Political Week: Bush Trip, Ports Deal, Katrina Video
LIANE HANSEN, host:
President Bush returned from his trip to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan this morning. Indian leaders seemed the most pleased with the visit, thanks to a controversial pact the President signed that allows India to continue developing nuclear weapons even though the country never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement. In this country, fallout continued over the Dubai Ports World deal and the lackadaisical government response to Hurricane Katrina. Joining us to discuss the political week is Doyle McManus, Washington Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times. Good morning, Doyle. Welcome back.
Mr. DOYLE McMANUS (Washington Bureau Chief, Los Angeles Times): Thank you, Liane. Good morning.
HANSEN: Good morning. Let's talk about this deal that's been made. This agreement this breaks a decades old embargo against supplying nuclear fuel and reactor parts to India. India has said in return it's going to divide its nuclear program into civilian and military programs and will allow inspections. And the President also made clear that a similar agreement with Pakistan was not in the cards. So taking all that into consideration, is it a good deal?
Mr. McMANUS: Well, it's a reasonable deal and it's a realistic deal for strategic reasons. Look, India's had nuclear weapons for about 30 years now. They weren't going to go away. And behind this was the sound of the great tectonic plates of geo-strategy sort of falling into place. India's becoming a great power, and India doesn't like China, and American strategists are worried about China. So just as 30 years ago India was an important ally for the Soviet Union, now India's becoming an important ally to the United States.
Now, there are downsides to this deal. One is that the President in effect said it's okay for a non-Muslim country to have nuclear weapons, but not okay for the Muslim country next door, Pakistan, to have nuclear weapons. Well, at a time when we're trying to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world, there's no other way folks out there are going to read that one.
And the other problem is he now has to get this deal through Congress and there hasn't been a national debate about this issue, about breaking with the Non-Proliferation Treaty on this. Now to be fair, this wasn't a front burner issue for Americans. Congress wasn't going to drop everything else it was doing to talk about it, but he does an uphill fight, I think.
HANSEN: One thing that everybody is talking about this week is the Dubai ports management deal. The Democrats said yesterday that the administration requests to trust us isn't good enough for the American people and the issue is actually going to stay on the table for at least 45 days as the administration investigates the agreement. Will that 45-day review assuage the critics?
Mr. McMANUS: That was certainly the administration's hope and if you've asked me the question a week or so ago, I would've said probably, but I don't think it will. We're still hearing an awful lot of flack, including from Republicans in Congress. That may be because polls are showing that a whopping majority of Americans think this is a crazy idea.
Just last week Duncan Hunter, the conservative Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, somebody the administration depends on for help in all kinds of things, said he wants to introduce legislation to make it illegal to turn over the operation of any piece of important infrastructure to a foreign company. Well, that, if that continues, that's really bad news for the administration because getting legislation through takes longer than 45 days. So the cooling off period doesn't work anymore. There's still legislation on the table.
Anyway, this is, I mean this one is big trouble if it keeps going. My own guess is that the Dubai Ports Authority is looking for some other buyer. Look, they actually operate, the contracts they're buying are in a hundred ports around the world. This is only six of them. The easiest way to get out of this is to let somebody else pick up the problem.
HANSEN: The President's popularity continues to slump. At one point it was 34 percent approval rating this past week. Taking a look at those latest polls, do you see any good signs for the President?
Mr. McMANUS: Not really. Actually, we found in a Los Angeles Times poll last week a new bad sign, which is that the, to put it quite simply, Democrats are madder about the President than Republicans are mad about Democrats. Or to put it another way, one of the great assets that George W. Bush took into the Congressional elections in 2002 and the Presidential election in 2004 was what you might call an intensity gap. Republicans were more intense about their feelings than Democrats and so they turned out in great numbers. They didn't just give more money, they turned out. They all showed up and that helped put him over the edge.
Well, now we're seeing an intensity gap, but it's a pretty big one the other way. Forty-three percent of the electorate in our poll strongly disapprove of how President Bush is doing. Only 19 percent strongly approve. In other words, Democrats are all, his opponents are all fired up. People who are for him are sort of getting a little lukewarm. That is big trouble going into those Congressional elections this fall.
HANSEN: Well, of course, Hurricane Katrina came back in the news because of the video of showing the President was warned about the seriousness of the hurricane and of course we all remember the response. It's been six months since the hurricane struck and you look at it at Mardi Gras you see how slowly the recovery is going. Is the President ever going to be able to get on top of this one?
Mr. McMANUS: Well, even the President's aides say it's going to take visible signs of recovery to get on top of this one. I'm going to express some sympathy for the White House on this count. That video really had no new information in it. We knew everything that had gone on there, but it's the awful power of the image. And if you think of Abu Graib, it was the pictures. If you think of that silly picture of Jack Abramoff, well, here it comes around again, the same old briefing we've been reporting about for six months. You know, sometimes you think if this President didn't have bad luck, he'd be having no kind of luck at all.
HANSEN: Doyle McManus is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times. Doyle, thanks a lot for coming in.
Mr. McMANUS: Thank you, Liane.
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