Hot Stories for the Week of Feb. 21

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Feb. 26, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: And the hot story numero uno is prodding Putin — obviously, Russian President Vladimir Putin (search), who Bush visited a couple days ago and prodded him to stop that drift away from democracy in Russia and re-embrace specific democratic principles. The president was very specific about this, the rule of law, protection of minorities, free markets, a free press.

He did it in private, but he also did it in public at their session with the press after their meeting. And I thought this was just an incredible triumph for Bush and his crusade for democracy around the world.

Now, you know that press conference seemed to mystify some of our friends in the media. I mean, The New York Times (search) said the session with Bush and Putin was awkward. I didn’t find it awkward. I thought it was kind of thrilling, actually, that they were discussing democracy the whole time. The Washington Post said Bush was gentle with Putin. I thought he was pretty firm, although gentle’s not bad.

And I was just amazed to find myself disagreeing with Charles Krauthammer, who I practically never disagree with. He thought Bush had endorsed Putin’s drift away from democracy. I didn’t think so at all.

So I don’t know, there’s an episode in this whole Bush and, and Putin meeting that I think is very telling. It was after Bush had brought up democracy in, in his opening statement, and then this followed. Watch it.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Russia has made its choice in favor of democracy. This is our final choice, and we have no way back.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the most important statement that you heard and I heard was the president’s statement when he declared his absolute support for democracy in Russia, and they’re not turning back. To me, that is the most important statement of my private meeting, and it’s the most important statement of this public press conference.

PUTIN: We discussed these issues and some of the ideas — I wouldn’t say advice, but some of the ideas that I heard from a partner who I respect a lot, and I believe some of his ideas could be taken to count.


BARNES: That’s ideas, not advice, you got that?



BARNES: But in any case, look, I think that shows that Bush, you know, pressed democracy, which is his big issue, but did it in a way where he didn’t alienate Putin, who on some issues is an ally, very important in the war on terrorism, dealing with China (search).

WILLIAMS: Well, you know what? I think Bush was a fine diplomat, Fred. But you know what? There are some terrible things going on inside of Russia, concentration of power, Putin taking powers away from the governors. You think about what’s been going on in the Ukraine and how Putin got involved there. Finally got beaten, but he was there.


WILLIAMS: And you know what he was up to, really antidemocratic moves. You think about how he’s taken away from the media, how he’s had that scorched-earth policy with regards of the Chechnyans, everybody’s a terrorist who doesn’t like him.

And so now, I think, President Bush, because of Putin’s support of the War on Terror (search) and in Iraq, had to bite through his lip. I think he left Russia with a bloody lip, because he bit it through when because he has pledged to promote democracy worldwide, and he finds he can’t do a full- throated support of democracy when it comes to Vladimir Putin, for fear of alienating him at this point.

So I think that if President Bush is going to be true to his promise to promote democracy, he’s got to talk tough turkey with Vladimir Putin. But right now, he can’t even get Vladimir Putin to promise not to send nuclear devices and support to the Iranians, which is another key issue on the table.

So that’s why I think people thought it was awkward, people thought maybe he was a little bit too diplomatic, Fred.

BARNES: Well, you know, I didn’t think so, but anyway, go ahead and move on to the next hot story.

WILLIAMS: Well, hot story number two, buddies again. This is a story that — about the president’s trip to Europe, but going off to see Vladimir Putin. You know he had to meet with the French president, Jacques Chirac (search), then the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder (search). And the key here, Fred, was accentuate the positive. Let’s look.


BUSH: My first trip after my inauguration was to Europe, and that’s the way it should be, because Europe and the United States are close friends.

GERHARD SCHROEDER, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We have agreed that we are not going to constantly emphasize where we’re not agreeing, but we want to focus on where we do agree.

JACQUES CHIRAC, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): Our relations are indeed excellent, but they’ve been excellent for over 200 years now, because why do I say that? Because they’re based upon common values, common values that we share. And these things don’t change overnight with the wave of a wand.


WILLIAMS: Well, it’s all about kiss and make up. Oh, gee, that war in Iraq? Don’t worry about it, please.
BARNES: Yes, yes.

WILLIAMS: Forget about it — the way New Yorkers would say. But you know, there were three big issues on the table here. First and foremost, you got to remember that the French and the Germans want to send — sell weaponry to the Chinese.


WILLIAMS: And remember that there’s a ban on selling weapons after the Chinese antidemocratic moves in Tiananmen Square that we all remember. But they’re so interested in selling weapons because they want to get into that Chinese market in terms of consumer goods.

BARNES: Right.

WILLIAMS: And so they’re anxious to it.

The second big issue had to do with Iran. And you know that the Germans and the French have taken the lead in terms of those negotiations. Now, President Bush, during this meeting, said for the first time that he’s willing to talk about maybe giving some carrot with the stick in terms potentially of allowing Iran into the World Trade Organization (search). I don’t know how that’s going to play. But the funny part of this whole meeting was the president saying, you know, we don’t have intention of attacking Iran.


WILLIAMS: How ridiculous! according to my Texan president.


WILLIAMS: But you know what? He said all options remain on the table. So what, what, what did he mean?

BARNES: What did he mean? He meant that all options are on the table. You’re never going to remove the military option, because that’s something you want to have there in striking fair in the minds of the Iranian mullahs.

Now, look, you know, what the president got on Iraq was symbolically important. I mean, the French, all these people that opposed Iraq, the Iraq war, are now saying, Well, we’re going to help create a stabilizing, a stabilized democracy in Iraq, and, you know, the French are sending, sending one person. But that’s a lot more than they’d said before.

So at least they solidified that.

And Bush did make some headway on these, on, on these diplomatic issues. But you can’t judge the success or failure of a trip because there’s not some gigantic breakthrough. Those things have to be negotiated ahead of time, and separately. They’re not going to be decided, you know, in a one-hour meeting with Chirac or somebody like that, the nuclear reactor being sold to Iran, the China arms sales, and all that stuff.

So there wasn’t one of those.

Here’s what really happened on this trip. I thought the editorial Friday in The Wall Street Journal really captured it. Let me show it to you.

And it said, "Visits by U.S. presidents to Europe tend to have a template-making quality — Wilson, the peace maker, in Paris, 1919, Truman, the victor, at Potsdam, 1945, Kennedy, the stalwart, in Berlin, 1963, Reagan, the visionary, in Berlin, 1987. If President Bush’s trip this week has some kind of new theme, the word for it is probably conciliation. But our sense is that Mr. Bush is really following in Reagan’s footsteps."

And that means he has a vision. It’s a vision of democracy and freedom around the world. And I think the Europeans are starting to say, and some of them actually have publicly, though not Chirac and Schroeder, you know, maybe Bush is right about this.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that the president clearly needs his allies and I think it was the president who went to visit.

BARNES: Yes, yes.

WILLIAMS: And I think the president got something out of it so hats off, let’s hope the fence mending is working.

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