Tag Archives: George W. Bush

You Have to Try

David Brooks asks:

We’re about to enter our 19th consecutive year of Truman-envy. Ever since the Berlin Wall fell, people have looked at the way Harry Truman, George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson and others created forward-looking global institutions after World War II, and they’ve asked: Why can’t we rally that kind of international cooperation to confront terrorism, global warming, nuclear proliferation and the rest of today’s problems?

Uhh, becauce for the last eight years we haven’t even tried?

Seriously, this isn’t that hard. The institution building of the 1990s was imperfect, to be sure, but it was at least somewhat successful. The WTO came into being in 1995 and has been quite successful in promoting global trade, not withstanding the collapse of the Doha round of trade talks. The treaty for the International Criminal Court was signed in 1998 and the Court was officially created in 2002. It too has been quite successful, providing an avenue for prosecution for war criminals like Charles Taylor. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum first met in 1993 and has provided a useful forum for dealing with Pacific Rim issues, even if it is still a little vague.

But since 2000, forward progress on international institution building has stopped. As Brooks notes, we have been unable to make progress on terrorism, global warming or nuclear proliferation. Why? Look no further than who occupied the White House. Bill Clinton actively tried to build forward looking international institutions and was at least somewhat successful.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001 he was actively hostile to international cooperation, especially in the areas that Brooks identifies. On Global Warming Bush unsigned the Kyoto Protocols which, while imperfect, were a valuable starting point. His administration then spent the next 6-7 years denying global warming and doing everything in its power to hold up international cooperation on the issue.

On nuclear proliferation Bush has been just as bad. Starting in 2001 it has actively undermined the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It publicly rebuked Colon Powell for saying the Administration would continue the Clinton policy on North Korea. It pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It has pushed for the US to develop new nuclear bombs. In 2006 it signed a nuclear agreement with India, actively undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It’s no wonder we haven’t gotten any new international cooperation on the non-proliferation front. The Bush administration hasn’t been interested in any.

Global terrorism is perhaps the most egregious of Brooks’ examples. In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a tremendous opportunity to create the institutions and norms for a global, united fight against terrorism. Yet the Bush administration utterly blew the opportunity. Instead of pushing for a new treaty to define the rights of terrorist suspects and international norms for dealing with them, a project that is sorely needed, the Bush administration decided to go it alone. They just ignored global standards like the Geneva Conventions and made up their own rules. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t gone over too well with the rest of the world. Whereas Bush could have led a global push to deal with terrorism multilaterally, treating it as akin to piracy in that every country has an obligation to help stamp it out and any country has jurisdiction to prosecute it, but instead he decided to work around and ignore the patchwork international law on the subject. That isn’t even to mention going into Iraq while ignoring the UN.

While Brooks puts the dearth of new international organizations to deal with our pressing problems at the feet of multipolarity, the real answer is a lack of US leadership. In the post Cold War era some international organizations, notably the EU and WTO, have flourished. New institutions have been created. The ICC is still relatively new but has been surprisingly successful thus far, given the fact that the US refused to acknowledge its existence. Yes, power is more distributed now. But for the last 8 years we have had an administration that is actively opposed to such institution building. Is it any surprise new institutions haven’t flourished?

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Not a Timeline, but Sounding a lot like Obama

TUCSON, July 18 — President Bush and Iraq’s prime minister have agreed to set a “time horizon” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq as security conditions in the war-ravaged nation continue to improve, White House officials said here Friday.

The agreement, reached during a video conference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks a dramatic shift for the Bush administration, which for years has condemned any talk of timetables for withdrawal.

But Maliki and other Iraqi leaders in recent weeks have begun demanding firm withdrawal deadlines from the United States. Bush said earlier this week that he opposes “arbitrary” timetables but was open to setting an “aspirational goal” for moving U.S. troops to a support role.

So, a “time horizon” is apparently different than a timeline, but this sounds an awful lot more like Obama’s Iraq policy than McCain’s. In reality, this sure seems like it is being driven by Maliki, who realizes that his constituents really would like the US to leave sooner rather than later, as opposed to Bush, who has always vociferously opposed this kind of move.

It will be interesting to see how McCain responds to this. McCain’s foreign policy platform thus far in the general has largely consisted of “Don’t surrender (read, withdraw any troops at all) in Iraq” and “Don’t negotiate with dictators.” In the past week Bush has now completely undercut that platform. He’s set a “time horizon” in Iraq and sent high ranking officials to negotiate with Iran. How does McCain respond to his foreign policy being mooted by Bush?

On the Obama side this couldn’t be timed better. He’s scheduled to head to Iraq this week, as well as to Europe and Israel, and this can’t come at a better time. Obama will meet with Iraqi leaders, who just embraced his position, and General Petraeus, who had to have signed off on this, putting Obama in a great position. Now, instead of meeting with officials who are publicly opposed to his position, he will be talking about to how to implement his plans, which aren’t substantively different from theirs.

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On the heels of yesterday’s stunning announcement that a top State Department official would actually meet with Iranians, the Guardian has quite a bombshell:

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section – a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.


If true this really is shocking. After nearly 8 full years of steadfastly opposing any sort of engagement with Iran Bush is going to send diplomats to Tehran? Talk about Obama defining the middle of the debate. Bush has until now defined the far right position on Iran, yet now all of a sudden he’s awfully close to Obama.

In related news of our opening with Iran, the State Department and the NBA teamed up to bring the Iranian men’s basketball team to the United States for their pre-Olympic warmup.

NEW YORK, July 15, 2008—The Basketball Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its FIBA Asia Champion men’s national basketball team have been invited by the NBA, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, to compete against NBA teams and the NBA Development League Ambassadors over the next six days in Utah. As part of its trip, the Iranian national team will participate in the Rocky Mountain Revue presented by StoresOnline, the Utah Jazz-hosted summer league.

The Iranian national team will play four games during its stay in Utah as part of its preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games, which will be played in Beijing, China. In addition to games and scrimmages, the team will also observe NBA team practices and engage NBA and D-League players and coaches in basketball dialogue. The team will also have the opportunity to visit American cultural sites.

Not a huge deal on its own, but in the context of the last couple of days it is yet another sign of increased US engagement with Iran. Overall, this is great news both for the US and the world. Engagement with Iran is a good thing that will ease international tensions. It will make it easier to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, especially with the direct, high-level talks. Who knew Bush cared about his legacy so much?

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George Bush’s Gift to Obama

Obama, responding to Bush’s appeasement shot:

Well I want to be perfectly clear with George Bush and John McCain – if they want a debate about protecting the United States of America, that’s a debate I’m ready to win, because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.

“…in the Bush-McCain worldview, everyone who disagrees with their failed Iran policy is an appeaser. And back during his “No Surrender” tour, John McCain said anyone who wants to end the war in Iraq responsibly wants to surrender; he even said later on that he would be ok keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years, but yesterday he said our troops could be home by 2013. He offered the promise that America will win a victory, with no understanding that Iraq is fighting a civil war. Just like George Bush, his plan isn’t about winning, it’s about staying, and that’s why there will be a clear choice in November: fighting a war without end, or ending this war. Because we don’t need John McCain’s prediction about when the war will end – we need a plan to end it.

McCain’s support of Bush’s comments tie him irrevocably to Bush. By condoning Bush’s attack McCain looks like just another acolyte of Bush’s foreign policy ideas. If that is what the general election ends up looking liker, there is no way he will lose.

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Why the Bush’s Third Term Message Works

Yesterday I posted on the Democrats attack that John McCain will just be serving out George Bush’s third term. Today, via MyDD, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt makes my point for me.

WOLF BLITZER: You just heard Congressman Van Hollen say that he represents a third Bush term. You know how unpopular the job approval numbers are right now.

HOUSE GOP WHIP ROY BLUNT: I don’t think anybody believes that. I think everybody does believe from his record that here is somebody who has always been willing to complain about the way business was done in Washington. And, frankly, people want to see that…

BLITZER: When it comes to domestic economic issues, what is the major difference between President Bush’s policies, what he wants to do, and what John McCain would do if he were president?

BLUNT: Well, I think what John McCain wants to do is continue these pro-growth tax policies that our friends on the other side have been talking…


BLITZER: But that’s what President Bush wants to do too.

BLUNT: And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with that.

BLITZER: So it would be in effect a third Bush term when it came to pro-growth tax policies?

BLUNT: It would be. I think it would be. And I think that’s a good thing. You can’t go out in the country anywhere and find people who believe that doubling the capital gains rate is a good thing, that raising the highest rate on every small business in America is a good thing, that eliminating those bottom brackets, that mean that people at the lower levels of tax pay less taxes than they would otherwise. In fact, I think one of the reasons that the economy has slowed down the way it has is the fact that there’s great uncertainty about how those tax policies move forward.

Blunt’s initial response is to straight out deny it. “I don’t think anybody believes that.” That’s the GOP’s first line of defense. But once he gets pushed he doesn’t have an answer. When asked to elaborate the difference between Bush and McCain on the economy, all he has is “I think what John McCain wants to do is continue these pro-growth tax policies.”

Basically, McCain wants more of the same. He’s running to be a cuddlier, war hero version of Bush. That’s the GOP’s problem.

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John McSame?

Patrick Ruffini thinks Democrats are making a big mistake in pushing the message that John McCain would effectively be George Bush’s third term.

The problem is that it runs counter to some deeply ingrained perceptions about McCain, the most transparently un-Bush candidate Republicans could have nominated. How does one overlook the fact that amongst Republican primary voters most dissatisfied with Bush, McCain dominated. Or McCain’s bitter rivalry with the President that lingered long beyond the 2000 election, culminating in charges that he threatened to leave the party, and now, that he didn’t even vote for President Bush in 2000? How does Arianna’s story square with the narrative of “McSame?”

The Democrats have chosen to run the same campaign against McCain as they would have run against Romney or Huckabee. This will turn out to be a strategic mistake.

Why? Because they ignore the new media reality that no amount of points on television can overturn a narrative backed up by the free media. The left’s “McSame” campaign is an example of the particularly crude communications tactic of countermessaging. Countermessaging consists solely of challenging a prevailing public narrative. The media is not liberal. There was no housing bubble. Global warming is a myth.

Ruffini is right that “Bush-McCain tensions have been a recurring theme in our collective political psyche for nearly a decade.” But what he ignores is the fact that to win the Republican nomination John McCain moved towards Bush on a huge variety of issues. The fact is that on the two biggest issues the electorate will be facing this fall, Iraq and the economy, there is very little difference between John McCain. There used to be, particularly on the economy, but there just aren’t now.

Iraq is the clearest example of where McCain is running for Bush’s third term. He has simply offered no strategic thinking on Iraq beyond Bush’s. He doesn’t have an exit strategy, or even long term strategic goals for Iraq, beyond Bush’s position that we’ll leave when Iraq is a stable, peaceful, self governing democracy. That’s obviously not going to happen anytime soon. Obama, on the other hand, has clear strategic goals. Agree with his policy or not, he thinks that staying in Iraq is damaging to America’s ability to fight the war against al-Qaeda and that is in our strategic interest to withdraw the vast majority of our troops. McCain hasn’t offered anything beyond Bush’s thinking.

On the economy, McCain used to have substantial differences with Bush. He opposed Bush’s tax cut and had a strong deficit hawk streak in him. Those differences disappeared when John McCain ran for President. He went from opposing the tax cuts because they were fiscally irresponsible, but to appeal to the Republican base he flip-flopped and made the extension of the tax cuts a central element of his candidacy. But beyond that, he embraced the Bush/Grover Norquist position that you can never, ever raise any taxes no matter what. Plus, in an effort to appeal to the Republican base, McCain is now offering more of the same type of tax cuts Bush offered. Again, McCain is offering more of the same.

Beyond Iraq and the economy, the issue that McCain is most associated with is immigration reform. Yet on immigration reform McCain is known for standing with Bush against the Tancredo wing of the Republican party. Again, this helps the Democrats in their quest to associate McCain with Bush, even if it a good policy.

The economy isn’t the only issue where McCain has moved closer to Bush. McCain’s recently announced healthcare plan was described in the San Francisco Chronicle as “similar to one Bush put forth in his 2007 State of the Union address.” The New York Times wrote that “His proposal to move away from employer-based coverage was similar to one that President Bush pushed for last year, to little effect.” MSNBC asked if McCain’s plan was “Just Like Bush’s Plan.”

McCain used to be strongly opposed to the influence of the religious right in American politics. He famously called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance.” Yet, to win over the Republican base, McCain gave last year’s commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University. And today he’s hanging out with folks like John Hagee and Rod Parsley.

John McCain’s signature foreign policy proposal is his plan for a league of democracies. Yet even that is offering more of Bush’s policy. What McCain is essentially proposing is institutionalizing Bush’s coalition of the willing and using it to authorize future military expeditions.

Ruffini writes that “The Democrats have chosen to run the same campaign against McCain as they would have run against Romney or Huckabee.” There are two very good reasons why such a strategy makes sense.

Firstly, McCain ran for the Republican nomination as a Bush/Romney clone. If you think back, McCain most intense fights with Romney weren’t about policy proposals. They were about who deviated most from the tax-cutting/pro-Iraq Republican orthodoxy. The fights of the whole Republican primary where all about who raised taxes during in their previous position (a charge that came after Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, and McCain) and who was insufficiently enthusiastic about the surge. Indeed, the whole GOP primary was about personality, not policy. With the slight exception of Huckabee, all of the candidates ran within the same orthodoxy. All of the candidates, including McCain, are creatures of the Bush Republican party.

Secondly, Bush is the biggest electoral albatross in history. Bush is more unpopular than Nixon. Given that McCain is offering a very similar policy platform to Bush, tying him to Bush makes a lot of political sense, and can be expected to be successful.

Now, I think Democrats would be very smart to take Ruffini’s advice and “always juxtapose with McCain’s past Bush opposition to make him appear inconsistent. But publicly recognize that Bush and McCain were once opposed, so you don’t take the credibility hit you would from straight-up McCain Maverick Denial.”

Such a approach would be doubly useful. It would attack McCain’s credibility and tie him to Bush. I think that Democrats will be smart enough to follow this tack. We’re at the very beginning of Democratic attacks on McCain and it does make some sense to tie him to Bush first, then go after the flip-flopping. Plus, Barack Obama’s media operation is much more effective than David Brock’s and will be better at attacking McCain. But the simple fact that McCain is offering a similar platform to Bush will seriously harm him in the general election.


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