Stumbling Past The Good News
Laugh or cry? Hard to choose when it comes to the descent of the Bush White House into total incoherence over the Dubai Ports World contract. Once again we turn from weighty matters to ask: What did this president not know and when did he not know it?
From his vice president spraying a hunting buddy with birdshot to the negotiation of the politically charged ports contract, George W. Bush has had his spokesman fall back on his father's lame defense in Iran-contra: Me? I was out of the loop.
That's not a defense, Mr. President. That is confirmation of our worst fears -- especially when that declaration of prior ignorance follows an immediate, defiant threat to exercise the first-ever Bush 43 veto. That's shooting yourself in both feet.
That is not to say that Bush should have been following the ins and outs of a commercially sound, if difficult to explain, contract. Nor does it absolve opportunistic politicians in both parties who are exploiting this flap by playing on racial animosities and fears. They toy with U.S. foreign policy and domestic accord.
But where was White House chief of staff Andrew Card as the ports contract moved through the bureaucracy? Or Karl Rove, who is paid to be Bush's political early warning system? From Hurricane Katrina on, they have let Bush down. No, let's be more precise: They have melted the Bush presidency down to a nub.
This incredibly sustained oblivious staff work -- and Bush's incredibly sustained enabling of it -- carries a high price, for Bush and the nation.
The president embarks this week on a journey to India that should be a foreign-policy high point for his second term. The visit has been meticulously and imaginatively prepared. Instead, it may well be eclipsed in national attention by the guffaws, sneers and blatant disrespect
this White House has both allowed and encouraged to flourish with its bumbling responses to controversies big and small.
The fault lines that split the State Department and the White House in Bush's first term involved loyalty, conflicting agendas and giant egos. In the second term competence is the clearest dividing line, with Bush's rapidly deflating economic agenda and his appalling relations with Congress dragging down a more effective presentation of U.S. aims in foreign policy.
Pursuing an idea I heard him discuss before he ever went to the White House, Bush has worked steadily to construct a strategic partnership with the world's largest democracy. His journey to India, and an obligatory stopover in Pakistan, will give substance to this administration's innovative foreign policy doctrine for working with other powers.
I think of it as the Rice Doctrine, since the secretary of state has stated it most clearly: "The fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power." Only democracy ensures "lasting peace and security between states, because it is the only guarantee of freedom and justice within states," she wrote in a Post op-ed on Dec. 11.
This idea underlies the U.S.-India agreement on civilian nuclear power that Bush hopes to make final with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi and then sell to Congress and the international Nuclear Suppliers Group.