed at people in the United States requires court approval as before.
Because of support from Republicans and some moderate Democrats, the FISA revision — called the Protect America Act — was passed in August, but it expires in early February.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already vowed to gut the new law.
As noted in a recent NewsMax article, even though it could be their greatest vulnerability in the general presidential election, the media have virtually ignored Clinton’s and Obama’s votes against revising FISA. Referring to the two presidential candidates’ nay votes, I asked Bush, “What does that tell you about someone who would do that?”
“Well, the American people are going to have to figure that out themselves,” said Bush, who had just returned from a visit to NSA. “All I can tell you is I’m going to make this an issue when it comes up . . .”
Any “rational person who understands the world, the dangers of the world, and understands how this operates, will say, 'oh, I see why they [the administration and Congress] did what they did,'” Bush said.
Democrats Eye Retired Admiral
Now, having gone after Petraeus, the Democrats have turned their sites on Mike McConnell, a retired admiral who is director of National Intelligence. McConnell has been warning of the danger of allowing calls to go unmonitored. Democrats are sounding the theme that showed up in the MoveOn.org ad and in Clinton’s claim that Petraeus’ testimony on results in Iraq requires “willing suspension of disbelief.” Thus, the Democrats’ approach is to demonize any non-political figure who is strong on national security as being “political” and therefore not credible.
McConnell is “undermining the authority of [his] office” by “appearing to play a political role,” Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, has said.
Drawing a parallel between the attacks on Petraeus and on McConnell, I noted in the meeting with Bush, “Jane Harman says that Mike McConnell is political — the same way the Democrats have been portraying Petraeus.”
At that point, Bush expressed his anger about the Petraeus ad and went on to criticize Democrats who have been casting aspersions on McConnell.
To challenge McConnell’s integrity “is just not right,” Bush said. “It’s one thing to go after the program because you don’t believe it was necessary and doesn’t work; it’s another thing to go after a man's integrity like Mike McConnell’s.”
The one-hour meeting with conservative columnists took place in the Roosevelt Room. The other journalists attending were Kate O’Beirne of National Review, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks of the New York Times, Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, Larry Kudlow of CNBC, Michael Barone of U.S. News, Tony Blankley of the Washington Times, William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, and Morton Kondracke of Roll Call.
In this friendly setting, where no one was trying to ask "gotcha" questions, Bush was quite different from his public persona. Instead of sounding forced, he spoke in an even, conversational tone. He was as articulate as any TV news star and even pronounced “nuclear” correctly — once.
In contrast to media caricatures of Bush as a dunce, the president spoke comprehensively and even brilliantly about a range of issues from the war in Iraq to the economy. He made it clear he was not going to back down on achieving success in Iraq or allowing Congress to spend beyond what he considers appropriate levels.
“I would veto a tax increase,” he said.
But his humanity — as well as his sense of humor — were also on display.
Asked what traits voters should look for in a presidential candidate, Bush said he would suggest that a president first of all be “comfortable with your family and work hard to make sure that there’s love in the White House.”
Second, he said, “I would ask them how they make decisions. I would ask for them to describe a vision, a vision for peace and a vision for freedom at home; what would the world look like if they were able to accomplish what they set out to accomplish. I would then ask them the principles by which they had made decisions. And I would try to determine how real those principles are. In other words, I’d say to somebody, you better have principles.”
Bush said he believes that a “gift of the Almighty to every person is freedom.” While prayer helps him, it may not help others, he said.
Those who base their decisions on public opinion polls are, in effect, dogs chasing their tails, going around and around. A president had better have “some principles that are rock solid, because the tides of public opinion try to erode them,” he said. “And if your principles ever get eroded, then I don’t see how you can look at yourself in the mirror after having tried to make decisions necessary to protect the country and to liberate people here at home.”
Bush said it’s also important to “build a group of advisors here who are serving something other than our own [personal] interests” and to give them “unfettered access so they can come in and talk to you one-on-one, if need be.”
Much like Ronald Reagan, Bush said he would advise a future president to “just make sure you soak in the beauty of America and the greatness of the country, whether it be the kid who volunteers in the military or the person feeding the hungry.” And, he said, “I’d tell them to enjoy, as best as you possibly can. It can be an enjoyable experience, or you can let it be a miserable experience. I've found it to be a joyous experience, really.”
Bush never referred to the attacks on him from all quarters. But he said that because we live in a different world from decades ago, he warned the family of former Judge Michael B. Mukasey, his nominee as attorney general, to be prepared for “tough” confirmation hearings. He said he liked the fact that Mukasey is from outside the Washington Beltway.
“I’m comfortable with his [Mukasey’s] mindset, I like his experience,” Bush said. “And frankly, I like the idea of somebody coming from the outside. There were a couple of other candidates for whom I have great affection and great admiration. But it felt like at this point in time that this particular person is the right person to nominate . . .”
Meanwhile, Bush teased Kim Strassel of The Wall Street Journal, who is pregnant and was due to deliver the day before the meeting. Bush insisted that she was about to give birth to her daughter Georgia in the Roosevelt Room.
“Don’t get nervous,” he said, to laughter.
Bush: Enemy Is Patient
Bush suggested that one element that will help Iraq become a cohesive country is its wealth.
“They’ve got enormous reserves, and I keep reminding people that although there’s not a national oil revenue sharing law, there is oil revenue sharing taking place,” he said. “And it’s fairly equitable based upon population.”
If Bush ever came to believe that the U.S. could not succeed in Iraq, he said, “I’m not going to leave our troops there. I will not look a mother in the eye and say, ‘I put your son in harm’s way not believing we can succeed.’ Having said that, I know it’s necessary that we do succeed, and I’m confident we will.”
Unabashedly describing himself as an “idealist,” Bush said, “I believe liberty has got the power to transform society and transform regions. It’s in our moral interests, by the way, to deal with tyranny, as well. There’s a practical application, however, for spreading liberty, and that is free nations tend not to war with each other.”
In prosecuting the war on terror, the challenge for a society that wants instant results is to be patient, Bush said.
“This is a war in which the people burrow inside a nation state in order to plot and plan, and then attack,” Bush said. “And they’re patient — this enemy is a patient enemy. And we’re an impatient society. We’re going to have to match our patience with their patience, the best we can.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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