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Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said the president listens to all these criticisms but believes that aggressive diplomacy is paying off by bringing other countries into his effort to isolate North Korea and Iran. "Some people are impatient with the pace of diplomacy," he said. "But the president believes it is important to have an all-out effort to solve these problems in a peaceful way."
GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, appear to be lining up closely with the president on foreign policy. It has not helped the neoconservative case, perhaps, that the occupation of Iraq has not gone as smoothly as some had predicted.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a leading conservative who has clashed with the White House on spending and immigration, said Bush has "shown toughness and grit in advancing America's interests in the world."
Other lawmakers said it is unrealistic to expect different policies on Iran and North Korea given the complexities involved with forcing those countries to abandon their nuclear ambitions.
"There haven't been a lot of alternatives presented," said Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
In fact, it has been Bush's willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment -- which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more "multilateral" diplomacy in concert with allies -- that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive "neoconservatives" who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.
Bill Kristol and colleagues associated with his Weekly Standard have been agitating for several years about what they see as inadequate troop levels in Iraq, an incompetently managed war effort and a failure to move aggressively enough to defeat the insurgency.
For many neoconservatives, a final straw came with the U.S. decision to offer direct talks and potential benefits to Iran as an inducement to curb its nuclear program. There appears little confidence that Bush will be able to muster support for strong international action against Iran, including air strikes to take out nuclear facilities.
"They are starting to see multilateral talks as an end to themselves," said Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They are fooling themselves to think it could lead to tough sanctions."
Kenneth R. Weinstein, head of the conservative Hudson Institute, seemed more forgiving, recalling "the fury of the right" at Ronald Reagan in his second term for engaging then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. "Bush -- like Truman and Reagan -- is under attack from the left and the right," he said. "Given the laundry list of global challenges, the administration has had to make dozens and dozens of tough calls -- and overwhelmingly it's been right."