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White House Diary

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White House Diary

Welcome to our White House Diary, Al Jazeera's daily analysis of what's happening in the presidential transition period until Barack Obama takes office on January 20.

With news, views and a healthy degree of scepticism, we'll be bringing you the latest on the transition from across the US and the world.

Will Stebbins, Washington DC, November 12

US media reports of the first meeting between the incoming and outgoing US presidents suggest that, despite appearances, the White House visit was anything but friendly.

In fact, they may provide a clue as to what opponents of Barack Obama's incoming administration can expect.

A story that appeared in the US press, that George Bush, the US presdient, insisted on support for a trade deal with Colombia from the president-elect in exchange for bailing out the US auto industry, sounds like hard-nosed, Chicago-style politics.

It has put the pressure squarely on the lame-duck president to prove that he does not put his personal policy goals above the health of the US economy.

The White House spokesperson has subsequently attempted to re-characterise the substance of the meeting, and deny any quid pro quo, but the damage has been done.

Pre-emptive strike

Pleasantries for the cameras - but did Bush
get a taste of Chicago-style politics? [AFP]
With US workers in imminent danger of losing both their jobs and their homes as the US economy collapses, George Bush has appeared to prefer to fiddle, like the Roman emperor Nero, with free-trade deals.

It was a devastating pre-emptive strike by the Obama side, as it also effectively dismissed any actual objections that Bush may have had to bailing out the Detroit-based auto manufacturing industry.

Not only is he on the defensive, but the outgoing president may now hesitate before bringing up the Colombia trade deal again; a policy goal he had invested a lot of effort in.

During the election campaign, Obama raised doubts about regional trade deals, and even suggested that the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) may have to be re-negotiated.

Very much in tune with the economic climate, he wondered whether enough had been done to protect US workers, and whether labour and environmental standards had been sacrificed for the sake of the agreements.

He made no secret of his opposition to the Colombia trade deal in particular; insisting that the country’s human rights record and its treatment of trade unionists would first need to be thoroughly investigated.

Dealing with enemies

This very much meshed with the position of one of the traditional constituents of the Democratic Party, US labour unions.

The unions in Michigan, the home of the US auto industry, have claimed the credit for mobilising the kind of support for Obama that caused John McCain, his Republican rival, to surrender the state way ahead of the November 4 election.

This may give a clue as to the actual quid pro quo at play.

The seemingly aggressive pursuit of support for the ailing US auto industry is a sign not only of how potential enemies may be dealt with, but also how faithful allies will be rewarded.

If the story from the first White House visit is indeed true, it reveals an indiscreet moment on the part of the outgoing president.

Bush may have been swayed by the public image of the incoming president as a healer who is above politics.

He will probably be the last man in Washington to be so incautious.

Source: Al Jazeera
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