Richard Wolffe

Stories by Richard Wolffe

  • WHAT WOULD KERRY DO?

    While the president gets briefed in his high-tech Sit Room deep in the West Wing's basement, John Kerry's intel sessions are a much more makeshift affair. Seven hours after the White House offered to brief him, Kerry, who'd been unwilling to bump any campaign events, was finally parked in one place long enough so that a secure phone line could be set up in his bus. After playing softball with firefighters and autoworkers in Taylor, Mich., Kerry boarded his bus next to the field, and, still wearing his TEAM KERRY jersey, heard what lay behind last week's terror warnings. While his aides described the call as simply "informative," the glimpse into the top-secret intel made its political mark all the same. Kerry tiptoed warily around the warning, and kept his distance from Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, who accused the Bush administration of manipulating the warning to help boost the president's re-election bid. Kerry wasn't always so respectful. Standing beside Dean six...
  • THE LAST WORD

    Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry claims he'll fix American intelligence and make America safer at home and more respected abroad. James P. Rubin, senior foreign-policy adviser to the campaign, sat down in Detroit with NEWSWEEK's Richard Wolffe to explain what would be different under a Kerry administration. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Expectations are high that American foreign policy would change under a President Kerry. But it sounds like the goals--fighting terror and making America safer--are not that different. Is it a question of style or execution?RUBIN: The difference, and this is the big and crucial difference, is that John Kerry, by virtue of his experience and his character and his wisdom, will be just as tough as George Bush in defeating Al Qaeda and Islamic extremist terrorists, but he will be a lot smarter in how he solicits the support of other countries. If elected, John Kerry will be sitting down with the leaders of our major friends and allies and demanding...
  • PAIN ON MAIN STREET

    To the rest of the world, Matthew Sandri's death in Fallujah looked like just another statistic from the war in Iraq. A 24-year-old Army medic, Specialist Sandri was killed in a rocket attack on a staging area far from the front lines in March. But back home in rural Pennsylvania, Sandri was far more than a name and a rank. When it came time to hold a memorial service, there was only one place big enough in the small town of Shamokin: the high-school gym. So many arrived to pay their respects that officials asked police and firefighters from neighboring towns to help control the traffic and crowds. Two months later Shamokin (population: 7,800) was grieving once more. Robert Scheetz, a 31-year-old Special Forces captain, died when a Humvee exploded at his campsite in Iraq. "We watched these children grow up," said Mayor James Yurick Jr. "Sandri lived across the street from city hall. These deaths have been devastating to the community."The deaths have also raised sharp questions...
  • Trail Mix: Inside the Bubble

    Just in case John Kerry was feeling a little too pumped after his weeklong party in Boston, the real world was waiting to bring him back down to earth. On the first day of his postconvention bus trip (formally known as the Believe in America tour), Kerry stopped at a Wendy's to see if America believed in him. The answer was: maybe. At the roadside eatery in Newburgh, N.Y., Kerry and his wife, Teresa, joined their running mates, John and Elizabeth Edwards, to celebrate the Edwards's 27th wedding anniversary. The Edwards have been enjoying their anniversaries at Wendy's for the best part of three decades, but this wasn't a chance for Edwards to run for the position of Wendy's unofficial spokesman (against a weak incumbent). It was, of course, a monumental photo op and a chance for an invigorated Kerry to test out his newly honed skills in retail politics.Watched by several dozen photographers, cameramen and reporters, Kerry spotted a group of Marines at another table and walked over...
  • 'The Bullying...Will Come to an End'

    Last Thursday, the same day that the 9/11 Commission published its long-awaited report on events leading up to and following the 2001 terror attacks, John Kerry promised to fix American intelligence as part of his strategy to make America safer at home and more respected in the world. Former State Department spokesman James P. Rubin, now a senior foreign policy adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, sat down in Detroit with Richard Wolffe to explain what would be different about U.S. foreign policy in a Kerry administration. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Expectations are high that American foreign policy would change under a President Kerry, but it sounds like the goals-fighting terror, making America safer-are not that different. Is it a question of style or a question of execution?James P. Rubin: The difference, and this is the big and crucial difference, is that I think John Kerry, by virtue of his experience and his character and his wisdom, will be just as tough as George Bush in...
  • Trail Mix: High Hopes

    After four days of extreme sports and extreme speechwriting on Nantucket, John Kerry embarked on his countdown to the Democratic convention looking unusually unstressed. Maybe it was the time he spent kiteboarding, a strange mixture of surfboarding and paragliding, which Kerry chose to display to the TV cameras this week. It takes a supreme kind of confidence to perform any kind of televised show of physical skill as a presidential candidate, given the ample moments to look downright foolish. Gary Bauer could barely manage a pancake-flipping contest, and Michael Dukakis struggled to look presidential riding in a tank. So why in the world would you want to kiteboard in front of a camera?Like George W. Bush, Kerry plays to win, and he approaches all sports in an intensely competitive spirit. In 2000, Bush liked to challenge reporters to run with him, confident in the knowledge that he could outpace them in any climate. The handful that kept up with him earned his enduring respect--and...
  • Trail Mix: Campaign Paragon

    It's hard to put your finger on the precise moment. It could be when he steps to the front of the stage, raises his arms in the air and simply basks in the cheers of thousands of adoring fans. Or it could be when he stops in his tracks, shrugs his shoulders and modestly tells the crowd they don't really need to listen to him talking about their lives. But by the time John Edwards reaches the climax of his new stump speech, the realization dawns. The senator who just joined the Democratic ticket is not just good. He's the Stepford Veep.Somewhere along the way, the redneck son of a mill worker from rural North Carolina morphed into an almost-perfect candidate. Someone streamlined the senator, overhauled every physical flaw and created a paragon of presidential campaigners. And like Stepford itself, the America that Edwards dreams of is a place where there's no crime, no poverty and no pushing. That place, of course, just happens to be John Kerry's America. "We believe, the two of us,...
  • Trail Mix: That's the Ticket

    John Kerry bounded on stage, punched both fists towards today's crowd in downtown Pittsburgh, and plucked a speech out of his back pocket. For the first few minutes, he smirked, he smiled, and he tried to suppress a grin. But as the giant backdrop rose behind him emblazoned with his newly-announced campaign ticket, he could hold back no longer. Once the whoopin' and hollerin' had died down, he simply beamed: "I trust that met with your approval."Kerry has plenty of reasons to feel good about far more than his hyperventilating fans. His process of picking John Edwards was everything he wanted to project about his campaign: discreet, exhaustive and a sign of his determination to win. After all the weeks of vetting, after all the cloak-and-dagger meetings with the candidates, Kerry managed to keep his veep decision private until the final hours. Edwards may have been on the media's shortlist from day one, but Kerry still managed to preserve the element of surprise in naming him. That...
  • Trail Mix: Yes, Backdrops Do Matter

    It was supposed to be a week for John Kerry to show off his support for science and high-tech matters. So sure enough, the Democratic presidential candidate rolled into San Jose last Thursday, the self-styled capital of Silicon Valley, to talk about the new frontiers of broadband, biosensors and nanotechnology. The only problem was Kerry's choice of warm-up guy. An elderly icon of the old economy: Lee Iacocca.There was nothing wrong in staging an event with Iacocca. Far from it. Iacocca is a huge scalp for the Kerry campaign, a big Republican business leader who backed the other guy in 2000. Moreover, the cigar-chomping Iacocca remains a hero in at least three battleground states--Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania--for saving Chrysler from bankruptcy a generation ago. "I was deeply involved in the Bush campaign," Iacocca sheepishly told Kerry's fans, "stumping for him in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where I spent most of my life. I hate to tell you this now: I even appeared in a couple...
  • PERISCOPE

    U.S. AFFAIRSThe Clinton FactorAs John Kerry toyed last month with the idea of delaying his official nomination, one voice broke though the babble of advisers and aides: Bill Clinton's. The former president told Kerry not to wait until after the Democrats' convention in Boston--a ploy that was supposed to help the senator spend and raise unlimited cash through August. Clinton's intervention was typical of the advice offered in the regular late-night phone calls between the ex-president and the presidential candidate. Clinton's friends and Kerry's aides tell NEWSWEEK that the former president hopes to tune up the message of a senator who lacks Clinton's political perfect pitch.While Clinton focuses on Kerry's message, the candidate himself is engrossed in the final shortlist of veep picks. Kerry sources say the choice is narrowing to Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, and that the candidate remains personally uncomfortable with Sen. John Edwards....
  • KERRY: LOOKING TO CLINTON FOR A HELPING HAND

    As John Kerry toyed last month with the idea of delaying his official nomination, one voice broke though the babble of advisers and aides: Bill Clinton's. The former president told Kerry not to wait until after the Democrats' convention in Boston--a ploy that was supposed to help the senator spend and raise unlimited cash through August. (According to one former Clinton aide, the ex-prez thought the delay would be "a distraction.") Clinton's intervention was typical of the advice offered in the regular late-night phone calls between the ex-president and the presidential candidate. Clinton's friends and Kerry's aides tell NEWSWEEK that the former president hopes to tune up the message of a senator who lacks Clinton's political perfect pitch.While Clinton focuses on Kerry's message, the candidate himself is engrossed in the final shortlist of veep picks. Kerry sources say the choice is narrowing to Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, and that the...
  • Trail Mix: The Battle for America's Soul

    It was a case of almost perfect election symmetry. On the day George W. Bush rallied the faithful with a conversation about compassion, John Kerry appealed to reason with a speech about science. In the cosmic contest of values, it almost looked like a campaign between the faith-based president and the science-based senator.Almost. As the Bush campaign points out, the president has substantially increased funding for the National Institutes of Health. And of course the senator is a practicing Roman Catholic whose sense of faith appears deep and personal. Yet their positions on both issues speak volumes for their polar-opposite personalities and leadership styles."Compassion" is what Bush's aides used to call compassionate conservatism. Back in 2000, the phrase was interpreted to mean some kind of Clintonesque middle ground, with the Texas governor positioning himself as "a different kind of Republican"--one who cared about social issues such as drug addiction and prisoner rehab. In...
  • Trail Mix: Off Message

    It was only 10 minutes into what was billed as a relaxed "conversation" about prescription drugs. But after leafing through his talking points, perched on a small black box in front of his chair, the president was clearly struggling. "I'm just about running out of air," he joked, before handing things over to the other four people on stage. "Want me to keep talking?" In less than 40 minutes, the conversation was over. That was about the same time as George W. Bush spent in his motorcade from Kansas City airport to his chit-chat in Liberty, Mo.After two weeks of hobnobbing with foreign leaders, in Europe and then in Georgia, Monday's event was supposed to mark the president's return to domestic politics--and the campaign trail. Missouri is one of the most hotly contested battleground states in the country, a state Bush won by a mere 3 points in 2000. Polls suggest the race is running just as close this time around. So his event, to sell his policies on prescription-drug benefits to...
  • Living Up to the Eulogies

    A little more than two decades ago, Ronald Reagan hosted the Western world's leaders in Williamsburg, Va., for what would become a high point in global summitry and Cold War politics. His agenda was as bold as it was ambitious: to win support for a nuclear buildup in Europe that would bolster his bargaining position with the Soviet Union. It's one thing to try to convince your allies to send their troops to a foreign war. It's another to get their support for missiles that could turn their nations into ground zero of a nuclear exchange.Yet that's what Reagan did at Williamsburg, overriding Soviet threats of retaliation and overcoming the hesitations of the French and Canadians. The cruise and Pershing missiles that followed Williamsburg sparked widespread antinuclear protests in Europe and sharpened opposition to his presidency overseas. But Reagan held his alliances together, and entered talks with the Soviets on stronger terms.Today at Sea Island in Georgia, George W. Bush hosts...
  • Trail Mix: Another Comeback Kid?

    Most polls put John Kerry in a statistical dead heat with George W. Bush. But the Democratic campaign likes to pick out the surveys that give their candidate a slight edge, saying that no other challenger in the last half-century has been faring so well at this stage of the race. Since that last early-surging challenger was Thomas Dewey, this may not be the best of role models for Kerry's aides. The more obvious comparison is Jimmy Carter, who held a slender lead over President Gerald Ford early in 1976. That's a comparison that should be familiar to at least two people in the Bush cabinet: Vice-president Dick Cheney was chief of staff and Donald Rumsfeld was Defense secretary in the Ford administration. Whatever the analogy, there's plenty of time for Kerry to lose his slim lead in the polls. Here's a look at what can go right for George W. Bush over the next five months.THE ECONOMY"What a difference a year makes," says a grinning John Snow. "I remember a year ago at this time when...
  • Trail Mix: A Gaping Hole

    In years to come, historians will wonder why this Bush administration enjoyed such a strong reputation for its foreign policy for so long. After all, it was only a few weeks ago that Washington's pundit class, spurred on by the rival presidential campaigns, declared that George W. Bush was a shoo-in as long as the focus remained on Iraq.How times have changed. The president's grand vision for Iraq--now known as his five-point plan--was supposed to get the full ballyhoo on Monday evening. The magical words "prime time" were thrown around, even though the networks chose to broadcast shows like "Fear Factor" instead of the president's fine words. But no amount of rhetorical flourish can mask the disarray of the administration's policy in Iraq, and the president's continuing struggle to speak convincingly to the American and Iraqi people.First the strong stuff. The president reached for the rhetorical heights by citing the horrific beheading of Nicholas Berg, as part of his latest to...
  • Trail Mix: Kerry's Secret Plan To End The War

    For politicians, striking the right tone about war is rarely easy, except in times of resounding victory--and this clearly isn't one of them. The choice of tone is relatively simple for George W. Bush: certainty about future success and celebration of past triumph. But for John Kerry, the struggle to talk about Iraq seems as hard as the administration's struggle to find an exit strategy. He hedges and he dodges; he issues caveats and subordinate clauses. Kerry's underlying suggestion is that he thinks he can turn the war around. But he finds it unusually difficult to say so in simple terms, without offering ammunition to his rivals.It has been only two months since Kerry entangled himself in the notion that the rest of the world was yearning for his victory over Bush. "I've been hearing it, I'll tell you. The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places," Kerry told a Florida fundraiser. "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly, but boy,...
  • Mack The Knife Vs. Geek Chic

    In the red corner is the ex- songwriter from Austin, Texas, backed by the talent who brought you the talking dog that loves Taco Bell. In the blue corner is the wonkish ex-pollster from Providence, R.I., who prefers the edit room to the talk-show circuit. One taped an ad called "Wacky" that turned the rival campaign into the Keystone Kops. The other taped an ad called "Commitment" that showed nothing but the candidate talking about his top three policy priorities. Between now and the debates in October, the ads made by Mark McKinnon and Michael Donilon will be the closest you'll see to a prime-time clash between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Together they'll fight their battle of the brands by spending more on TV than anyone in presidential history.The air war is more than just a clash of personalities between the outgoing McKinnon and the retiring Donilon. Campaigns are formed in the image of their candidate, and the rival ad makers toil under men with sharply different leadership...
  • Trail Mix: A Glass Half Full Or Half Empty?

    Rising from the dead is a great experience. Don't take my word for it. Just listen to the Kerry campaign, which has undergone at least one Lazarus moment and believes it's in the middle of another. There's nothing quite like the sense of satisfaction (and relief) that comes from surviving the very worst and proving the pundits wrong.John Kerry had his first comeback after the long, bleak winter last year, when everyone prematurely pronounced his candidacy dead on arrival soon after he formally kicked off his race in September. Today, to listen to Kerry's aides, the moment has come again.After the flap over Kerry's Vietnam record, after all the examples of flip-floppery, after the $60 million of mostly negative ads run by the Bush campaign, Kerry holds a slight lead over George Bush in some polls. To listen to Kerry's staff, this feat is something like Luke Skywalker flying into the Death Star and emerging with Darth Vader's face mask. "We made the decision that we weren't going to...
  • Trail Mix: Losing The Moral High Ground

    At a pancake breakfast yesterday morning in Lucas County, Ohio, George W. Bush struck the high note--and the low note--of this presidential election. After lampooning rival candidate John Kerry for some of his seemingly contradictory statements (like whether or not he owns an SUV), the president turned to his own character. "It's very important for the president of the United States to speak clearly, and when he says something, mean what he says," Bush declared. "In order to make the world more peaceful and the world more free, when an American president speaks, he'd better speak with authority, clarity and certainty."Credibility has become the central battleground in the war against Kerry. It also happens to be, as the president correctly points out, a critical part of the war against terror. Last week it was Kerry who was surprised to find his credibility under fire as he drove around the battleground states of the Midwest. This week it is Bush's turn to watch the wheels fall off...
  • Trail Mix: Good Kerry, Bad Kerry

    This is a tale of two John Kerrys. The good John Kerry who can connect with a crowd as a compelling speaker. And the bad John Kerry who can turn a soundbite into a mouthful of gristle. The good Kerry speaks from his life's experience without using the words "Senate foreign relations committee". The bad Kerry speaks from a script like he's clinging to a lifeboat. At back-to-back events in Washington last week, the two Kerrys were engaged in a Jekyll and Hyde struggle over the soul of the Democratic presidential candidate. It wasn't clear who would be left standing in November--or whether his audience would forget the bad Kerry and simply remember the good alter ego.It was Good Kerry who took to the stage under a broiling sun outside DC's new City Museum to speak to his ideological soul mates. The event looked like a perfect setting for Bad Kerry: hundreds of pro-choice activists who were gathering for the weekend's huge march for women's rights. Bad Kerry likes to indulge in...
  • Trail Mix: The Disconnected

    Back in the heady days of January, when Howard Dean was mapping out his general-election strategy against George W. Bush, the Democrats thought they had spotted their Moby Dick. All they needed to do was attract new voters, disillusioned voters and anyone else who didn't vote. That way they could swamp the Republicans at the polls and destroy the conventional wisdom that America remains an evenly divided nation. Tom Harkin, the Iowa senator who was Dean's most important asset at the time, recalled a conversation with the late Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota senator who was the keeper of the liberal flame. "If all we're going to do is just fight over a shrinking pool of voters," Wellstone told Harkin, "we lose."That was three months ago, and of course it was Dean who lost--despite his promise that he could bring a whole swath of disaffected voters to the Democratic Party in November. Now it's Ralph Nader, the former Green party candidate, who hawks those same promises after building...
  • POLITICS: WHY KERRY AND BLAIR HAVE 'SCHEDULING PR

    After last month's flap about which foreign leaders support him, you'd think John Kerry would jump at the chance to get a few words of support from George W. Bush's closest ally. But when British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to meet the Democratic presidential candidate this week, Kerry said he was just too busy.Both sides insisted they wanted to meet the other and blamed scheduling difficulties. But the cool response from the Kerry campaign is an unusual twist in what should be an easy relationship. Both leaders are liberals at home and internationalists abroad. Both were lawyers in their early careers and both play the guitar in their downtime. Both have even shared an adviser in Bob Shrum, Kerry's media guru who helped Blair's team during its 2001 re-election.So why the scheduling problems? "With the prime minister, every minute is accounted for and I'm sure that is absolutely the same when you are running for president of the United States," said one British official. But the...
  • Trail Mix: A Black-and-White Presidency

    At his press conference on Tuesday evening, George W. Bush was strong, confident and aggressive--and weak, hesitant and defensive. He was humble, he was arrogant. He showed his fine political antenna and his tin political ear. He was eloquent, and he was tongue-tied. You can see why people love or hate him. It's not just because of his policies. It's because he embodies those black-and-white contrasts himself. ...
  • Trail Mix: Swing Factor

    Here's the general election by the numbers. In their first full month of hand-to-hand combat, George W. Bush has outspent John F. Kerry by almost seven to one on TV ads. Over almost the same period, the media has been saturated with negative stories about the White House and the 9/11 commission.The result: almost nothing has changed.But what about those reports that Kerry's ratings were plunging under the tidal wave of Bush's ads? It turns out the data were less useful than anyone thought. In the 18 states where the Bush-Cheney campaign has been waging its war on the airwaves, Kerry's unfavorable numbers rose by all of one point during the fearsome month of March, from 28 to 29 percent. According to the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey, Bush's unfavorables rose by the same amount, from 39 to 40 percent.That makes you wonder about the value of spending $40 million on TV ads, as the Bush campaign reportedly shelled out. But it also raises questions about...
  • Charm Offensive

    Almost exactly a year ago, Colin Powell arrived at NATO's bleak headquarters in Brussels to heal the wounds of divisions over the war in Iraq. By his sheer presence and charm, the secretary of State reassured the troubled and troublesome allies. Everyone agreed it was time to move on, time to bury their differences, and time to help the Iraqi people. There was talk of a United Nations role in Iraq, talk of NATO peacekeeping in Iraq, and talk of what a new Iraqi government would look like.Twelve months later, that talk is stuck in aspic. While the United States speeds toward the handover of sovereignty in Iraq at the end of June, the big questions remain unanswered about the U.N., NATO and even the Iraqi government. Will European allies support the U.S. by boosting their token efforts in Iraq? Will NATO take more control of the international sector now led by the Poles? Can the U.N. broker a deal among Iraq's political and ethnic rivals to help set up a new nation? It may be time to...
  • Trail Mix: Clunky Kerry

    They threw their heads back and laughed heartily as if they were sharing a joke about the good old days. They squeezed each other's shoulders and exchanged big bear hugs. They even wore the same outfits: light blue shirts and deep red ties. In the bright sunlit plaza, filled with hundreds of adoring students, you might think the two middle-aged men on stage were the best of friends.But for most of this year and all of last year, they were the worst of enemies. John Kerry and Howard Dean used to speak of one other with disdain dripping from every word. Their aides heaped scorn on each other, pointing to a long list of ills ranging from hypocrisy and incompetence to downright loser status.So their joint appearance at George Washington University last week, when Dean formally endorsed Kerry, was meant to bury the hatchet and inspire their young supporters to do the same. But this turned out to be the kind of political compromise that gives politicians a bad name. And sure enough, the...
  • Trail Mix: Forgotten Lessons

    Colin Powell and Richard Armitage are two of the most relaxed, accomplished performers you're likely to witness at any hearing on Capitol Hill. But inside the Hart Senate building at the 9/11 commission today, they looked like they were chewing lemons. Powell--who normally indulges in happy chit-chat in Congress--read line-by-line from his prepared script even though his interrogators admitted they were among his biggest personal fans. Armitage, Powell's deputy at the State Department, simply glowered his way through the session--especially when he was asked to go back and urge Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security advisor, to answer questions in public.Why the sour faces? It wasn't just the nature of the questions, cutting to the heart of the dreadful events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania more than two years ago. In the full glare of the nation's television cameras, Powell and Armitage found themselves on the frontlines of the general election taking fire on...
  • Attack Politics

    Here's a pop quiz. Which presidential candidate said the following: "We have partners, not satellites...The United States needs its European allies, as well as friends in other regions, to help us with security challenges as they arise." Confused? Here's another clue. The candidate said this in the same set-piece foreign policy speech: "I will never place U.S. troops under United Nations command--but the U.N. can help in weapons inspections, peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts."It was, of course, George W. Bush in November 1999 as he embarked on his journey from Texas governor to 43rd president. The fact that the governor of Texas sounded like the senator for Massachusetts speaks volumes for how far we've traveled in the last four years or so. Depending on your political perspective, you could say that's because Bush has failed to live up to his own standards for American diplomacy. Or you could say that Bush has encountered the same difficulties that all presidents ultimately...
  • Into the Fray

    John Kerry was padding around his backstage room with his family and senior staff when his last serious rival appeared on TV. Three floors below in Washington's historic Old Post Office building, the Massachusetts senator's D.C. supporters and staff were already filling the atrium where the cameras were waiting for his victory speech. But above the hubbub, Kerry was transfixed by the sight of the falling of the last obstacle on his romp toward the Democratic nomination for president. Kerry shushed the room, including the Kennedys and a gaggle of reporters, to hear John Edwards joke about how the pundits and the pollsters had failed to predict the survival of the two Johns. It was a rare moment of release. Kerry clapped his hands and laughed, as his wife, Teresa, clung to his arm. If there's one thing sweeter than victory over your rivals, it's making the pundits look foolish.Kerry has spent the last six weeks trying to keep a lid on laughing at the pundits. After all, it was that...