For Bush, A World Of Worry
Pretend for a moment that you are in the president's cabin on Air Force One as he tours Europe this week and heads for the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg. What does the world look like to you?
The answer, in one word, is trouble.
Taking them in ascending order of difficulty, the trouble spots look like this:
· Canada -- Our northern neighbor has a new prime minister, Stephen Harper, a friend of the United States who went home empty-handed last week from his first visit to Washington because George Bush had to turn down his request to suspend the new requirement that travelers between the two countries carry passports. It was a rebuff that will make cooperation on other issues harder.
· Mexico -- The apparent winner of this month's presidential election, Felipe Calderón, in his first comments decried talk of building more barriers between Mexico and the United States to curb illegal immigration -- the very step that Republicans in Congress are pressing Bush to take as the basis for any legislation they will approve. Given the closeness of his apparent victory over leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Calderón probably has to play to the nationalist-populist sentiments that almost prevailed -- making any concessions to the United States more politically perilous.
· Geneva -- The main players in the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks have reached an impasse, frustrating Bush's hopes for a deal that would lower barriers to international commerce and cap his drive to expand America's markets. The stumbling block of agriculture subsidies and tariffs aligned countries from India to France against us, dashing hopes for a breakthrough.
· Iran -- The silence from Tehran about the offer from the United States and Europe -- of major benefits in return for a suspension of its nuclear program -- extended to six weeks, and no one knows whether it is a stall or, as Iranian diplomats suggested this week, genuine indecision. But it is surely a frustration for Bush, who made a major concession in saying the United States was ready to negotiate.
· The Middle East -- Open warfare has broken out again between the Israelis and the Palestinians and, now, the Lebanese. This is an old story but a heartbreaking one for the people involved and for the United States.
· East Asia -- Presumably, China holds the key to the challenge from North Korea with its missile tests and nuclear weapons program. But Beijing is threatening to veto the U.S.-supported sanctions resolution introduced by Japan in the United Nations, and China seems reluctant to apply its full leverage against its neighbor. The foot-dragging is understandable when you remember that both countries have communist regimes and that China does not want to trigger an exodus of refugees facing starvation. But it's more frustration for Bush.
· Russia -- Bush's pal and G-8 host Vladimir Putin has stuck his finger in the president's eye by openly mocking Bush's professed commitment to democracy. Putin is taking Russia back to the bad old days at breakneck speed, clamping down on the press and television, limiting and harassing independent organizations, centralizing power in the Kremlin, and trying to undermine liberal regimes in neighboring countries. His behavior makes Bush look hypocritical for continuing his friendship.
Bush is largely blameless for all these troubles. The nations involved have made their own choices for their own reasons and probably would be behaving that way no matter who was in the White House. But the same cannot be said of the final and largest trouble spot:
· Iraq -- This country was transformed by Bush's war of choice, and it is increasingly doubtful that the change is for the better. Instead of the tyranny and brutality of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis are facing the daily carnage and bloodshed of an undeclared civil war between Shiite and Sunni militias.
The fragile new government in Baghdad, on which the United States has pinned all its hopes, so far seems incapable of restoring order or guaranteeing its citizens a modest level of personal safety. The United States is becoming more and more a helpless bystander, not willing or able to impose its will on an occupied country.
More than anything else in the world, this deteriorating situation in Iraq must worry the man on Air Force One. If he has any smart ideas about how to resolve it, they are a well-kept secret.