President Bush and his political minder, Karl Rove, have a patented method for responding to adversity: Go on offense. Change the subject. Put out bold proposals. Smear the enemy. All of those tactics are on display right now. One example is the effort to throw slime at Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner. Another is the White House teaser that Bush would back a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. A third was Bush's Wednesday speech on the need for new rules to prevent nonnuclear nations from getting the bomb.
The administration's hypocrisy on the nuclear initiative is breathtaking. Bush called for the nations of the world to work together and enact more stringent controls on the transfer of nuclear technology and material. His chosen vehicle would be the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But the Bush administration has spent three years dismissing multilateral efforts in many areas, especially nonproliferation. For the IAEA, it had nothing but contempt, expressed often and scathingly by John Bolton, undersecretary of state for nonproliferation. Soon after Bush took office, he also acted to undercut the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) -- the very treaty he said Wednesday should be strengthened. When the NPT was extended several years ago, the bargain struck was that nonnuclear nations would agree to the extension if nuclear states would sign on to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Bush announced that the United States wouldn't be ratifying the treaty. Instead it would be developing, and testing, a new line of mininukes, thus thumbing its nose at the world's efforts to wind down the Cold War nuclear race.
Then there's Pakistan. The United States is crowing that its intelligence led to uncovering the secret nuclear network set up by A.Q. Kahn to sell technology and materials to Iran, Libya, North Korea and perhaps others. Apparently U.S. intelligence has known about Kahn for at least three years. But instead of focusing on a known nuclear power whose secrets were being sold to at least three nations, the Bush administration focused on Iraq, which was known to have only nuclear ambitions. Not until last October did the United States share with the Pakistan government its knowledge of Khan's secret activities.
Even as Bush made his pitch for new international cooperation on nonproliferation, he couldn't keep from casting aspersions on the IAEA, suggesting it had fallen down on the job. No one from the White House even conferred with IAEA officials before Bush made his speech, even though IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has repeatedly made many of the same points and urged the same reforms. How easy it would have been to hold discussions with ElBaradei and have him present at the speech to signal IAEA's common cause with the United States. Moreover, one might ask: Who was right on Iraq and who was wrong, the IAEA or Bush?
Overall, Bush gave a good speech. It's a shame his current political troubles, his administration's past behavior on nonproliferation, and his unwillingness even now to fully embrace a cooperative approach, give many pause to wonder whether he really means it.
© Copyright 2004 Star Tribune