Snubbing Bush

John McCaslin
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Posted: May 04, 2004 12:00 AM

As she prepared to deliver Saturday's commencement at Miami Dade College in Florida, first lady Laura Bush tried to recall the advice that her own graduation speaker gave her university class to prepare for the future.

"But I couldn't recall who gave the commencement address at the University of Texas in 1973," Mrs. Bush said. "Maybe because - and I hate to admit it - I skipped the ceremony.

"But I did look it up and I found out who gave that commencement address. And you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was some guy named George Bush. Four years after that speech, I married his son."

SHOPPING SPREE

Reporters in Washington this week will be offered a rare peek at four original documents from the Lewis and Clark expedition, which set out 200 years ago on May 14, 1804.

The documents detail a portion of nearly 2 tons of provisions, obtained during a Philadelphia shopping spree, that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark packed for their famous trek westward.

The items included 107 yards of brown linen to make tents, 45 flannel shirts, fishing hooks and reels, 25 felling axes, powdered rhubarb, 93 pounds of soup (dried beef, egg and vegetable paste) purchased from a Pennsylvania cook for $289.50 (it was so unpopular it was consumed only when the 33-member party faced starvation), and to make the trip as smooth as possible, Dr. Benjamin Rush's "special concoction" - a purgative.

In addition, presents and trade goods for Indians they would encounter along the way included 130 rolls of pigtail tobacco, knives, blankets, corn mills, combs, and 500 brooches and 72 rings purchased from a Philadelphia silversmith.

To lug so much gear across the continent, the pair ordered 30 sheepskins to be "taken off the animal as perfectly whole as possible."

ANYBODY WATCHING

Now that the Pennsylvania primary is history and Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel knows he's facing Sen. Arlen Specter this November, he's requesting there be 11 debates.

Why 11?

"Once upon a time," says Hoeffel, "I'm told that (Specter) challenged his opponent ... Pete Flaherty to a series of 11 debates during the 1980 general election campaign" as the best way to ensure voters were fully informed on the issues.

"Nearly a quarter-century later, I hope Sen. Specter remembers the wisdom in that idea, even though he's tried to create a tradition of debating only once in the primary and sometimes twice in the general election," says the challenger.

In the closely contested Republican primary, the incumbent agreed to face his conservative opponent, Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, only once, "on the night of the NCAA Final Four playoffs," notes Hoeffel.

BIKING INTO BUSH

Visitors to Uncle Sam's "Recreation.gov" Web site usually retrieve information on biking, boating, camping, fishing, hunting and lodging. Except this past weekend, when the U.S. government's outdoors site was "hacked" into by an unidentified person who replaced it for 24 hours with an "antiwar, anti-President Bush message," says one Interior official.

"The hacker, who claims to be a 16-year-old in Brazil - he could be anyone - appears to have hit 12 other sites ... this weekend, including a Canadian government site," Interior Department spokeswoman Joan Moody tells this column.

CREATING OSAMA

Wonder what some in the Middle East are saying about America?

We've learned that a special team from the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) will begin monitoring 18 to 20 Arabic TV stations every day, translating in real time and sending clips almost instantaneously to Western news channels.

For instance, if CNN wants to report on an anti-American series aired on Iranian television, the network can obtain translated clips easily, something previously unheard of.

"We've informally started the project and found a bunch of interesting clips," MEMRI's Elliot Zweig tells this column. "Among them is an interview on Al Arabiya with a Lebanese member of parliament, Walid Jumblatt, who accuses U.S. intelligence of being behind 9/11 and controlling Osama bin Laden."

Said Jumblatt: "Who invented Osama bin Laden? The Americans, the CIA invented him ... I am of the opinion that somewhere, someplace, there is an intelligence agency profiting from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden."

"Another great clip we've got is from Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, of an 8-year-old girl yelling for Muslims to open the gates of jihad," Zweig said. "It's quite disturbing stuff, seeing it from a child."

Founded in early 1998, MEMRI provides translations of Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew media, as well as analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural and religious trends in the Middle East. Three members on MEMRI's board include former Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, former CIA Director James Woolsey and former Education Secretary William Bennett.

GRIT YOUR TEETH

While President Bush and Vice President Cheney were testifying before the Sept. 11 commission - its mandate: to provide a "full and complete accounting" of the terrorist attacks - the National World War II Memorial opened on the Mall.

What better time to call on an "old World War II Marine" who provides unique observations about intelligence failures during that war and the war in Iraq today.

"When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, everyone understood that serious blunders on our part had contributed to the Japanese success," says John K. McLean, of Alexandria, Va. Yet "unlike today, an inquiry into the disaster was conducted in private and the results not made public until after the end of the war, so as to avoid a severe distraction to the war effort and encouragement to the enemy.

"Were there intelligence failures? Yes, plenty. The unknown underwater obstacles at Tarawa and the failure to detect the German buildup that led to the Battle of the Bulge in Europe, to name a couple," he says.

"Prior to our attack on Iwo Jima, I was told to expect no more than 13,000 Japanese defenders and a three- to five-day operation. There were actually 23,000 Japanese troops, and the operation lasted five weeks with unexpectedly heavy Marine casualties, the last pocket being our regimental zone of responsibility."

But, McLean says, "Not one Marine returned home to denounce the war, accuse fellow Marines of massive atrocities, and attack the president for bad intelligence and lying to the people. We just gritted our teeth and finished the job. ...

"The behavior of the Democrat opposition today is disgraceful and presents to the world a spectacle of national disunity that gives aid and comfort to our enemies. It ought to be an affront to every patriotic American."

CONFUSING CODES

A bill has been introduced in the House to present gold medals to the Meskwaki Code Talkers. The measure recognizes more than two dozen tribal members for their contributions during World War II.

In January 1941, one year prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 27 Meskwaki enlisted in the U.S. Army. Once the war started, eight of the American Indians were sent to North Africa, where they directed artillery fire against German forces in their native tongue.

Indians from 17 other tribes also were code talkers during the war, and Congress has been rushing of late to honor their accomplishments.