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Published: 8/31/2002

White House Watch: A bad spell in the nation's capital

WASHINGTON - Washington, D.C., officials were convinced their bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games would win. Mayor Anthony Williams couldn't believe his city lost to New York and San Francisco.

A bow-tied accountant known for fiscal discipline, calm deportment, and adherence to propriety, Mr. Williams, devastated, buried his face in his hands.

The rumor mills went into hyperspeed. The U.S. Olympic Committee bypassed Washington as a contender believing the International Olympic Committee would not pick the U.S. capital because the world is angry at the United States. The beating of war drums on the Potomac against Iraq (run by a sociopathic dictator) has squelched the sympathy and good will that Sept. 11 begat, the whispering says. It is payback time for U.S. wrath against the IOC in the wake of the Salt Lake City bribery scandal before last winter's games, agree knowing minds. Washington is just too political, is the buzz.

Hit hard by the drop in tourism and business because of the weeks Reagan National Airport was closed after Sept. 11, the city of Washington, to be sure, needed the economic boost of the Games, which could have pumped $5.3 billion into a city badly needing a facelift.

The D.C. bid was technically excellent. But Mr. Williams should have known the city's bid was doomed. He's fighting his own desperate battle. In a scandal that defies understanding. the petitions needed to get him on the ballot for a second term were full of forged signatures, his campaign has been fined more than $200,000, he's having to mount a humiliating write-in campaign.

In many ways, Mr. Williams' situation mirrors that of the Bush Administration right now - a faulty assumption that having a good cause means you win no matter what.

The Williams administration arrogantly hasn't played by the rules for the upcoming election but assumed it would be forgiven. It also told the IOC to accept on trust that all the necessary (and hugely costly) infrastructure to host the Games would be built on time, even though the city does not have the big businesses and industries needed to help raise the enormous amount of private money necessary.

The city suggested it has a good shot of getting federal money for an experimental magnetic levitation transportation rail line between Washington and Baltimore, where the Games also would have been held, although that's up in the air. Without the system, traffic for the 2012 Games would be unbearable.

Little was done to address a fear in the minds of many - that Washington is a crime-infested, unsafe city. When Olympic Committee members came to see the city, they were told to see it as it could look, not as it does look.

The Bush Administration is surprised the rest of the world is faltering in the war on terrorism, worried the United States has become an unresponsive bully wielding military might when it wants. Their opinions shunned, Uncle Sam's allies are not inclined to do him any favors right now. Some think that not since the Vietnam War has the United States been in such disrepute around the globe.

The coalition former President George H.W. Bush put together a decade ago to fight the Gulf War has crumbled. The United States suddenly is seen as isolationist, unilateralist, and not a team player. The outpouring of support after Sept. 11 has dried up.

The White House insists no decision has been made to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, but the belief in European capitals is that it's just a matter of timing. Having put Vice President Dick Cheney out front saying Saddam Hussein must be toppled for having weapons of mass destruction, foreign capitals reason, President Bush can't risk losing face by doing nothing.

And, by the way, they ask, what about the vow to capture Osama bin Laden? What's going on in the war on terrorism? Is the United Nations correct that the al-Qaeda network has huge amounts of money? And, if the United States is intent on remaking the world, why can't the biggest super power in the history of the world bring about an end the violence in the Middle East?

There's a lot of conjecture about hypocrisy. The United States halts future aid to Egypt for shamefully jailing a globally respected human rights leader but drops a veil of secrecy around prisoners in its own jails. The United States demands that others with disputes use the United Nations even as it says there's no longer any point in sending arms inspectors to Iraq. The United States hails the rule of law but disdains the international criminal court.

Against the odds, Mr. Bush, a rich Texan, a former baseball club owner, made millions of Americans like him. Against the odds, he has made millions of non-Americans dislike America.

Perhaps, like Anthony Williams, he's just having a bad spell.



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