Aboard Air Force One on his way to Europe, President Bush gave an interview to reporters from the London Times. The interview resulted in two articles in today’s TImes: “President George Bush starts talking language of a dove,” and “President Bush regrets his legacy as man who wanted war.”
Several years ago, Senator Rick Santorum said to me that the White House was suffering from “battered President syndrome.” That was before the battering reached a fever pitch in 2006. Based on the Times interview, Bush appears to have more or less internalized the criticisms that his enemies have lodged over the years. The two articles thus take on, from a European perspective, a “we told you so” tone. The “dove” article focuses on Bush’s commitment to multilateralism:
He betrays signs of regret at his own low standing in the world, a sense that not enough people understand the challenges that face any president in the Oval Office.
Most of all on the big issues — Iran, climate change, trade – he says that there has been convergence between the US and European governments in the past four years.
I’m afraid that’s true.
[T]he most striking change of tone is in his approach to dealing with the pressing international issues. On the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, he no longer sounds like a wild-eyed unilateralist, bent on military action.
Instead, he attacks his critics for being insufficiently multilateralist. Mr Obama’s proposal to speak directly to the Iranian President, he suggests, will undermine the careful diplomacy Mr Bush has pioneered in the past few years. “I believe when people get in and take an assessment of what will work or what won’t work in dealing with Iran, they’ll understand the wisdom of having not only our friends and allies in Europe at the table but also China and Russia.”
And he insists that his plan is to have a diplomatic legacy, not only for Iran, but for all the pressing global crises: “My focus in the remaining time of my presidency is to leave behind a series of structures that makes it easier for the next president to be able to deal with the problems that he is going to have to face. The six-party talks, for example, in the Far East, in dealing with North Korea, the Iranian multilateral framework, hopefully a Palestinian state defined by Israel and the Palestinians.”
The “regret” article, meanwhile, emphasizes Bush’s self-criticism with respect to the war on terror:
President Bush has admitted to The Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a “guy really anxious for war” in Iraq. He said that his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran.
In an exclusive interview, he expressed regret at the bitter divisions over the war and said that he was troubled about how his country had been misunderstood. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric.”
Phrases such as “bring them on” or “dead or alive”, he said, “indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace”.
Bush thus repeats one of the sillier attacks the left has launched on his Presidency. In the aftermath of September 11, America was not looking for a “man of peace” to go after al Qaeda. Bush did the right thing by pursuing our terrorist enemies aggressively. The fruit of that policy is the fact that there have been no more organized attacks on American soil or on American interests overseas. The idea that talking tough about bin Laden and his associates (“dead or alive”) was somehow blameworthy is foolish.
On the economy, too, Bush signaled retreat:
Acknowledging that his refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol once created consternation in Europe, he said that there was now a recognition that that richer countries needed to “transfer out of the hydrocarbon economy”.
We can only hope that the remaining seven months of Bush’s term will not be enough time for him to act on that “recognition.”
PAUL adds: We’ve probably said this before, but President Bush seems determined to drive his approval rating down to roughly zero percent.
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