President Bush swims on a flood tide of advice and cautions offered for his second term. The most important change he may want to consider can be boiled down to a drop of wisdom distilled in an anecdote currently roiling politics in Britain.
The widely told story has Bush's friend and ally Tony Blair engaged in a testy exchange with a senior civil servant who finally snaps at the prime minister: "Your problem is that neither you nor anyone else in Downing Street has ever managed anything."
Blair understandably protests that he has managed the Labor Party. No, responds the civil servant, Sir Richard Wilson, "you have led it." The unspoken point that hangs in the air is that the young prime minister does not recognize the distinction.
Bush provided leadership in his first term as the nation confronted "a day of fire," as he described Sept. 11, 2001, in an almost Kennedyesque "ask not" second inaugural address. In his second term, Bush must demonstrate that he can effectively manage American power and achieve the laudable, far-reaching goals abroad that he and Condoleezza Rice advanced for the United States in inaugural week.
The Bush team came to Washington with a self-cultivated reputation for CEO-like managerial efficiency. But as Vice President Cheney confirmed in a television interview last week for the History Channel, an imperative for leadership quickly eclipsed management as the driving force of the first term.
The contested election and Bush's popular vote loss in 2000 made him determined to assert "the power of the presidency" and to never "make a decision that he needed to somehow trim his sails, and be less than a fully authorized, if you will, commander in chief," Cheney said.
The gap between goals and results has been so glaring in the occupation of Iraq and in the administration's efforts at global alliance management that Bush and Rice should concentrate now on bringing their aspirations in line with U.S. capabilities.
The rhetoric in Bush's inaugural address and in Rice's testimony at Senate confirmation hearings on her nomination to be secretary of state was genuinely stirring and appropriately visionary. Who could oppose Bush's promise that "America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies"?
Bush and Rice consciously sought to rally the nation to take on a challenge they likened to the one the United States faced in the Cold War, when it was also argued that "the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."
Bush's words defined the reasoning behind the Marshall Plan, NATO and other institutions that implemented the doctrine of containment. But the administration still lacks convincing institutional and programmatic frameworks for achieving the Bush doctrine of "expansion of freedom in all the world."
The Rice hearings were strikingly and disappointingly political, moving Washington even farther from the old ideal of partisan politics stopping "at the water's edge." Berated by Democrats who may credit rumors that Rice could run for the Senate from California in 2006, she became unnecessarily defensive and closed about U.S. foreign policy challenges in Iraq and elsewhere.
Bush and Rice concentrated last week on Sept. 11 as the defining issue of the first term. For their critics, the defining issue for that period was the Iraq war. This difference is a fundamental dividing line for the "red" camp that praises Bush's leadership and the "blue" camp that castigates his abilities and motives.
History does not in fact come in such clearly divided slices. It is shaped by the interaction of the application of national power, human values and specific personalities. It is a process that needs -- above all -- leaders who can manage the consequences of their ideas and actions.
The imbalance between leading and managing is not confined to Washington, as the anecdote about Blair's problems with his own cabinet suggests. So does the news out of Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Rome, Cairo, Jerusalem, Islamabad, Taipei and other capitals where strong-willed leaders pursue policies of self-interest and unclear consequences.
So there are no easy answers for using a second term to change the world. But Rice did get some good advice from Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who told her that a major task for the four years ahead is "convincing the next generation of the world that America's purpose is not defined solely by our power. It is to work with our friends and allies to help build a better world for all people."