Bombing Bush's Foreign Policy
It's hard enough to manage foreign policy with an unpopular war, strained relations with much of the world and an opposition Congress trying to assert its will. But now President Bush finds himself with as many as 19 would-be commanders in chief offering their own prescriptions for foreign policy beyond just the Iraq war.
In the last week, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) declared that he would send U.S. troops into Pakistan to get al-Qaeda leaders even without President Pervez Musharraf's permission, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said she would leave the option of nuclear strikes on the table in the struggle with terrorists and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) said he would bomb Islam's two holiest sites to retaliate for a terrorist nuclear attack.
None of them actually has a key to the Oval Office, so their pronouncements on the trail add up to little more than electioneering rhetoric. But Bush was still left to pick up the diplomatic pieces. The State Department had to reassure the Muslim world that it considered Tancredo's suggestion to blow up Mecca and Medina "absolutely outrageous and reprehensible." And amid howls of protest from the Pakistanis, Bush was quizzed during a Camp David meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday about whether he would go into Pakistan unilaterally as well. (He ducked the question.)
Bush aides don't seem all that thrilled at all the free-lance foreign policy. "Look, this is a democracy. There's a thing called free speech," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters at yesterday's briefing. "But there's also a thing called the executive branch and we have responsibility for what U.S. government policy is."
Until recently, most campaign dialogue on foreign affairs has centered on Iraq, where the schism between Bush and Democrats (as well as some Republicans) has been stark and well documented. The latest spate of comments from the hustings, though, suggests that as the election discussion ranges more widely, Bush will find it increasingly complicated projecting a single American message overseas.
After all, in many parts of the world, sensational statements from prominent American politicians are treated as if they were almost policy even if they come from candidates who have yet to win any votes. Protesters in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, took to the streets to burn the U.S. flag after Obama's comments without regard to the fact that at this point at least he does not actually speak for the United States. The Saudis, who are custodians of Mecca and Medina, were no more amused at Tancredo's threat.
That's why State has gone out of its way to condemn the Tancredo position, in particular, acutely aware of the potential backlash in the Muslim world. "It's important for people abroad, who may not necessarily pay attention to the details and just hear a headline with that in it, that the original position of the United States government is that those remarks are just outrageous," McCormack said yesterday.
If all this were just coming from the political opposition, that would be challenging enough for Bush. But much of the criticism of his foreign policy is coming from his own party. The Republican presidential debate in Iowa on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" featured one candidate after another disavowing the central tenet of Bush's approach to international affairs, his vow to spread democracy and work toward "ending tyranny in our world."
Asked if he shared Bush's vision, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee answered without hesitation: "Absolutely not, because I don't think we can force people to accept our way of life, our way of government." Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said that "in some cases, maybe going to elections so quickly is a mistake." And former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney quoted former British prime minister Tony Blair rather than Bush while specifically criticizing the president's handling of Lebanon. "I can tell you I'm not a carbon copy of President Bush," Romney said. There are, he said, "things I would do that would be done differently."
Him and everyone else, it seems.
-- Peter Baker
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