President Bush could not have picked a worse time to decide to soften his image. As Iran barrels towards full nuclear capability and as positive developments in the War on Terror shine a favorable light on the Bush Doctrine, we find the President at his most cuddly and contrite.
He recently told the London Times he regrets the tough guy language he used in the run-up to the Iraq War. “I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric,” he said. Is that really the important thing? “Bring them on” wasn’t the most prudent rhetorical choice ever made by a wartime commander in chief, but then George W. Bush wasn’t leading a nation faced with a rhetorical threat. The challenges posed by 9/11 were, and are, actual-not linguistic. It’s what the President did in response that mattered. And some six years after taking the fight to the terrorists, we see al Qaeda’s power structure crumbling and its popular support waning. And we have not suffered another mainland attack. All the cowboy slang ranks as a footnote.
More troubling than Bush’s regrets is his present conception of diplomacy in regard to Iran. It’s as if he’s seeking to redeem himself by instituting a program of American humility. For the touchy-feely internationalists who consider multilateralism itself a goal of U.S. foreign policy, George W. Bush’s meeting in Slovenia yesterday was a triumph. For those who are more concerned about Tehran’s ability to build a nuclear arsenal, the meeting was very worrisome.
The President met with European leaders who, according to the New York Times, agreed “to consider additional punitive sanctions against Iran, including restrictions on its banks, if Iran rejects a package of incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program.” Of course international agreement is a good thing and America should always seek out allies. But if getting Europe to “consider” punishing Tehran is the best we can do, we’re facing a crisis. Yet Bush seems alarmingly unfazed, and has taken to saying he wants to leave his presidential successor with “a multilateral framework” to deal with Iran.
Here is the problem. Talking about talking is not effective diplomacy. Talking about bombing is effective diplomacy. We’ve reached a funny point in world history when the toughest thing a western leader is permitted to say about a potential nuclear menace is that “all options are on the table.” Let’s hope that what appears to be a kinder, gentler, and frankly weaker approach to Iran is just the President crossing his T’s and dotting his I’s before making the hardest decision a statesman can make. If the only thing standing between us and a nuclear Iran is a “multilateral framework” of European “considerations,” Bush’s legacy will bear the stain of something far more damning than excessive verbal bluster.