George W. Bush was at his best at the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner two weeks ago, self-deprecating, funny, and gracious as he addressed the broadcasters.So why is it this president seems able to bring his A game only to jovial social occasions?
In a series of serious events in recent days, Bush and Cheney have made it apparent that, notwithstanding the new Democratic leadership in Congress, they see no need to change their obstinate modus operandi. Instead, with their own polling numbers stuck in a swamp, the two Republicans appear intent on casting the new Democratic Congress in an unflattering light.
Although the Iraq Study Group recommended engaging with Iraq's neighbors, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney scolded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for last week's meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I'm very disappointed," Cheney said in the cosseted confines of Rush Limbaugh's radio show. "I think it is bad behavior on her part."
Never mind that an earlier trip by a trio of Republican congressmen elicited hardly a peep from the White House.
Bush, meanwhile, portrayed Congress as ready to undermine US troops in Iraq by trying to include, in a supplemental spending bill for Iraq, a 2008 date (a goal, in the Senate version) for ending US combat missions there.
This from a president who still hasn't responded to a March 28 letter from the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and Pelosi offering to meet in pursuit of something acceptable to all sides.
Instead, Bush has insisted he will veto any measure that intrudes on what he regards as his singular foreign-policy prerogative.
"Speaker Pelosi and I have offered the President a chance for bipartisan cooperation, yet all we are hearing from the White House is the same old tired rhetoric and a failed strategy that has our troops mired in an open-ended civil war," Reid said in a statement to the Globe.
On the not-so-diplomatic front, the administration has added insult to injury by using a dubious recess appointment to sidestep Senate opposition to Republican moneyman Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a $50,000 funder of the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that waged a smear campaign against John Kerry in 2004.
In his cozy chat with Limbaugh, Cheney again tried to paint Iraq as central to the war on terror, portraying it as an active center of Al Qaeda activities before the US invasion -- and in language seemingly designed to suggest, yet again, that Al Qaeda and Iraq had been partners in terror.
Both the September 11 commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee have given the lie to claims of a collaborative relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq -- and on the very day Cheney spoke, a newly declassified Defense Department report also said that Iraq had not been cooperating with Al Qaeda.
It's obvious the next two years will be a long, contentious grind. But what's even more frustrating is the litany of problems this president will leave his successor.
First on the list, of course, is Iraq. As Iraq Study Group member Leon Panetta underlined in The New York Times last week, the Iraqi government has made minimal progress toward meeting key milestones for national reconciliation. No matter. If this president has his way, the chaos in Iraq will land squarely in the next chief executive's lap.
So will the nation's long-term fiscal problems, exacerbated by both the tax cuts and the massive prescription drug entitlement this president pushed through Congress.
Meanwhile, consider how remarkable it is that an administration ever eager to assert its unbridled authority -- at least when doing so serves its ideological ends -- would argue that the EPA lacks the power to regulate carbon dioxide. The Supreme Court has now rejected that claim, but don't hold your breath waiting for significant action on climate change.
And, of course, there's the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. It's untenable for the United States to keep hundreds of people imprisoned for the rest of their lives without trial. Yet even though Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has urged Bush to close the facility, deciding what to do with the detainees is another matter Bush seems likely to dump on his successor's desk.
In sum, George W. Bush has spent two terms making one colossal mess. The next president will have to devote much of his or her energy to cleaning it up.
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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