In the midst of extraordinary circumstances of tragedy and triumph, President Bush’s tenure has so far been marked by traditional hallmarks of Republican administrations.
Every perceived aspect of conservative ideology has been evident, including battlefield bravado, corporate abuse, and the institution of a trickle-down economic policy that leaves progress (and regression for that matter) at a standstill.
With domestic policy debate basically muted due to a recessed congress and a seemingly distracted citizenry, Bush has remained happily inconspicuous while on virtual holiday at the “Western White House” in Crawford, Texas. But with Middle Eastern war becoming more and more imminent, and the anniversary of Sept. 11 looming, he will be forced back into the spotlight that so glared on him at the very outset of his presidency.
Saddam Hussein’s continuous refusal to allow United Nations weapons inspectors inside his territory will make military strikes on Iraq unavoidable, but there is growing divisiveness within the Bush administration on exactly how and when to attack. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have urged for quick, pre-emptive action that would eliminate danger before it could advance to an uncontrollable level, but sources close to Secretary of State Colin Powell hint that Powell favors caution and alliance building, sentiments echoed by former national security advisors Laurence Eagleburger and Brent Scowcroft, and retired Gen. Anthony Zinni who warned against the danger of “shots fired in anger” rather than strategy.
Bush has remained substantively silent on the issue, but it is time for him to step up and assume the commander and chief role he so eagerly coveted during his 2000 campaign.
A president wears many hats, but his chief burden and responsibility will always be international relations. To paraphrase John Kennedy, “If a president makes a domestic mistake, people will lose wealth, if he makes a foreign policy mistake, people die.”
Bush would be wise to heed the advice of such experts as Eagleburger, Scowcroft and Zinni, and not, as Powell puts it, seem arrogant and single-minded to the rest of the world.
Bush must comprehend the massive philosophical and logistical gray area involved in all war-time contemplations, and not succumb to mass-media driven popular opinion and urgings of political expediency by Cheney and Rumsfeld.
A president is called on to make monumental decisions, and he must be able to disconnect himself from polls and political fallout to truly lead.