A failure in beliefs

Bit by bit, without publicly admitting any mistakes, the Bush administration is changing policies on key issues that have defined the president’s tenure in office.

President Bush, known for his adamant beliefs but beleaguered by dismal polls, an unpopular war and positions on many fronts that have failed to work, is reluctantly nodding assent to change. In many of the policy changes, the neoconservative or aggressive nationalistic point of view that prevailed from the day Bush took office is being modified, massaged or outright reversed.

The basic premise of neoconservatism is that America must act unilaterally, even to the extent of exercising its military power against the opposition of allies, or become permanently weakened. There is now a reluctant reassessment by administration pragmatists that this was the wrong tack to take and actually has resulted in more turmoil and violence around the world.

In the most recent reversal, the administration sent a top envoy to North Korea after refusing for years to engage in direct talks with Pyongyang, saying it would never engage in the “appeasement” that it believed President Bill Clinton did. Now, as part of the new willingness to negotiate with a dictator desperately trying to become a nuclear power, the United States is releasing $25 million of North Korea’s money that it had frozen.

The administration’s refusal to negotiate was a staple of neoconservative doctrine, which Bush accepted in rejecting advice from many diplomats that the time for negotiation had come.

Earlier, the Bush team reversed policy on not funding the Palestinian Authority after Hamas radicals won election victories last year and undermined the slightly more moderate Fatah faction. Again, administration neoconservatives have been thwarted. Critics argued that withholding support was only strengthening Hamas and hurting innocent Palestinians. It remains to be seen if the aid comes too late, but it is clear that Bush’s early refusal to push the peace process badly backfired.

Also, after a policy of ignoring Syria, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has begun quiet talks with Damascus in a search for common ground on Iraq.

At the G-8 conclave in Germany, Bush still refused to agree to mandates for reducing global-warming emissions but conceded, basically, that scientists are correct in predicting dire consequences if carbon dioxide is not checked.

After ignoring international opinion and installing neocon Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank, despite his role in starting the war in Iraq, Bush stood by him through the scandal that erupted over Wolfowitz’s favoritism toward his girlfriend. Finally, Bush agreed that he must go and named Robert Zoellick, the trade expert who had been the favorite candidate for the job before Wolfowitz got it.

The badly mishandled war in Iraq will forever be the president’s most heatedly debated policy bequest. There, the neocons’ arguments for invading Iraq on the grounds Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States have been thoroughly discounted. The neocons argued that the risks of a pre-emptive war would be outweighed by the wave of pro-democracy fervor for freedom (and Western morality) that would sweep over the Middle East once the barbarous Hussein was gone. They vastly underestimated the costs and no-win consequences of postwar occupation.

Bush continues to assert that the rationale for starting the war was right although the arguments were flawed, but he is desperately looking for a face-saving way to leave, an avenue that increasingly seems blocked.

Bush came into office with no foreign-policy experience, although his father’s biggest interest was in foreign affairs. Once the younger Bush was overwhelmed by foreign-policy decisions, after 9/11, he decided to trust his instincts and those who favored neoconservatism.

On some issues, the president has stood his ground, convinced he is right.

He has refused, once more, to give way on the issue of stem-cell research, although Congress has twice passed legislation that would have opened the door to wider embryonic-stem-cell research on the grounds it could lead to cures for major illnesses. He is convinced that more aid to Africa is vital. He has pursued his No Child Left Behind dream, although such unprecedented federal involvement in local education rankles many conservatives.

Undeterred by their failures so far, neocons are strong advocates that Iran — also, like North Korea, pursuing nuclear weapons — must be dealt with unilaterally and militarily. So far, Bush has not acted.

But in an ironic twist, the neocons not only do not accept blame for the failure of their ideas, most notably in the total chaos in Iraq, but they blame Bush himself, arguing incompetence, incoherence, lack of a firm enough commitment and “disloyalty” to neocon philosophy within the very administration they once believed the likeliest to implement their views.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)


  1. Sandra Price

    A failure of beliefs is the perfect title of this commentary.

    President Bush is not the first or last President who feels he is not encumbered by the Constitution. He took an oath of office to work under the laws of the U.S. Constitution and promptly turned away from it and started talking to God. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell began to revise the agenda of our new President and the Constitution was ignored.

    The neoconservatives filled in through the Cabinet appointees and from the beginning of Bush’s first term was to change America into a military movement to democratize the world. Most of us knew this movement was coming when we read it in Bush 41’s platform. America was to become a world power of forcing democracy in other nations. Bush 43 simply took it another step making Theo conservatives the basis for his Administration.

    Bush has been free-wheeling over American doctrines from the day he entered the White House and his actions have been so harmful to our American freedoms that many still feel he may have used 9/11 for this power grab of the rest of our liberties..

    He abused his religious backers and went for the whole dictatorship of his office. It is no secret that most very religious people want leadership to direct them into what “Jesus would do” rather than what our Constitution allows us to do. For this reason Bush sees himself as the religious leader in America and this has given him the impression that everything done in the name of Jesus Christ is justified.

    Have we learned anything from his mess? Simply changing Presidents will not be enough and we must get a commitment from our Congress to get back to the U.S. Constitution as smoothly and quickly as possible.

  2. Steve Horn

    Our “Christian” President ….

    To be a Christian one is supposed to follow the teachings and life of Christ, to try and always consider “what would Jesus do”???
    While it is not mine to judge, through his actions Bush has demonstrated time and again that, like the Constitution, he doesn’t have a very good understanding of or any real respect for the Gospels and the life of Christ.
    Well, having read the gospels a few times myself, here are a few things I DON’T think Jesus would do.

    I don’t think He’d covet the oil under Iraq
    I don’t think He’d support the death penalty
    I don’t think He’d engage in war
    I don’t think He’d lie
    I don’t think He’d cheat
    I don’t think He’d bully
    I don’t think He’d judge or exclude based on gender bias
    I don’t think He’d try to force the whole world believe in Him and follow Him.

    What do I think Jesus would do?

    I think He’d lead by an example of peace
    I think He’d cherish all life
    I think He’d respect the beliefs and values of others.

    Think about it folks – if you feel that Bush is following the example of Christ you’re delusional and lack a basic understanding of the Gospels.

    The historic Jesus was an inclusionist – He did invite everyone to His fathers house – but I cannot find a single instance of Jesus excluding someone or declaring anyone “unclean” – in fact – He surrounded himself with people that other sons of Abraham and David cast out as being unclean.

    And no, I’m not a relegious person, just fairly well read. You cannot engage in argument or discussion without understanding the basis of your opponents beliefs.