The Skinny: Did Iraq PM Diss Bush?

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The nation's major newspapers dwelled at length on what everyone is suggesting was a snub by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki – who abruptly cancelled a meeting with President Bush yesterday – and the White House denies was a snub. "The White House insisted Mr. Bush was not upset and had not been snubbed," writes the New York Times. " 'Absolutely not,' said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president."

The cancellation follows yesterday's leak in the The New York Times of a classified memo from NSA Adviser Stephen Hadley that expressed doubts about Maliki's leadership. White House officials "insisted the document had nothing to do with it."

The cancellation also occurred following turmoil in the Iraqi government yesterday, when a bloc of lawmakers loyal to Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr boycotted their duties "to protest Maliki's decision to meet with Bush," writes the Washington Post.

Everyone mentions Bartlett's quote response to the suggestions of a snub, that: "No one should read too much into this." The Los Angeles Times, however, does read into it, writing that "the surprising change of plans suggested more was at work than a scheduling matter among friends," as Bush rarely alters his plans.

"Senior Bush aides offered at least four explanations for the cancellation," writes the LAT, "finally dispatching a more junior official to tell reporters late Wednesday that Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah II had decided mutually that a three-way conversation was not necessary."

Bush and Maliki met this morning privately and in a joint news conference and "said they agreed to speed the training of Iraqi security forces, and they pledged to continue cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq to stem violence."

Leaks Galore

The other Iraq-related issue taking up space on the front pages involved the jauntily named Iraq Study Group. "People familiar with" the deliberations of the ISG have leaked the panel's recommendations – that the US should call for a gradual withdrawal of the bulk of American combat forces in Iraq, but should not set a timetable for such a withdrawal.

According to the New York Times "the implicit message" of the report "was that the process should begin sometime next year." It does not specify whether the withdrawn troops would return to the U.S. or remain in Iraq's nearby bases.

"Some people knowledgeable about the group's deliberations" told the Washington Post that the possibility of reducing the size of the U.S.'s presence by half might be feasible in a year or two. The panel's approach "would place less emphasis on combat operations and more on logistics, intelligence and training and advising Iraqi units," writes the Post. That means, one "person familiar with the group's thinking noted," that the panel envisions a "substantial" military force remaining in Iraq.

The report is apparently quite politically convenient, according to "one person involved in the commission's debates," who told the Times: "I think everyone felt good about where we ended up. It is neither 'cut and run' nor 'stay the course.'"

Bring Back Brownie

Oh, FEMA, when will you ever learn? When a judge refers to your practices as "Kafkaesque," you've got to know he's not going to rule in your favor. Two front pages include the news that a federal judge did both yesterday.

His ruling said that FEMA's letters to tens of thousands of Katrina aid recipients explaining "why they suddenly had to reapply or were no longer eligible for emergency assistance," were vague and confusing and the agency had to resume payments until evacuees can appeal or FEMA can better explain its actions, writes USA Today. The Washington Post quoted from the judge's decision: "Free these evacuees from the 'Kafkaesque' application process they have had to endure."

A FEMA spokesman quoted by the Post "would not say how many people are affected by [the] decision, how much has been paid to them or how much is owed. He cited 'ongoing litigation' and a possible appeal." I'm guessing the Kafkaesque thing is going to be a little difficult to get past in the appeal.

You're Less (Or More) Charitable Than You Think

As Republicans are licking their wounds following this year's midterm elections, the Chronicle of Philanthropy (via Arts & Letters Daily) highlights a book that reveals some information that may provide some solace. It will also make lots of bloggers have an online conniption fit.

In his book Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, Arthur C. Brooks has found that "religious conservatives are far more charitable than secular liberals, and that those who support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others," writes the Chronicle.

Brooks "has registered as both a Democrat and a Republican in the past decade" and "he says he set out to write a book about values and philanthropy, with no hidden agenda." Those factors will likely be ignored whence the blogosphere commences its haranguing. Although Brooks isn't exactly avoiding a walk down that road by criticizing Ralph Nader in the book, writing for the Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed page, and conducting "a promotional tour for the book that reads like a conservative coming-out party," says the Chronicle.

While the book's "charity map" of the U.S. "closely resembles the now-famous electoral map showing blue and red states," it may not necessarily be a red-state/blue-state issue: "Most of the difference in giving among conservatives and liberals gets back to religion," writes the Chronicle. "Religious liberals give nearly as much as religious conservatives, Mr. Brooks found. And secular conservatives are even less generous than secular liberals." But that probably won't stop it from turning into a red-state/blue-state issue among the Web's opinionators. Let the bloviating begin.
  • Dan Collins

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