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Bush's Foreign Legacy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 6, 2006; 12:36 PM

In his second inaugural address , President Bush spoke extravagantly about dedicating the United States to bringing liberty to every corner of the globe.

He made the measure of a president's foreign legacy clear as could be: "From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?"

And he expressed confidence that the answers to those questions would be in the affirmative: "America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength -- tested, but not weary -- we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

But signs are that the foreign policy legacy Bush will leave behind could be a world in greater disarray than he found it.

Bush has previously acknowledged that he does not expect a complete pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq on his watch, leaving that for his successor to deal with. But it's not just Iraq.

Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright write in today's Washington Post: "From deteriorating security in Afghanistan and Somalia to mayhem in the Middle East, confrontation with Iran and eroding relations with Russia, the White House suddenly sees crisis in every direction.

"North Korea's long-range missile test Tuesday, although unsuccessful, was another reminder of the bleak foreign policy landscape that faces President Bush even outside of Iraq. Few foreign policy experts foresee the reclusive Stalinist state giving up the nuclear weapons it appears to have acquired, making it another in a long list of world problems that threaten to cloud the closing years of the Bush administration, according to foreign policy experts in both parties."

Abramowitz and Wright write that "the events on the Korean Peninsula underscored how the administration has lost the initiative it once possessed on foreign policy in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, leaving at risk the central Bush aspiration of democracy-building around the world.

"They also showed how the huge commitment of resources and time on Iraq -- and the attendant falloff in international support for the United States -- has limited the administration's flexibility in handling new world crises."

The North Korean Test

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "The Bush administration has tried to ignore North Korea, then, reluctantly, to engage it, and then to squeeze its bankers in a manner intended to make the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, personally feel the pinch.

"Yet none of these steps in the past six years has worked. So now, after a barrage of missile launchings by North Korea, President Bush and his national security advisers found themselves on Wednesday facing what one close aide described as an array of 'familiar bad choices.'"

Sanger writes that the big question is "whether the president is prepared to leave office in 2009 without constraining an unpredictable dictator who boasts about having a nuclear arsenal. . . .

"Another alternative for Mr. Bush would be take a hard line that might risk an escalation of the half-century-old confrontation between the United States and North Korea. But such a tack is now complicated by the widespread assumption that even if the North does not have the ability to launch a nuclear weapon, it now probably possesses enough extra nuclear fuel that it may be tempted to sell some to a terrorist group or another state."

Paul Richter and Barbara Demick write in the Los Angeles Times that Bush's "subdued response drew some criticism.

" 'The United States is a paper tiger,' said Song Yong-sun, a military expert who serves in South Korea's National Assembly as part of the conservative opposition party. Referring to the North Korean leader, she added, 'Kim Jong Il knows very well that Bush isn't going to do anything to punish him.' "

Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column: "When the going on the Korean Peninsula gets tough, the tough go on a doughnut run.

"President Bush, making his first public remarks since North Korea test-fired seven missiles in open defiance of the United States, boarded his motorcade yesterday for an unannounced trip to a doughnut shop in Alexandria -- to talk about immigration. . . .

"After interpreting every gesture of Saddam Hussein as a casus belli , a changed Bush administration is taking the opposite approach with Kim Jong Il. Officials were determined not to give the little man with the big missile the attention he craves."

At the White House press briefing yesterday, Milbank notes that spokesman Tony Snow "struck the tone of militant multilateralist. 'It's been our policy all along,' he lectured reporters, 'that we do not act unilaterally.' Further, he chided: 'There are attempts to try to describe this almost in breathless World War III terms. This is not such a situation.' "

World War III rhetoric, as readers of this column know, is reserved for the war on terror -- and Iraq. (See my June 29, 2006 , column, and the "Hayden and the War on Terror" section of my May 8 column.)

About That War on Terror

James Fallows blogs for the Atlantic from this year's Aspen Ideas Festival about a panel that included Sir Richard Dearlove, the former director of Britain's secret intelligence service.

Writes Fallows: "Without ramming home the point, at four or five instances he suggested that just about everything in the American approach to the war on Islamic terrorism had been ill-conceived. . . .

" 'Terrorism is an extreme form of political communication,' he said. 'You want to be sure that, in your response, you don't end up amplifying the messages that terrorists are trying to convey.' This understanding, he said, explained why his country approach counter-terrorism in so different a way from America's.

"That's what I wanted to hear more about -- in what ways, exactly, he thinks the United States might have 'amplified' the Al Qaeda message, and what a different approach would look like."

Well, on the amplification point, you don't really have to look very hard. Here , for instance, is Bush a year ago: "Hear the words of Osama bin Laden."

Blogger Kevin Drum writes that Fallows's curiosity is legitimate: "But what I'd really like to hear about is what exactly Dearlove meant when he told Tony Blair that " the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy " after returning from a visit to the U.S. in the summer of 2002."

Dearlove was the author of the famous " Downing Street Memo ."

Next Target: Iran?

When Bush, in what The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler called "perhaps the biggest foreign policy shift" of his presidency, reversed course last month on his approach to Iran -- agreeing to join talks with the Iranian government on the condition that it suspended its uranium enrichment -- the obvious question was whether this was a good-faith offer or just a way of laying the groundwork for future military action.

Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker that behind Bush's words "was an unspoken threat: the U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the President's direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran."

But here's what Hersh has found out about that: "Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States."

And here's some more news: "In late April, the military leadership, headed by General Pace, achieved a major victory when the White House dropped its insistence that the plan for a bombing campaign include the possible use of a nuclear device to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. . . . 'Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning,' [a] former senior intelligence official told me. 'And Pace stood up to them. Then the world came back: "O.K., the nuclear option is politically unacceptable." ' "

Next Target: Cuba?

Yesterday morning, Bush's national security briefing was, of all things, about Cuba.

Pablo Bachelet writes in the Miami Herald: "A wide-ranging report on U.S. policies toward Cuba's possible transition to democracy was officially presented to President Bush at a meeting Wednesday of the White House's National Security Council.

"The report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Cuban-American Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez, makes recommendations to hasten the end of the island's communist government and assist the transition. . . .

"An early draft obtained last week by The Miami Herald included recommendations to create an $80 million fund to support democracy on the island, launch a diplomatic initiative to undermine Venezuela's backing of Castro and tighten the enforcement of the economic embargo against Cuba."

Albor Ruiz writes in his New York Daily News column: "The existence of such commission -- created by Bush three years ago and co-chaired by Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guti?rrez, a Cuban-American -- shows that the Iraq lesson has been lost on the White House.

"Yet, the lesson is clear: Independent nations don't go along easily with notions of 'democracy and political freedom' as defined by another country and forced down their throats by the very undemocratic method of foreign intervention.

"Last May the Organization of American States' secretary general, the Chilean Jos? Miguel Insulza, asked an obvious question: Why has Bush created an office to coordinate a transition in Cuba?

"Talking about Bush Insulza said: 'There is no transition [in Cuba] and it is not his country.' Who are you, he asked the President, to propose a transition in a country that is not yours?"

And Reuters reports: "Two senior Cuban officials charged on Wednesday that a report on the communist nation delivered to the Bush administration's National Security Council amounted to a blueprint for an Iraq-style regime change in the Caribbean. . . .

"The first chapter, entitled 'Hastening the End of the Castro Dictatorship: Transition not Succession,' includes a separate 'classified annex' of recommended actions.

" 'You can't accomplish what they propose without an invasion, without a war. . . . This plan implies a U.S. military invasion of Cuba, a direct U.S. intervention,' said Bruno Rodriquez, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs."

A Friend in Need

Bush heads off next week for Europe and a controversial G-8 summit hosted by the increasingly undemocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin. In anticipation, Bush invited a rare symbol of global democracy to the Oval Office so they could flatter each other.

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili "led the nonviolent, democratic Rose Revolution in 2003 that toppled an entrenched, corrupt government and helped trigger two more 'color revolutions' in Russia's periphery that made the Kremlin nervous. Since then, he has aligned himself unabashedly with Bush, welcoming him to Tbilisi last year with a rally of hundreds of thousands of people. . . .

"Yesterday, he also offered words of support that Bush rarely hears from foreign leaders. . . .

"Bush returned the favor, endorsing eventual NATO membership for Georgia."

Here's the transcript of their photo op. "My friend, the president, wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't have Georgia on my mind," Bush said.

Oh, Canada

And Bush today hosts Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Beth Gorham writes for the Canadian Press that Harper "may just be the best birthday gift President George W. Bush will get today for his milestone 60th.

"The two men are holding their first real one-on-one meeting at the White House and the president, waging an unpopular war and losing allies among outgoing world leaders, could really use a conservative friend."

David Ljunggren writes for Reuters that there's a downside risk for Harper: "Cozying up to political ally George W. Bush could be a dangerous dance for Canada's fledgling prime minister when he visits Washington this week, as he seeks to improve ties with a long-term friend without appearing too close to a leader that many Canadians dislike."

Executive Power Backlash?

Well, regardless of whether he leaves his successors an international wasteland, Bush will certainly leave behind a strengthened executive branch, right?

Caroline Daniel writes in the Financial Times how that is certainly Vice President Cheney's goal.

"Mr Cheney has led a calculated effort to restore the power of the presidency. In January 2002 he laid out his philosophy. 'In 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job. One of the things that I feel an obligation on -- and I know the president does too -- is to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them.' "

And yet, Daniel writes: "That ambition is now at risk. Last week, in Hamdan v Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Bush did not have the right to hold military commissions to try terror suspects held at Guant?namo Bay. More disturbingly for the president, it slapped down his assertion that, as a wartime commander-in-chief, he had the authority to exclude Congress from decisions concerning national security.

"This court decision marks a defining moment in the Bush presidency. Not only does it dismantle some of the elaborate legal scaffolding he has erected since the attacks of 9/11 to prosecute the war on terror. It also potentially heralds a 1970s-style backlash against executive power, triggered by the perceived overreach of the last six years."

Happy Birthday

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Bush turns 60 on Thursday, and like most other men hitting that milestone, he just cannot seem to get the thought off his mind. . . .

"Could it be that Mr. Bush, with his enviably low heart rate and penchant for two-hour mountain bike rides that exhaust Secret Service agents half his age, is worried about getting old? Is that why the president, so mindful of proper attire that he demands a coat and tie in the Oval Office even on weekends, wore a decidedly youthful red-and-white Hawaiian shirt to his two-days-early birthday dinner in the East Room of the White House Tuesday night?"

The years certainly don't seem to be weighing on Bush like they have on most presidents.

Writes Stolberg: "Doris Kearns Goodwin, the historian and aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson. 'You don't see a drawn look. It's as if somehow he has psychologically not allowed the burdens to fully get to him. Maybe it's the exercise, maybe it's his sureness about his own decisions.' "

Kenny Boy

Agence France Presse notes: "President George W. Bush once reportedly called him 'Kenny Boy,' but the White House had few kind words for former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay on his death."

Andrew Buncombe writes in the Independent: "Lay had been a strong supporter of Mr Bush when he was running for the governorship of Texas. When Mr Bush was elected, Lay benefited from a law that deregulated the Texas electricity markets. When Mr Bush switched his sights to the White House, Lay became a so-called Pioneer, a supporter who collected more than $100,000 for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. He also let Mr Bush and Mr Cheney use his personal Enron jet to woo voters.

"According to Kurt Eichenwald's book, Conspiracy of Fools, Lay was almost selected to be Secretary of the Treasury, but the position was given to Paul O'Neill. Lay was also a part of Mr Bush's presidential transition team."

Mike Tolson writes in the Houston Chronicle: "Nothing says more about Lay's fall to ignominy than the reaction of President Bush to the death of his former benefactor: There was none."

It's not like spokesman Tony Snow couldn't have anticipated that he would be asked about Lay. But once again (see, for instance, my June 16 column ) he turned the question back on the questioner: "But I don't know, what do you think would be the appropriate thing to say?"

The reporter, Victoria Jones of Talk News Radio, responded: "I don't know. I don't know him. The President was his friend, not me."

Snow replied: "No, the President has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the President's acquaintances have passed on during his time in office. Again, I think -- it's sort of an interesting question, but not answerable by me."

Greg Sargent blogs for the American Prospect that Snow lied when he denied that Bush had described Lay as a friend.

Writes Sargent: "Really? Here's what Bush wrote in a letter to Lay:

" Dear Ken:

"One of the sad things about old friends is that they seem to be getting older -- just like you!

"55 years old. Wow! That is really old.

"Thank goodness you have such a young, beautiful wife.

"Laura and I value our friendship with you. Best wishes to Linda, your family, and friends.

"Your younger friend,

"George W. Bush"

Live Online

My readers and I had a lively Live Online yesterday, as usual. The transcript is here .

King of Softballs

CNN's Larry King spends an hour with the president and the first lady today, in an interview to be broadcast tonight.

William Neikirk blogs for the Chicago Tribune: "The questions aren't expected to be especially hard-hitting, and the First Couple's responses are expected to be warm and fuzzy. Larry King certainly is no Chris Matthews or Tim Russert, and many in journalism say that is why he often finds it easier to land big-time guests.

"Such 'soft' programs can work to the president's advantage at a time he is struggling to get his poll ratings higher and to bolster support for the war in Iraq. It doesn't hurt to have his wife at his side. Laura Bush has been an asset to Bush's presidency, and she has come a long way since the time she said she hated to make speeches."

Poll Watch

Jeffrey M. Jones reports for Gallup News Service: "Gallup's annual poll on Minority Rights and Relations finds little change in blacks' and Hispanics' evaluations of George W. Bush compared with last year."

Among non-Hispanic Whites, Bush approval is at 42, down from 47 last year and 74 in 2002; Black approval is at 15, down from 16 last year and 41 in 2002; Hispanic approval is at 38, down from 41 last year and 73 in 2002.

Spare a Dime?

Bush went to Dunkin' Donuts yesterday to pitch his immigration plan, but he forgot to bring any money.

Tabassum Zakaria writes for Reuters that he bought coffee with dollars borrowed from an aide.

Here's the transcript of the event.

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