A lot of stuff in the press – news, analysis and opinion – about opposition to Bush’s wiretap and torture plans from leading Republicans like Colin Powell. It is interesting though that even when these pieces seek to address substantive issues they nearly always end up analysing policy as posture rather than policy as content: Bush as defiant or Bush as backed into a corner.
Watching the president on Friday in the Rose Garden as he threatened to quit interrogating terrorists if Congress did not approve his detainee bill, we were struck by how often he acts as though there were not two sides to a debate. We have lost count of the number of times he has said Americans have to choose between protecting the nation precisely the way he wants, and not protecting it at all.
On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it can be.
WASHINGTON — When President Bush addresses world leaders at the United Nations this week, he will have fewer options and lower expectations on almost every major foreign policy front than a year ago.
The United States is relying more readily on international institutions and alliances for help in Iran, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan and elsewhere. Yet, according to analysts, the Bush administration has less room to maneuver. Bush and his foreign policy advisers have tried with some success to dispel the caricature of Bush abroad as a Texas cowboy riding alone and herding the U.S. into an unpopular war in Iraq.But the war, now in its fourth year, devours resources and energy for other global objectives and feeds mistrust about U.S. intentions, experts say.
“I’m not sure they have changed their mind about to what extent to proceed unilaterally and how much to use military force so much as they have run out of options,” said Richard Stoll, a political science professor at Rice University who studies foreign policy and national security.
With Bush nearly halfway through his final term, time is dwindling for him to accomplish his signature goals of confronting terrorism and spreading democracy, and he faces more distractions at home, said Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University.
When the president speaks to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he plans to carry a strong message, “based upon hope, and my belief that the civilized world must stand with moderate, reformist-minded people and help them realize their dreams.
”I believe that’s the call of the 21st century,“ Bush told reporters Friday.
In the Rose Garden Friday, President Bush was loud and clear: If Congress doesn’t agree with him, the hunt for terrorist plots will be crippled.
”The bottom line is simple,“ he said. ”If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules, if they do not do that, the program is not going forward.“…
”The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,“ Powell wrote to lawmakers. Redefining the Geneva Conventions ”would add to those doubts“ and ”put our own troops at risk.“
The president dismissed that argument — and some attempts from reporters to ask him about it.
”But sir, this is an important point,“ NBC’s David Gregory said in one exchange.
”The point I just made is the most important point,“ Bush replied.
President Bush was feisty and confident. Experts say his attitude is sure to bolster the mood at the White House.
Ana Marie Cox, Time.com’s Washington editor, commented on the White House’s strategy.
”I think they’re banking on the American public liking to see that strong president, liking to see someone be decisive,“ she said.