It didn’t take long after President Bush’s address to the United Nations for the pundits to pounce—it’s just too bad those “pundits” were posing as reporters.
The San Francisco Chronicle slapped Bush for his “disdain for international treaties” and the New York Times informed us that Bush received “scathing reviews” on Capitol Hill. What a shock: political enemies made nasty comments on the cusp of an election year.
Perhaps most bizarre was the Washington Post assessment—thankfully labeled as “analysis,” though written by one of the paper’s regular reporters—that Bush’s speech was “a vague pitch” that left “mostly puzzlement.” The Post must not have had anybody watching the President.
To those who actually heard Bush—as opposed to what they wanted to hear—the message was clear. The President passionately defended the decision to take out perhaps the world’s most ruthless tyrant, and though Bush once again was offering the UN a shot at avoiding obsolescence, he was not about to let the bungling bureaucracy make a complete mess of Iraq.
Considering that going to the UN offers little upside—a decision for which Bush has himself to blame—the commander-in-chief did his best to make lemonade. He could have asked to put the coalition’s military forces into the UN’s little blue caps. He didn’t. The President could have tried to hand over civilian authority to the UN—despite the widespread malfeasance that plagued the international body’s management of the disastrous oil-for-food program that lined Saddam’s pockets. He didn’t.
In fact, the President even resisted France’s superficially appealing—but disingenuous—ploy to hand over the reins of power to the recently-formed Iraqi Governing Council. France wants this rapid transfer either as a means for it to secure more oil contracts or to hinder Iraq’s regeneration as a way to prove accurate its pre-war warnings—or both.
But Bush left little room for misunderstanding on this point, noting that establishment of a new democracy is a “process (that) must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis — neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties.”
It was by no means a remarkable speech, but it did reinforce the essence of this President. He may have a disenchantment or even a disdain for details, and he may allow his advisors to conduct debates on the front page of the Washington Post or the New York Times—but he rarely wavers in any meaningful way.
Unlike the Clintonian finger-in-the-wind approach, Bush knows what he believes on issues where true leadership is a necessity. He believes in freedom, democracy, and human rights—which means he will refuse to give the UN the power to thwart those values from becoming a reality in the newly liberated Iraq.
And while he could have used the UN address as a forum to backtrack on or rejigger the doctrine of pre-emption in the wake of international condemnation, Bush stuck to his belief that America’s security is more important than its popularity.
Bush’s refusal to chase the tide of public opinion has cost him in the otherwise utterly useless polls pitting him against potential Democratic opponents—something that no doubt is contributing to the current wave of negative press coverage of the President. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that Bush was slightly behind both Sen. John Kerry and former General Wesley Clark in head-to-head match-ups.
But here’s the key difference between the commander-in-chief and the leading candidates in the pack of the pretenders to the throne: Bush can claim consistency in a way none of them can. Whereas Bush had the same plan all along—neutralizing the growing threat posed by Saddam—both Kerry and Clark tried to create a patch of gray on a black-and-white issue.
Former war veteran-slash-Vietnam War protester Kerry voted for the Congressional authorization of the war, only to find himself kissing the anti-war left just months later. And Clark, replacing Dean as the new press gadfly, at first said he would have supported the war resolution, only to change his mind moments later.
Even with the press hammering away at Bush for the next year, the real question for next fall is: will voters make principle in politics the winning virtue?