Bush's Foreign Legacy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 6, 2006; 12:36 PM

In his second inaugural address , President Bush spoke extravagantly about dedicating the United States to bringing liberty to every corner of the globe.

He made the measure of a president's foreign legacy clear as could be: "From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?"

And he expressed confidence that the answers to those questions would be in the affirmative: "America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength -- tested, but not weary -- we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."

But signs are that the foreign policy legacy Bush will leave behind could be a world in greater disarray than he found it.

Bush has previously acknowledged that he does not expect a complete pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq on his watch, leaving that for his successor to deal with. But it's not just Iraq.

Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright write in today's Washington Post: "From deteriorating security in Afghanistan and Somalia to mayhem in the Middle East, confrontation with Iran and eroding relations with Russia, the White House suddenly sees crisis in every direction.

"North Korea's long-range missile test Tuesday, although unsuccessful, was another reminder of the bleak foreign policy landscape that faces President Bush even outside of Iraq. Few foreign policy experts foresee the reclusive Stalinist state giving up the nuclear weapons it appears to have acquired, making it another in a long list of world problems that threaten to cloud the closing years of the Bush administration, according to foreign policy experts in both parties."

Abramowitz and Wright write that "the events on the Korean Peninsula underscored how the administration has lost the initiative it once possessed on foreign policy in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, leaving at risk the central Bush aspiration of democracy-building around the world.

"They also showed how the huge commitment of resources and time on Iraq -- and the attendant falloff in international support for the United States -- has limited the administration's flexibility in handling new world crises."

The North Korean Test

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "The Bush administration has tried to ignore North Korea, then, reluctantly, to engage it, and then to squeeze its bankers in a manner intended to make the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, personally feel the pinch.

"Yet none of these steps in the past six years has worked. So now, after a barrage of missile launchings by North Korea, President Bush and his national security advisers found themselves on Wednesday facing what one close aide described as an array of 'familiar bad choices.'"

Sanger writes that the big question is "whether the president is prepared to leave office in 2009 without constraining an unpredictable dictator who boasts about having a nuclear arsenal. . . .

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