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Bombing Bush's Foreign Policy

When it comes to expressing faith in President Bush's foreign policy, few of the presidential contenders of either party appear to have his back. (Reuters).

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

By Post Editor  |  August 7, 2007; 9:06 AM ET
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Is anybody concerned about the 12 billion dollars a month we are spending on the Iraq war? Can we really continue this indefinitely?

Posted by: pattyortman | August 8, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Wars fought by democracies are inherently ill planned and executed. Even out great WWII triumph started with a planning blunder in Pearl Harbor, defeats in Dunkirk, the Philippines, Anzio, etc. and near disasters like the Battle of the Bulge.

What allows America to succeed is the talent, bravery, and persistence of its people when united to confront an enemy. And that is precisely what America haters strive to prevent insulting our national leader, our military, and everyone who thinks defeating the Islamofascist enemy is the highest priority.

There are 2 wars in Iraq. The War against Saddam's Baath regime which started in 1991 when we liberated Kuwait, and resumed in 2003 when we defeated Saddam Hussein. The other war started in 1979 when the Islamofascists kidnapped our diplomats in Tehran, and targeted the "Great Satan".

You can disagree with the President's strategic decision that removing from power another enemy Islamofascist enemy, with massive oil resources was necessary to win the other war. But I prefer fighting them in Iraq rather than here. Isn't that strategy why we invaded Iwojima, Okinawa and Normandy.

Perhaps a better alternative was available, but America supported the WWII effort because its elite understood that defeating the Nazis was imperative and fighting in Okinawa, Iwojima, and Normandy was the plan America had to win the war.

But soon after a brief post-9/11 respite, the same America haters who opposed President Reagan's support for democracy in Central America, began their vitriol, first against the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then on behalf of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Perhaps they think that reliving 1974 would be a lot of fun. Maybe they should ask the 2 million murdered Cambodians, and the many thousand others who lost everything when our America haters last had their way!

Posted by: gusvillageliu | August 7, 2007 10:52 PM | Report abuse

MMFowler, JRosen, Villageliu...Thank you for comments that are more insightful than 10,000 Washington Post fans, writers and editorialists posing as reporters (including Peter Baker). Peter Baker responded to my critiques of his anti-Bush slants, by describing that he's just reporting what the polls "say". Thanks for nothing Peter! I thought you were supposed to report news! As the NYT, the WaPo has ignored or minimized the Jihadist threat to civilization, and violence to democracies in the middle east.....because it prefers to bash our President for his actions against the Jihadists. It's absolutely treasonous.

Posted by: ctbourg | August 7, 2007 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Bush did not create the terrible stench that is the rest of the world with few exceptions. Iraq was ill planned and ill executed, but the day was coming when we'd have to be there anyway. Look what previous administrations did in the region: Reagan, Carter, Clinton, Bush 1, see any improvement? And while I agree that Bush's strategists are not the best players, it's not over in the ME.

Posted by: mmfowler | August 7, 2007 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Yet, when all is said and done, there is no better alternative to building secular democracies from the ashes of fascist dictatorships. As we did in Germany and Japan, post WWII. Much as we hold our nose at President Bush, the alternative is to tacitly endorse the rise of Salifist Islam and condemn our grandchildren -- and our beloved freedom, to the ash pit of history. No one on the Democratic side will address this realpolitik. How will you destroy Salafist Islam? Our brilliant troops are figuring it out, with absolutely no thanks or appreciation from this paper.

Posted by: jrosen07 | August 7, 2007 9:15 PM | Report abuse

What's most interesting from the comments above is that as we fight the most wicked and dangerous enemy ever, all some do is insult our President: "liar, no credibility, the shrub, ", etc.
No wonder President Bush has a difficult time defending America when so many would rather we lose to Al-Queda, than support our country at a time of war! Aid and comfort to the enemy indeed!
As an immigrant in awe of this country's long history of defending freedom abroad, I hope these selfish, childish, name calling America haters do not command a majority in 2008. It was such a pleasure spending last week in rural Iowa visiting relatives where I did not see any of the Hate America bumper stickers that pass for political speech in our nation's capital.

Posted by: gusvillageliu | August 7, 2007 8:58 PM | Report abuse

God these Republican candidates have a difficult tightrope to walk: because a large percentage of the delusional and mentally challenged Republican party has yet to discover the horrible disaster that the Shrub has created in Iraq, these candidates (except Ron Paul of course) find themselves having to defend Bush's largest of many foreign policy disasters while trying to distingush themselves from the Shrub. I cannot imagine any of these fools standing a chance in the general election against any of the main Democrats.

Posted by: law1 | August 7, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Bush is a total lame duck. Other world leaders know it and they know he's desperate for anything that can be called a success. So Bush and Rice, who is so lightweight it's a miracle she doesn't blow away, continually give the store away in pursuit of the legacy. Nukes for India, no problem and no matter that it drives a bus through our efforts to contain nuclear proliferation by Iran. Free trade deals in South America, fine, yes I know these guys have thrown a few union leaders out of helicopters. $20 billion of arms for Saudia Arabia, well it's good for Boeing even if they might get turned on Israel. North Korea wants another reactor and a lot of its cash back, again no problem just make sure Kim spends it on American prostitutes. These people are so incompetent it's impossible to describe how incompetent.

Posted by: johnbsmrk | August 7, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The Republican candidates for president all support Mr. Bush's policies 100%. Anything else they say is prevarication. At the GOP convention, watch and see. But the good news is, none will be elected.

Posted by: donaldmatson | August 7, 2007 4:20 PM | Report abuse

After the statement Tancredo made about one of our own cities, Miami, I'm surprised nobody recognizes this man as a complete moron whose thought process lags days or even weeks behind his speech process.

For Tancredo to say something like that and cause a large percentage of the world's population who hear or read it to believe that any sane American thinks the same way as Tancredo, does an incredible injustice to every citizen of the U.S. And he's running for President? God help us all.

Posted by: cjfaiella | August 7, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Credibility, what a polite word, when the reality is that Bush is a proven liar many times and and clearly unfit to manage anything more challenging than an unaccompanied trip to the toilet. Bush's deep and unshakable belief in American exceptionalism and in his own messianic pivotal role in world affair lead him to charge boldly into unwinnable wars and irreconcilable conflicts.

Condoleezza Rice does not have the finesse or talent to even begin to make a difference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Bush still thinks all he has to do is get people around a table and events will follow the storyboard in his head.

After all, every decision he has made thus far has been exactly the right one. This one will be too.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | August 7, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Peter Baker brings up some good points regarding the low signal to noise ratio that bold policy statements from candidates can create for present policy makers. Perhaps, I should think twice before praising such boldness in the face of such instabilities in global politics? But before we go questioning the free speech merits of this affair, a few things should be addressed.

First off, the reactions to the statements by Obama and other candidates are being painted as gross misunderstandings of who the players are that determine U.S. foreign policy (bold above). In fact, candidate Obama does contribute to U.S. foreign policy and is an elected leader. If a leader in such a position has the opportunity to speak up on matters of policy in which he or she dissagrees with the executive branch, then that's part of the political process and is healthy for democracy regardless of the negative political externalities. Not that those externalities can't outweight the positive contribution to the democratic process at home, but I don't think they do in the case of Obama.

Additionally, conflating statements by prominent Americans with U.S. policy isn't about disregard for some type of policy hierarchy, it's human nature, and we're all well aware of the problems with assigning the statements and actions of individuals to large ethnic, national, or religious groups. I'm not saying it makes it ok, but let's consider for a second how we could possibly police both domestic statements from citizens with a soapbox and reactions to them abroad and just how slippery a slope that is. I'd also propose that it probably wasn't just Obama's statements that led to the flag-burning episode.

Posted by: drewbennett1979 | August 7, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Well the fact is that pretty much everyone is in agreement about one thing - Bush is incapable of producing, implementing and succeeeding with any foreign policy. He has no credibility or believability. Right now Rice is running around like a headless buffoon trying to force an Israeli/Palestinian agreement a la Baker- which she and Bush had pooh-poo'd for the last 6 years - but it turns out they were wrong on every issue - so now in order to produce some sort of legacy Bush has quietly reversed tactics and has Rice implementing a James Baker plan.

Baker's plan is a good one - question is does the world believe Bush and Rice can be held to it - or has Bush run out of credibility totally.

Posted by: kec132 | August 7, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm embarrassed that Tom Tancretardo is from my state. What a grade A moron.

Posted by: RightDownTheMiddle | August 7, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Overall, the childishness emanating from the Capitol as well as the hustings is the worst I've heard and I've been through three FDR terms and everything since. If there were an Ignorance Olympics, we'd have a lock on it. As for Tom Tancrudo, isn't it time a wall were built around him?

Posted by: filoporquequilo | August 7, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Our problem is that the President has lost just about all the credibility he ever had. Foreign heads of state, especially contentious ones, know he is a "lame duck" and anxious for somekind of diplomatic "vitory" so they play him for whatever they can get.

Bush's status makes all the babble from the two slates of "candidates" that much more credible so the State Department has to address it no matter how absurd.

Posted by: vinsnash | August 7, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

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