Bush Plans Meeting with Former Cabinet Members
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
President Bush is among those following the news about Israel's prime minister. Ariel Sharon is in serious but stable condition after suffering a stroke. In a statement, President Bush called Sharon a man of courage and peace. We're going now to NPR White House correspondence David Greene who's following this and other matters.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: The president has a close relationship with Ariel Sharon. How have they worked together?
GREENE: Well, Mr. Bush has known Sharon since he was Texas governor, and although the two men clearly had their own agendas and pursued them, they seemed to develop a certain level of trust, as much as you can when it comes to the complicated politics of the Middle East. Sharon was one of a handful of leaders the president has invited to his Texas ranch. They were there last April and Mr. Bush said he wanted to show Sharon life in central Texas, and wanted to accept his invitation to come to Israel, which he hasn't done as president. If Sharon is no longer prime minister, I think Mr. Bush's policies, including his push for a Palestinian state and a peace agreement, both of which he's relied heavily on Sharon to pursue, look very uncertain, that the president, as you said, released a statement last night, saying--calling Sharon a man of courage and peace, and saying that he and first lady Laura Bush were praying for him.
INSKEEP: There had been speculation over the years that Sharon's point of view influenced the president on issues beyond Israel, that he was, in effect, an influential adviser to President Bush.
GREENE: Indeed, he was, but certainly not the way the White House would want to describe him but that certainly became clear over time.
INSKEEP: OK, now on another topic, David Greene, later this morning President Bush meets at the White House with former secretaries of State and Defense. Why do that?
GREENE: It's interesting. This gathering--the White House sent invitations to living former secretaries of State and Defense to sit down with the president for a briefing on both the political environment and the security situation in Iraq. There's going to be quite a gathering, if the guest list turns out as the White House expects. Colin Powell, Mr. Bush's own first secretary of State's, going to be there. Alexander Haig, who was Ronald Reagan's first secretary of State, who made the famous utterance that he's in control here at the White House after Reagan was shot in 1981. He'll be in the room, as will Robert McNamara, who served as secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson. They're bringing together this group, the White House says, to broaden the outreach effort on Iraq and get some different points of view.
INSKEEP: Although this means that they're bringing in a number of people who've been critical of the president in the past.
GREENE: Indeed, some of them have, and even White House officials say it's pretty rare for President Bush to sit at the table with people who've been openly hostile to his policies. One of them is Madeleine Albright, who was, of course, secretary of State under President Clinton. She has said that she wants there to be success in the war on Iraq, but she has been heavily critical of the war. I think we have some tape here from a couple years ago in an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air," if we could play that.
(Soundbite of "Fresh Air")
Former Secretary MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think it--there's no question that the war in Iraq has harmed us. I think it has made people wonder about what the purpose of American power is. I think it's important that our adversaries fear us, but I think that when our friends and allies and others are afraid of us, that is not the kind of power that I wanted America to have.
GREENE: So, as you see, there you have it. What we don't know is whether some of these former officials are going to have the chance or the desire to challenge the president in these meetings at the White House.
INSKEEP: Isn't the whole point of an exercise like this to put the president in a position where he appears to be listening to different points of view?
GREENE: I think it is. It's interesting. As I said, the White House says they're broadening the outreach. This is also part of a major PR offensive that the White House started back in December when the president's poll numbers were pretty abysmal. They've come up--the president gave some speeches on Iraq, and one of the things that he was doing in December was striking a more humble tone. Now in terms of policy, I don't think you can say that the White House has been necessarily humble. They've taken a very hard line, for example, on the president's domestic wiretapping policy. But in terms of his message, he has sounded more humble.
And, it was interesting, the Associated Press had a poll back in November--the president's always been perceived by a lot of people we knew as someone who didn't listen to a lot of points of view. In that poll, people were asked to describe what words described the president of the United States. `Stubborn' is the word that I think 82 percent of Americans said was accurate in describing the president, more than any other word. So I think that the White House is trying to show him as a leader who can actually sit down and listen to different points of view and this may be part of that.
INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.
GREENE: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent David Greene.