Martha Brant

Stories by Martha Brant

  • Front Lines: The Comforts Of Qatar

    There are no highway signs directing you to Camp As Sayliyah, Central Command's desert headquarters in Qatar. Driving instructions are as follows: take the Western industrial road out of the capital, Doha, and just keep going across the flat, gravelly land for about a half an hour until you see a big checkpoint.In this hazy terrain devoid of landmarks, it's actually possible to miss the 262-acre site. And that's just the way both the U.S. military and the Emir of Qatar like it. "We don't want to leave a large footprint," Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, my guide around the base, explained.The emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, invited the U.S. military here in the mid-1990s. The oil- and natural-gas-rich country is a tiny peninsula that juts out off Saudi Arabia. On the map, it even looks precarious. Tensions with its giant neighbors in the region drove the royal government to befriend the United States in return for protection. Though it has only a small air force of its own, the...
  • Sci-Fi War Uniforms?

    It was the ultimate laboratory experiment. Prof. Ned Thomas and eight scientists from MIT last month traded in their white coats for military outfits at Fort Polk, La. The team was there to study soldiers in the field--and particularly their uniforms. Just what happens to a Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) "when an 18-year-old gets his hands on it?" asks Thomas, director of MIT's new Army-funded Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). It was all well and good for the Ph.D.s to use computer models up at MIT, but live data from the rainy woods where troops train were invaluable.The Army unit coming off a six-day exercise emerged in soaked, muddy uniforms. Thomas, along with the other engineers, wanted to know how many extra BDUs the troops had to carry along. Answer: none. Given a choice between dry clothes and extra weaponry, a soldier opts for ammo every time. Thomas then asked, "If you had a magic wand, what would you change?" Soldier after soldier replied he'd like a lighter load...
  • Frontlines: Greetings From Natick, Mass.

    The recruits call it Camp Happy. Instead of dodging bullets, the troops at the Army's Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., test out new uniforms, food and gear. The work does have its hazards. You ever eat an experimental MRE--a "Meal, Ready to Eat"?To see how both the gear and their bodies hold up in different climates, the "human research volunteers" get hooked up to physiological monitors then exercise in the heat and cold. Natick's climatic chambers range from 70 degrees below to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, though no human has ever been subjected to those extremes. The research is a lot more scientific--and safe--than it was when the center opened in 1952. Back then, two commanders tested out new body armor by one trying it on and the other shooting a revolver at him.Natick, for all its success, was born out of failure. In World War II, soldiers found that the leftover gear from the last war wasn't made for the jungles of the South Pacific. Within days, their tents disintegrated...
  • Frontlines: Packing For War

    "Will you be around any refugees?" the nurse at the Traveler's Medical Service in Washington asked me. "Maybe," I said, still unclear exactly where all I might go in the Middle East if and when we go to war. "Then you'll need a vaccine for meningitis," she said. It was just a quick prick; I was clearly in good hands.When I told her that I was getting a visa for Turkey, she whipped out her malaria book. "Limited risk exists May through October in the southeastern part of the country from the coastal city of Mersin to the Iraqi border." In other words, possible refugee country--a likely place for a journalist. She hooked me up with a prescription for Aralen just in case.Just in case. That's been my motto as I get ready to cover this probable war. I leave in a week. Initially, I'll be what's known as--not affectionately--a "Hotel Warrior." I'm going to be based in the tiny country of Qatar, where Central Command will have its headquarters. My friends and relatives keep asking me if I'm...
  • Front Lines: Meet The Press

    The State of the Union Message brought opposing forces together under one roof--and not just under the Capitol dome. ...
  • Front Lines: Covering The Military

    It's called the Battle of 73 Easting. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment under Capt. H. R. McMaster was cruising through the Iraqi desert back in 1991 when the company came upon a convoy of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.THERE WERE scores of Iraq's T-72 tanks. McMaster's Eagle Troop--with its 10 tanks and 13 Bradley Fighting Vehicles--took out the enemy in just 23 minutes. It was the seminal tank battle of the Persian Gulf War and few people have ever heard of it because not a single reporter was within a hundred miles of the fight.When the battle was over, McMaster, who went on to teach at West Point, sat down on the end of a Bradley and wrote down everything that had happened on a legal pad. He shipped those 36 handwritten pages to his mother, who sent them on to Joe Galloway, the journalist who made his name as a UPI photographer covering Vietnam and who co-wrote "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young" with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore. The gripping tale of the Ia Drang battle--the first...
  • Front Lines: Women And War

    In my family, women have gone to war for generations. So when I signed up to cover what now seems like an inevitable war with Iraq, my decision did not meet with protest or worry, but, rather, stories. ...
  • West Wing Story: You're In The Army Now

    "Welcome to the military. Get ready to stand in line," my greeter said when I arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., this week for media boot camp. But this five-day course for reporters who have enlisted to cover the next potential gulf war has meant very little standing still.I've carried my LCE (load-carrying equipment) on a five-mile march along a muddy red-clay trail. I've awoken at 4 a.m. to do PRT (physical readiness training) alongside real recruits. I've slept in the woods (though in a heated tent on a cot rather than under a "poncho hooch"). I've clearly learned to decode a few acronyms and even use some lingo: I now put on my "snivel gear"--cold-weather clothing that makes you stop "sniveling" about the chilly Georgia mornings. I've also learned to pronounce that ubiquitous Army expression, "Hooah!"--which by their definition means "anything and everything except no."The military is taking better communications between soldiers and reporters seriously for this likely war. "That...
  • West Wing Story: Decoding Bush's Agenda

    Are the United Nations inspectors in Iraq just an international game of rope-a-dope? It certainly seems that President Bush intends to go to war no matter what Hans Blix and his sleuths find--or, more to the point, don't find. "This isn't about inspectors," Bush said again Wednesday. No, it's about Saddam Hussein and convincing the world that he's a liar.There is nothing Bush hates more than a prevaricator--though he doesn't use that word. The first time he met Tom Daschle, Bush told the Democratic senator: "I hope you'll never lie to me." It struck Daschle as a bit jarring, a bit naive even. But Bush holds everyone, even despots, to that standard. Nor does he forgive easily. He never liked Yasir Arafat, and when the Palestinian leader denied, in a letter to Bush, that an Iranian arms cache found aboard a ship was intended for Palestinian fighters--despite intelligence reports to the contrary--Bush wrote Arafat off.Bush doesn't need a letter from Saddam. He already believes that the...
  • West Wing Story: Blast From The Past

    The numbers just didn't add up. For days leading up to George W. Bush's trip to Lithuania and Romania late last week, White House staffers were projecting that huge crowds would turn out for the president's visit. "The initial estimates are between 50,000 and 100,000," Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told us on Air Force One. "In each place?" asked an incredulous reporter. "Yes."Well, actually, no. Another top staffer, trying to tamp down the hyperbole, nudged Fleischer to revise his estimates. "I stand corrected: 25,000 to 50,000 in Lithuania and 50,000 to 100,000 in Romania," Fleischer said. He was still off by nearly 100,000: about 10,000 turned out in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and about 50,000 in cold and rainy Bucharest.At first, I didn't understand why White House staffers--always loath to engage in "hypotheticals" of any sort--were talking up the hypothetical turnout in the first place. The only answer I could come up with: Bill Clinton. When the former president...
  • West Wing Story: The President Gets 'Lofty'

    Lofty. It's not the adjective that first comes to mind when describing George W. Bush. Fiesty, maybe, even goofy, but not lofty. Until today.c "President Bush," a Czech reporter said during a press conference here with outgoing President Vaclav Havel in Prague this morning, "you have said some lofty words here." Bush looked confused; he couldn't quite understand--or perhaps believe--the translation. "I said some what?" he asked. "Lofty words," the reporter said again. "No one has ever accused me of being a poet before, but thank you," Bush said amid chuckles.Bush likes to play the bumbling yokel. Sometimes it's not an act. (See Bush on the "Grecians.") But he has spent much of his political career intentionally lowering expectations. That's why it may come as a surprise that many of the ideas he is presenting here at the NATO summit this week are indeed quite lofty. In fact, for a man not known for his worldly ways, Bush's entire foreign policy agenda has proven to be remarkably...
  • West Wing Story: Musical Chairs

    Recently, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer reshuffled the seating chart in the White House briefing room. The changes included moving all the news-magazine reporters a few rows back.THE SWITCH CAUSED ENOUGH of a flap that it even became fodder for Conan O'Brien's late-night comedy show the other day. As he put it: "The good seats were given to reporters from President Bush's favorite magazines, Highlights and Ranger Rick."Thanks, Conan. In truth, they moved Fox and Bloomberg closer in, which is only fair since the briefings are most useful to TV and wire service reporters, who traditionally sit in the front--on Power Row. In order to move up the two relative newcomers, everybody else got switched around. I went from Row 3 to Row 6 (out of eight total). The New York Times moved up a row, while The New York Daily News moved back one--into my old seat. (Sorry about the gum, guys.)At first, it looks like just another efficiency overhaul from the businesslike Bush White House. They are even...
  • West Wing Story: Fast Journeys With George

    George W. Bush wrapped up his civic lesson today. Now it's time for the exam. In each of the fifteen states where Bush campaigned over the last five days, he has admonished Americans to do their civic duty. "You have an obligation to vote. You have an obligation to America," he told them, striking a non-partisan pose. Then he'd pause and deliver the political punch line: "But when you get in that voting booth, I've got some suggestions for you."Whether voters take them or not will soon become clear. But Bush's get-out-the-vote effort has been intense. With key elections coming down to tiny margins, voter turnout has rarely been more important. And the president has been central to the Republicans' voter turnout strategy. "I'm urging all people across this country to vote," Bush said after casting his ballot at the Crawford fire department this morning. Dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a leather jacket, he waved off reporters' questions about the elections.Usually "political events...
  • West Wing Story: Laura Bush And The Gender Card

    Like any good politician, Laura Bush has a few tried and true yarns she uses to entertain a crowd. One of her best tales recounts how, when fledgling politician George W. Bush asked her to marry him, they made a deal: he promised she'd never have to make a political speech; she promised she'd go jogging with him. "I've never run a day in my life," she'll sometimes joke, while telling the story at a campaign rally, acknowledging that they both broke their promises. ON WEDNESDAY, THE First Lady showed what a disarmingly effective politician she has become since those early days of her marriage. She headlined a "political event" (read: fundraiser) for Congresswoman Connie Morella at an upscale home in Potomac, Md. "Hosts" paid $1,000 for a "grip and grin"--as the handshake and photo opportunity is known in Washington. For $500, the other "guests" got to hear her make a seemingly effortless political speech. "Perhaps her greatest work has been on behalf of the women of Maryland," Bush...
  • He Used To Be G94b

    Ari Fleischer kept getting paged. The White House press secretary was sitting in on a meeting last October between his boss and China's President Jiang Zemin during the APEC economic summit in Shanghai. But every few minutes, Fleischer would steal a look at the specially designed secure pager the White House gave him for the trip; his SkyTel didn't work in China. (Knowing how noisy interruptions annoy George W. Bush, he wisely had the gadget set on "vibrate.") What breaking world news could absorb Fleischer so? His beloved Yankees were in the playoffs, and an aide was sending him text messages with the score.Baseball may be serious business in the Bush administration, but the main point of technology at the White House is to keep the president and his staff on their own game. During the presidential campaign, Bush earned a reputation for preferring a Sharpie pen to a Stylus. It was Al Gore who was thought of as Mr. Tech. But Bush, too, was an avid e-mailer--until he became president...
  • West Wing Story: Alas, Love Fades

    When George W. Bush first became president and I started following him around the country, we'd run across a handful of protesters here and there. As we whizzed by in the motorcade, I'd catch a sign or two in the blur. Invariably there was an IS I KING? poster or the ever-popular HAIL TO THE THIEF slogan in the mix.Gradually, griping about the contested election was drowned out by concerns over Bush's environmental policy. "Fossil Fool" and "Log Bush" were among the refrains that stick in my mind. Then 9-11 happened. The protests came to an abrupt--and prolonged--halt. American flags replaced angry placards. Any posters we glimpsed along the roadside were variations on the theme "We Love Bush."Alas, love fades. The protesters are back. And this time it's a possible war in Iraq that has brought them out. Now it seems as if every time Bush hits the road, there are a few dozen Americans who feel strongly enough to line the motorcade route with NO WAR IN IRAQ and NO WAR FOR OIL signs....
  • Selling The World On War

    Bush Rallied The U.N. To Take On Iraq. How He Got There--And What's Ahead.
  • West Wing Story: Ladies And Gentlemen ... The Band

    "We're getting the band together," White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett told the group on their first conference call last week. The "Band" is made up of the people who brought you the war in Afghanistan--or at least the accompanying public-relations campaign. Their greatest hit: exposing the Taliban's treatment of women. Now, they're back for a reunion tour on Iraq.The band's instrument, of course, is information. They aim to use it against Saddam Hussein, respond to his disinformation and control the message within the administration so no one--not even Vice President Dick Cheney--freelances on Iraq. That's no easy task. The members talk every day by phone at 9:30 a.m. The key players are a handful of rising stars in their early 40s and under:For starters there's Deputy Communications Director Jim Wilkinson, 32, a fast-talking Texan who has become an unlikely but keen student of Islam. He recently got back from a trip to Morocco where he continued his study of Arabic ...
  • West Wing Story: Smooth Diplomacy

    The United Nations is not really George W. Bush's kind of place. First of all, the signage at the headquarters is in French. (The president famously dismissed an American reporter as "intercontinental" for speaking in French.)Bush hates the pomp and circumstance of the world body, where he was introduced this morning as "Your Excellency." And it irks him that the rigid parliamentarian rules dictated that the Brazilian foreign minister got to speak before him.Bush also had to sit through a lecture by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who told the U.S. president that the more leaders "use multilateral institutions the more other countries will respect them."But the president doesn't want other countries' respect. He wants Saddam Hussein gone. The president seemed surprised by the polite applause that greeted him before he finally gave his address to the General Assembly today. He ignored the 15-minute limit on all speeches and--uncharacteristically--went 10 minutes over the allotted time....
  • West Wing Story: The Politics Of Unpolitics

    President Bush won't say much on the first anniversary of 9-11. His speech to the nation that night will last just 10 minutes. Several of the services he will attend will be silent. As is typical of Bush, he doesn't want to seem like he's using the emotional day for either self-aggrandizement or political gain. But don't think for a moment that politics didn't factor into the White House's planning of the day.Let's start with the backdrop for the speech itself. Scott Sforza--the Emmy-award winning ABC producer who does the White House TV image crafting--outdid himself this time. Bush will be standing on Ellis Island rather than Governor's Island, which was also considered. That is symbolic in itself. Message: immigrants still welcome. But the bonus is that the camera angle of the Statue of Liberty is better from there.With that American icon over his shoulder, Bush doesn't even have to say the word freedom (though he will) to remind people of the sacrifices we have to make for it. ...
  • The Road Show

    George W. Bush is always on the lookout for a new running mate. Down on his Crawford ranch for summer vacation, the president likes to take his daily three-mile jog in the brutal Texas heat, and goads his staffers into coming along. Anyone who can keep up--choking on dust kicked up by the Secret Service all-terrain cart that tails him--is admitted to the Hundred Degree Club. Bush himself designed a T shirt for members, with a picture of an exploding thermometer on the back. So far, a few Secret Service agents and a few staffers, including Reed Dickens, a young press aide, have made the cut.Those aides who don't run can work up a sweat chopping down trees. Like Ronald Reagan, Bush relaxes and recharges by playing cowboy, far from the coat-and-tie capital he proudly loathes. His 1,600-acre spread is thick with water-sapping cedars, and the president can't fell them fast enough in his effort to save the property's starving oaks. After his morning national-security briefing, Bush...
  • Iraq: Taking The Debate Public

    Even when he's engaging in political warfare, Gen. Brent Scowcroft is courteous. Last week, the day before his op-ed titled "Don't Attack Saddam" appeared in The Wall Street Journal, he faxed a copy over to national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice--his protegee when he held what is now her job under Bush the Elder. Rice already knew his views, but appreciated the heads-up--and maybe even the help.For months the longtime Bush-family friend and discreet adviser has been privately worried about the direction Bush the Younger was heading on Iraq. His old friend Secretary of State Colin Powell's message of restraint seemed to be drowned out by hawks inside--and outside--the administration. With Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heading to Bush's Crawford ranch on Wednesday to argue his case, Scowcroft went public. "A war fever has built up," explains Philip Zeli-kow, who sits on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which Scowcroft chairs. "Brent felt it was time to...
  • Buying Time, And Cooling Off, In Crawford

    The temperature was probably 100 degrees in the shade at Bush's Crawford ranch today. It was cooler than yesterday. The press pool had been summoned for brief comments by the president and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about their meeting this morning. On their agenda: military restructuring. On ours: Iraq.In case we needed a visual of how punishing the weather can be down here, we spotted a dead cow engulfed by buzzards en route to the rendezvous. As we waited for Bush and Rumsfeld to arrive, White House image wranglers moved hay stacks to artfully block the TV cameras' view of an unsightly propane tank. We amused ourselves by checking out the huge poisonous spiders that have set up shop along a fence. (A couple Secret Service agents tested one spider's reflexes by tossing crickets into its web). By the time Bush rolled up in his white Ford pickup truck with Rumsfeld riding shotgun, we were bored and hot.First thing Bush did was throw cold water on us--or at least our notion...
  • West Wing Story: Live From Waco

    If there was ever a made-for-TV event, it was the President's Economic Forum, held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, on Tuesday. With Congress away and President Bush on his "working vacation," August is usually a slow news month in Washington. White House strategists knew that if they hosted the forum, a bored press corps would come. ...
  • Look Who's Back

    She's back. Karen Hughes, the former "counselor to the president," was at the White House Tuesday for the first time since she moved her family home to Austin, Texas, last month. She no longer has her grand title, her West Wing office or even her White House pass, but her clout is very much intact--and she's putting it to use this summer.The security guards at the Northwest gate at 1600 Pennsylvania just waved her through yesterday without asking for ID. (They recognized her even with the tan she was sporting from two weeks at the beach.) She had breakfast with national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, attended the signing ceremony for the trade-promotion-authority bill and then boarded Air Force One with President Bush for his trip home to Texas. "Being away makes you really appreciate the thrill and the grandeur and the honor of walking into the White House," she told reporters on the plane.Hughes will be spending much of August at Bush's Crawford ranch during his monthlong ...
  • West Wing Story: In Defense Of Paul O'neill

    Every few weeks in Washington it seems the White House is trying to quash another rumor that Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will soon get the boot. The rumored grounds for firing vary: He's out of touch with Wall Street. He's not paying attention to the economy because he's too busy traveling overseas. But, mostly, it's that he's just too honest for the Beltway.When O'Neill is asked a question--brace yourself!--he says what's on his mind even if it contradicts the president or jostles the markets. "O'Neill is in the Rumsfeld mode of saying what he thinks," one administration official explains.O'Neill latest incident of truth-telling was over the weekend on those peculiar Washington creatures "the Sunday shows." These long-format interviews test the mettle of administration officials every week. If they can answer the thorough questioning of a Tim Russert or Cokie Roberts without committing too much news, they pass. The shows are so important to the White House's message that there...
  • West Wing Story: Hey, Uh, How's That Economy Doin'?

    "Lawrence," George W. Bush said to his chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey last week, "How's the economy?"It's a question Bush asks him almost every time he sees him. Lately he's been seeing a lot more of Lindsey and the rest of his economic team. Every few days, they get about 45 minutes with him in the Oval Office. It's a select group that includes Lindsey, Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers Glen Hubbard and, when he's around, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. Bush doesn't ask them about the market; he doesn't even want to know the day's unemployment numbers or the current GDP. "What he's interested in is looking ahead," say a senior White House official. "He jumps forward to the next half year or next year."Bush, his aides insist, is focused on long-term economics over short-term politics. But as the midterm elections approach, that's getting blurry. Everywhere Bush goes he talks about how our "economic fundamentals are strong....
  • West Wing Story: Handshake Capitalism

    Call it "faith-based capitalism." That's the new religion that President Bush and his economic team are trying to sell around the country.Bush was in Alabama on Monday telling a crowd of Birmingham business leaders and others that, despite the dipping Dow, "the economy is coming back. That's the fact." The backdrop behind him on stage read STRENGTHENING OUR ECONOMY in both big letters for the local audience and small letters for TV viewers. But the speech had little to do with the economy-let alone strengthening it. And by the end of it, the market was off another 200 points.It angers White House aides that reporters try to blame ticker tallies on Bush. Last week, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was carrying around a fever chart of stock-market performance before, during and after Bush's recent big corporate-reform speech in New York. He showed every reporter he could corner that the biggest dip that day happened a good hour and a half after Bush's speech ended. Message: it wasn't...
  • Going After Greed

    Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made his reputation as a straight-and-narrow kind of CEO. As head of aluminum maker Alcoa, he guarded his image as an honest steward of a company that cared about employees as much as stockholders. On a recent Friday George W. Bush sat down with O'Neill and a handful of senior economic advisers to work on the details of the president's upcoming speech laying down the law to corporate America. Angered by news of yet another major accounting scandal, this time at long-distance-telephone giant WorldCom, O'Neill urged Bush to make greedy CEOs pay for their crimes. "A kid caught with half a pound of marijuana gets more jail time than a corporate executive," he said. "That's not square." Bush emphatically agreed. "You're absolutely right," he said. O'Neill went on to detail how WorldCom executives played with the numbers, hiding nearly $4 billion in losses. "Can you imagine that?" he asked. The president frowned. The two men sat, shaking their heads.This...