The new approach of the White House on issues from Middle East peace to civil liberties is encouraging, but we are still left waiting for a promise from the Bush administration that it is committed to restoring America’s role as a defender of freedom and a respected leader in the world. Two big stories hit the news this week. The first is that Condi is seeking to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians after years of the U.S. abandoning its historic leadership on this issue. And the second is that the Bush administration will now allow an independent court to oversee its wiretapping program. These stories point clearly to a change in administration perspective on two of the most important – and, to date, most failed – aspects of the Bush presidency.
And, yet, despite these dramatic changes there’s no master narrative being told. No one in the White House is telling us how this all connects – or, more importantly, how it reflects a fundamental shift in the way America wins the war on terror. The Bush strategy until recently has been to say that security is all about hard power. The Israeli-Palestinian issue has not been a priority because it’s not seen as a critical issue in building better, safer relationship with the Muslim world. The Bush philosophy has been that the fanatics are finite and unresponsive to political events and so the best way to be safe is to tap Americans’ phones without warrant. Now, the administration is realizing that’s its strategy of abandoning global leadership and domestic freedoms has actually made us less safe and finally we’re seeing a re-shifting of policy towards restoring the basic ingredients of U.S. global leadership abroad and freedom at home.
The president should be shouting about these changes from the mountaintops – and telling how they connect to a new vision for the war on terror – rather than presenting these issues as separate stories and downplaying the tremendous mistakes he’s made. The biggest issue for the U.S. today is that we’re seen as a country led by an arrogant President who is careless toward the world and unwilling to admit failure. Arguably even larger than Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, America is at odds with the world because Bush’s leadership is seen as intentionally ambivalent and stubborn toward the international community. President Bush owes more than a change in policy – he owes an apology to the American people and to the world for undermining our security with a failed a strategy in defeating terrorism. He needs to say he’s been dangerously wrong and announce a new vision for winning the fight against terror. The State of the Union next week would be a great opportunity.