Bush: The Best Is Yet to Come

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    BUSH: THE BEST IS YET TO COME
    By AMIR TAHERI, The New York Post
    January 19, 2005

    For weeks, Washington has been abuzz with speculation about what President Bush might do in his second term. Tone down the radicalism and try to govern from the center to secure his place in history, suggest some — who point to Bush's new Cabinet, especially his foreign-policy and national-security teams, which appear designed to offer a softened image.

    Condoleezza Rice, the second-term secretary of state, was never regarded as a neocon; new National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley has always been seen as a cautious operator. Robert Zoellick, the man chosen as Rice's deputy, has won plaudits from the Europeans as a moderate. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs-designate Nicholas Burns is even identified as a multilateralist. Meanwhile, State's most senior neoconservative, John Bolton, has been shown the door, replaced by Robert Joseph, a cautious operator.

    And the most important sign: Bush did not promote Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the best strategic brain of the neoconservatives. Many in Washington believe Wolfowitz and his boss Donald Rumsfeld will be out soon after the creation of an elected government in Baghdad.

    All this, however, rests on the assumption that Bush is a closet centrist who was "manipulated" by neoconservatives in his troubled first term. There is little evidence to support that notion. My reading, rather, is that Bush is a dynamic political leader both by temperament and conviction — that he was the key inspiration for the so-called neoconservative agenda, rather than its unwitting salesman.

    I cannot imagine George W spending the next four years sucking his thumbs in the White House in the hope of winning brownie points from his enemies. So the real question is whether the president will be able to mobilize enough political support to introduce and implement a new radical agenda.

    The 60 million votes he won in November — the largest number ever for a U.S. president — don't appear to have been translated into an active support base. That is, a majority of Americans seem to like and admire Bush, but are not prepared to endorse his program. A poll conducted on the eve of the inauguration showed that almost two-thirds of Americans believe Bush is "strong, intelligent and likeable." But majorities also oppose each of his policies, from Iraq to the economy to Social Security reform.

    Part of this paradox may be due to the administration's failure to communicate with the media and the public at large.

    There is little doubt that the U.S. media overwhelmingly dislike Bush and, in some cases, are determined to wreck his presidency. Ronald Reagan countered similar woes by engaging the media and, beyond them, the public at large. Bush has kept the media at arm's-length. For example, he has abandoned the tradition of monthly presidential press conferences in favor of quarterly ones, and given perhaps a fifth as many interviews as Bill Clinton did in his first term.

    Yet consider another paradox: Though Clinton held the presidency for eight years, at no point did he represent the real mood of the Americans. He won his first term with 43 percent of the vote, his second with just 49 percent. (Ross Perot's candidacies kept the GOP's showing even lower.) And Clinton's first two years, the Republicans controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

    Bush, meanwhile, enters his second term with his own party in control of Congress. The GOP also hold a majority of governors and state legislatures.

    In other words, the president is the product of the current American mood, rather than its initiator. His task is to translate that mood into policies that the majority that voted for him can support without any qualms.

    The president has received an avalanche of advice, mostly from his opponents. One idea is that, once there is a new elected government in Baghdad, Bush should declare victory and withdraw from Iraq. Another suggestion is that he should abandon his domestic reform plans, leaving his successors to defuse the ticking Social Security bomb. At the other extreme, others urge Bush to embark on adventures that cannot generate the level of public support needed to succeed in a democracy.

    The president should ignore such advice. Bush is the only American president in a long time (perhaps since Harry Truman) who, by accident or design, has understood the wonders that a judicious use of American power can achieve.

    People often compare George W with Reagan. But Reagan was, in a sense, swimming against the tide of American opinion. He had to fight for democracy in a dozen countries — from South Korea to Nicaragua — through covert operations and in the teeth of opposition from Congress and media.

    In the '80s, Congress preferred the murderous Sandinista to pro-American politicians in Nicaragua or anywhere else. Yet those who had supported the Sandinistas tried to mobilize a similar level of public support for the Taliban in Afghanistan (in 2001) and for Saddam Hussein in Iraq (in 2003) — and failed, because the American majority has learned to recognize friend from foe.

    Bush has the historic advantage of being in sync with his people. He should stick to his message of freedom as the surest guarantor of America's national security. He should also communicate that message more forcefully. Rather than trying to sit on his laurels he should come up with a new agenda of radical reforms based on a judicious use of America's powers both at home and abroad. His slogan should be: "The best is yet to come."

    Amir Taheri is an Iranian author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam and a member of Benador Associates.
     

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