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Under New Management

By Dan Froomkin
12:44 PM ET, 04/ 8/2009

Pragmatic, humble, rational -- how much more unlike George W. Bush can you be?

Initial reviews are in from President Obama's big trip, and it seems that most observers just can't get over how much things have changed.

Michael D. Shear and Kevin Sullivan write in The Washington Post: "President Obama concluded his inaugural overseas tour Tuesday after presenting to the world a starkly different image of the United States than his predecessor had...

"Throughout his trip abroad, Obama portrayed a proud but flawed United States, using a refrain of humility and partnership in an attempt to rally allies around such issues of mutual concern as the global economy, climate change and nuclear proliferation."

David E. Sanger writes for the New York Times: "Pragmatic, conciliatory, legalistic and incremental, he pushed what might be called, with a notable exception or two, an anti-Bush doctrine.

"There was no talk of pre-emption, or of the American mission to eradicate tyranny.....

"'This trip was more about reattaching all the cars on the train and convincing the other leaders that we're no longer headed for derailment,' one of Mr. Obama's senior advisers said in London."

John F. Harris and Eamon Javers write for Politico: "He is Obama the rationalist.

"A diverse set of Obama decisions in recent days have a common theme: a leader who sees himself building a more orderly, humane world by vanquishing outdated thinking and corrupting ideology.

"With a rapid series of major announcements and rhetorical gestures, the new president has done more than turn from Bush-era policies. He has shined a vivid light on his philosophical outlook on the world — and how starkly he differs from his predecessor on basic beliefs about power, diplomacy and even human nature....

"An administration that believed in the primacy of force has been replaced by one that believes in the primacy of dialogue. A president who believed his main job in the world was to robustly assert American interests and values, even if it offended allies, has been succeeded by one who believes his main job is to gently coax and nourish communities of interest in which other nations will regard the United States as a friend....

"Conservatives are calling Obama naïve, arguing that his belief in rationalism and community is hardly realistic in a world driven by murderous hatreds and all manner of nations angling remorselessly for military and economic advantage."

The White House itself is amplifying the change theme.

Jonathan Weisman writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Obama aides describe the last eight years under President George W. Bush as a period of strained international relations and low public opinion toward the U.S. Putting those relations back on a positive trajectory was reason enough for the voyage, said Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser.

"Mr. McDonough said U.S. foreign policy in the Bush administration amounted to a search for silver bullets: If Iraq could be turned into a stable, democratic ally, the entire Middle East would be transformed. If the U.S. walked away from the negotiating table, North Korea would see the error of its ways and drop its nuclear program. This trip marked the return of 'consistent, persistent engagement,' he said."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "Between Obama's outreach to local students at town halls in France and Turkey, as well as speeches and well over a dozen private meetings with individual foreign leaders, aides felt the president established a new-sheriff-in-town vibe."

Not too much happened in Iraq yesterday after I filed my last post of the day.

Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper write in the New York Times that "with a hint of impatience in his words, he urged Iraq's leaders to unite the country's deeply divided ethnic and sectarian factions and to incorporate them all into government and security forces."

Here's the transcript of Obama's remarks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"I remain convinced that our shared resolve and commitment to progress is greater than the obstacles that stand in our way," Obama said.

He added that "we strongly support political steps to be taken to resolve differences between various factions within Iraq and to ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future. Again, we've seen very good progress, but going forward it's absolutely critical that all Iraqis are fully integrated into the government and the security forces."

Ernesto Londoño writes in The Washington Post: "In sharp contrast to the previous U.S. presidential visit to Iraq, in December, when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush, many Iraqis spoke approvingly of Obama on Tuesday."

Meanwhile, Peter Nicholas and Mike Dorning warn in the Los Angeles Times that Obama may be traveling too much. "[N]ext week, with barely time to pack fresh shirts and refuel Air Force One, he's off again -- first to Mexico, then to a summit meeting in the Caribbean.

"It's the sort of thing that can get a political leader into trouble, jetting out of town while the home front suffers."

Biden v. Cheney

By Dan Froomkin
11:54 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009

Vice President Biden never looks better than when he's being compared to his predecessor, and I think he knows it.

So rather than duck CNN's questions yesterday about former vice president Dick Cheney's recent provocations, Biden -- like President Obama a few weeks ago -- engaged in a spirited rebuttal.

The Associated Press reports: "Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday his predecessor, Dick Cheney, is 'dead wrong' when he says President Barack Obama's national security policies are making the United States less safe. Biden said the exact opposite is true and added that President George W. Bush's vice president was part of a dysfunctional decision-making system."

Video and transcript after the jump.

From the transcript:

Gloria Borger: "Let's talk about your predecessor for a moment, if I might. Former Vice President Cheney took a big swipe at your foreign policies, this administration's foreign policies. And he told John King of CNN recently that President Obama's actions, all over the world, have made us less safe. Was Dick Cheney out of line?"

Biden: "I don't know if he's out of line, but he was dead wrong. This administration -- the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we have been any time since World War II, less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever had been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world.

"And so we have been about the business of repairing and strengthening us. I guarantee you, we are safer today, our interests are more secure today, than they were any time during the eight years -- "

Borger: "So, we're more safe?"

Biden: "We are more safe. We're more secure. Our interests are more secure, not just at home, but around the world. We are rebuilding America's ability to lead.

"I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office -- and he was a great guy. I enjoyed being with him. And he said to me, he said, 'Well, Joe,' he said, 'I'm a leader.' And I said, 'Mr. President, turn around and look behind you. No one's following.'

"People are beginning to follow the United States again as a consequence of our administration."

Wolf Blitzer: "What are you doing differently as vice president as compared to Dick Cheney?"

Biden: "Well, I think the biggest thing we're doing is, I'm operating in concert with the president."

"There are not -- there are -- look, everybody talks about how powerful Cheney was. His power weakened America, in my view. Here's what I mean by that. What I mean by that was, there was a divided government. There was Cheney as his own sort of separate national security agency, and then there was the National Security Agency.

"There was [former secretary of state Colin] Powell, who didn't agree with Cheney, and Cheney off with [former defense secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. I mean, there was a divided government, a divided administration. The strength of this administration is that the president and I work in concert."

Readers Explain Obama's Poll Numbers

By Dan Froomkin
11:43 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009

I wrote yesterday about how President Obama's continued -- and maybe even improving -- support in public-opinion polls is confounding members of Washington's pundit class. And I asked you readers to explain it to them.

"vbdietz" wrote: "The pundits are in an echo chamber of their own making and really do NOT comprehend the minute-to-minute reality of Americans scrambling to make mortgage payments, feed their kids and stay employed, or find a new job, if they're so unfortunate as to be unemployed. Those people aren't interested in what the talking heads have to say. They're interested in what actions are being taken to stabilize the economy, improve America's standing and address basic needs for shelter, health care and education.

"Obama is doing what he said he would do. He has my support. Do I have concerns about some specific actions and their outcomes? Certainly but on the whole, given the scope of issues and challenges facing this new administration and the lack of cooperation from Republicans who are more interested in tit-for-tat politics than in what's best for our country, I am well-satisfied with Obama and his administration's efforts thus far."

"GavinM" wrote: "A 66% approval rating in a depression while his country is involved in two seemingly intractable wars isn't just high, it's incredibly high.

"And the reasons for it are pretty simple.

"He's out there visibly trying to fix the problems that have weighed down the United States for the past 8 years- and perhaps most importantly, he's explaining what he's doing in complete sentences treating his audience as if they were adults."

"ath28" wrote: "The 'public' is comprised of individual people. We individually tune in to hyperventilating media outlets for a while and get caught up in the drama of the day, but then our lives pull us out again, and we have a spell - blissfully unaware of the manufactured crises. At any given moment, only a small percentage of us are in the grips of the media cycle.

"On the other hand, the people who work in the media live and breathe it constantly. For these people the world becomes an endless string of dramatic events. There should be no surprise, then, that the media has a different perspective than the broader public."

"loved1" wrote: "As the President has said, good policy makes good politics. Even though everything is not right, people feel comforted in knowing that a worthy leader is at the helm and it's wonderful to see a statesman on the world stage to represent the country."

"dougom" wrote: "I think the same things that are pleasing the country are POing the pundits. Obama is keeping his campaign promises--Pundits: 'How naive can you get?'; Public: 'Finally, a politician doing what he promised!' Obama is trying to deal with a huge mess that was handed to him--Pundits: 'He's doing too much!'; Public: 'Thank God somebody's trying to take care of business!' Obama is trying to be both honest about the difficulties we're facing, but still optimistic--Pundits: 'He's being naive (or too depressing)'; Public: 'Finally, something that sounds like a reasonable approximation of the truth.' Etc. I could go on forever, honestly.

"The short form is: the inside-the-beltway crowd concentrates too much on the 'game' of politics. Most people don't give a rip; they care about *their own lives*. And therein lies the disconnect."

Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
11:34 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon about the incredible saga of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who was released last month from Guantanamo after years of captivity. Now his lawyer has been forbidden from writing a memo to Obama about the case.

Del Quentin Wilber writes for The Washington Post: "The father of a detainee at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan sent a letter (PDF) this week to President Obama pleading for his son's release, writing that 'my heart aches when I consider the terrible and degrading treatment he has been forced to endure.'"

Gillian Gaynair writes for the Associated Press: "The White House is allocating tickets for the upcoming Easter Egg Roll to gay and lesbian parents as part of the Obama administration's outreach to diverse communities."

Hilary Leila Krieger writes for the Jerusalem Post: "President Barack Obama will celebrate Passover Thursday night with staff and friends in what is believed to be the first White House Seder attended by an American president. The event was slipped onto the president's public schedule Tuesday night with little fanfare, following a letter signed by Obama earlier in the day wishing Americans who mark the day a 'peaceful and relaxing holiday.'"

Let's Talk White House

By Dan Froomkin
9:54 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009

I'll be Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET, discussing Obama's trip, Iraq, Afghanistan, torture and whatever else is on your mind. Submit your questions and comments now.

Obama's Mystery Visit

By Dan Froomkin
9:45 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009


The above photo from this White House photo gallery shows President Obama stopping by the press section of Air Force One after leaving Baghdad -- while reporters were apparently having a few beers. Just a social visit? What did he say? Did he have a beer?

Update: A reader helps out with some IDs. Left to right, that's Matt Spetalnick of Reuters talking to Obama; Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press in the middle; CBS News producer Jeff Goldman over her left shoulder; then CBS News correspondent Chip Reid. And we think that's Richard Wolf of USA Today in the back.

Late Night Humor

By Dan Froomkin
9:41 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009

Jon Stewart chronicles the rise of "Baracknophobia" -- the conviction that Obama's presidency has brought tyranny to our shores -- on Fox News.

"I think you might be confusing 'tyranny' with 'losing,'" Stewart advises the Baracknophobes. "You see, when the guy you disagree with gets elected, he's probably going to do things you disagree with....That's not tyranny, that's democracy."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Baracknophobia - Obey
comedycentral.com

In another segment, Stewart looks back at Obama's overseas trip, documents the "unrealistic expectations of greatness by supporters and hysterical doomsaying by his detractors" and concludes, "Alright, Obama didn't get more troop commitments for Afghanistan, or the European stimulus money he wanted, or much in the way of Guantanamo prisoner relocations -- but isn't just spending a week overseas without being burned in effigy victory enough?"

Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:30 AM ET, 04/ 8/2009

Bob Gorrell on disarmament, Joel Pett on military spending, Tim Goheen on the war with Islam, Jeff Danziger on the Turkey speech and Mark Streeter on North Korea's message.

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