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History > 2008 > USA > International (III)




Jim Day


The Las Vegas Review Journal



20 May 2008


L to R:

U.S. President George W. Bush and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.














We’re Still No. 1. But for How Long?


May 25, 2008
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “Imbalances of Power” (column, May 21):

Thomas L. Friedman writes about a shift in the global balance of power that has allowed the rise of other nations. And he says our lack of a sufficient energy policy has negatively affected the role that the United States will play in the near future.

I look at the prospects of the United States’ losing its single-power status in two ways. First, it points to the failed presidency of George W. Bush. Second, it raises the possibility that a diminished role in the geopolitical landscape could be a blessing in disguise for the United States.

Much has been written about why the Bush administration’s policies have negatively affected the role the United States plays in the world. But I’ve seen little mention of how a multipower world might be exactly what this country needs.

In a multipower world, the United States would be able to shift its focus away from foreign policy and begin addressing our nation’s problems, like health care, public schools and poor infrastructure, with more resources and with increased focus on the problems at home.

Marc Franzblau
Anderson, S.C., May 21, 2008

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman writes, “It baffles me that President Bush would rather go to Saudi Arabia twice in four months and beg for an oil price break” (in other words, an increase in production) rather than ask Americans to conserve energy by driving more fuel-efficient cars or promote a carbon tax.

Follow the money. The people who have the president’s ear aren’t concerned about the price of oil. They’re watching volume, because they make their money on the margins, which remain relatively unchanged. The only way they can keep reaping profits is by maximizing the amount that flows through the pumps.

And with regard to the possibility of a carbon tax: as far as President Bush is concerned, the words “President Bush” and “tax” can be used in a sentence only with the descriptor “cuts,” no matter the logic for conservation.

Martin Adickman
Great Neck, N.Y., May 21, 2008

To the Editor:

Why is Thomas L. Friedman baffled that President Bush has not mobilized our economy to find an alternative to oil and has not encouraged Americans to conserve energy?

President Bush is a creature of the oil industry, and his success in driving its profits to new heights is the signature achievement of his administration.

This is the same president who, after 9/11, encouraged Americans to support the country by going shopping. His fiscal policy is based on self-indulgence. Why would he tell us to sacrifice now, especially as our stimulus checks arrive in the mail?

Stephen S. Power
Maplewood, N.J., May 21, 2008

To the Editor:

The unilateral actions taken by the United States in starting the war in Iraq — which entailed a blatant disregard of other nations’ concerns and interests, amounting to thumbing our nose at the rest of the world — have set an example for many other countries.

That example is that there’s little need to heed other nations’ views. We’re now seeing this idea pursued full force by Iran, Russia, China and other countries.

What is the incentive for other nations to listen to the United States’ pleas when America has seemed to disregard the international community for the past seven and a half years?

Jeff Solomon
Chelmsford, Mass., May 21, 2008

To the Editor:

Thank you, Thomas L. Friedman, for stating a glaring fact that so many Americans choose to ignore.

Because shallow examples of American-generated pop culture continue to bombard us every day and emblems of American capitalism pervade the international landscape, many of us confuse this soft power with actual political and strategic influence.

The idea that America is all-powerful is a farce, since we cannot even take baby steps to fix the country’s broken educational, pension and health care systems. We’ve done little to deal with the current economic crisis, and our government is reluctant to assist American families in need.

The blindness of our energy policy has caused us to become the lapdog of Saudi Arabia. Decreasing our dependence on foreign oil through the creation of sustainable, economically fair alternative energy plans would not only stabilize our economy and create jobs, but would also prove to the rest of the world that we truly believe in the ideas of equality and democracy for all.

Alanya Green
New York, May 21, 2008

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman is rightly concerned about the vast gap between the current state of affairs in the United States and its potential for doing much better.

He cites Fareed Zakaria’s thesis that America’s relative decline is mirrored by the rise of other powers, like China, Russia and India. But while it is true that the world is losing faith in America’s ability to lead in the world, I would argue that there has hardly been a corresponding rise in confidence in China or in the European Union.

Have China or Russia, with all their newfound wealth and power, done any better in helping Myanmar or Darfur or in slowing climate change?

India may have multiple TV news channels now, along with armies of software programmers, but has it become better able to deal with internal or external terror threats?

Have any of these countries advanced stem-cell research or alternative energy production enough?

Students of history may note that it was well over a thousand years between the decline of Rome and the rise of the British Empire. Until another nation is able to command the world’s admiration, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, America will remain the worst possible nation in every respect — but only if you do not count all the others.

Ramesh Gopalan
Fremont, Calif., May 21, 2008

We’re Still No. 1. But for How Long?, NYT, 25.5.2008,






Russia and China

Condemn U.S. Missile Shield Plan


May 24, 2008
The New York Times


President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia traveled to Beijing Friday to conclude a deal on nuclear cooperation and join Chinese leaders in condemning American proposals for a missile shield in Europe. Both countries called the plan a setback to international trust likely to upset the balance of power.

Mr. Medvedev’s choice of China for an early diplomatic foray as president seemed to signal a desire to continue Moscow’s assertive foreign policy — particularly toward the United States — that was a hallmark of his predecessor, Vladimir V. Putin, during his eight years in office.

Mr. Medvedev was inaugurated as Russia’s president earlier this month, but Mr. Putin retained significant powers as prime minister.

Friday’s announcements in Beijing came as the two giant neighbors, who challenged the United States — and each other —during the cold war, grapple with newer tensions over an array of military and economic issues, including their rivalry over the energy resources of central Asia.

Mr. Medvedev arrived in China after a visit to Kazakhstan, which is seen as an important part of Moscow’s regional energy ambitions.

Both countries have condemned America’s plan for a missile shield. Russia in particular has long sought allies to act as a bulwark against what Moscow depicts as American global hegemony.

In a joint statement signed by Mr. Medvedev and President Hu Jintao, the two countries took issue once more with plans for a missile defense system “in certain regions of the world,” saying such measures “do not support strategic balance and stability, and harm international efforts to control arms and the non-proliferation process.”

“It harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability,” the statement said.

The statement did not specifically identify the United States, which has angered Russia with plans to deploy elements of a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Washington says the shield is to protect against potential attack by rogue states like Iran and North Korea.

For their part, Moscow and Beijing have not always supported Washington’s efforts to characterize Iran as a sponsor of terrorism and a potential nuclear threat, particularly to Israel. Iran insists that its nuclear development program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.

The Russian-Chinese statement Friday also took issue with America’s attitude to the promotion of human rights, insisting that “every state has a right to encourage and protect them based on its own specific features and characters.”

The statement reflected an argument among Washington’s critics that the United States uses the human rights issue as a means of exerting political pressure. It said governments should “oppose politicizing the issue and using double standards” and should not use “human rights to interfere with other countries’ affairs.”

As a mark of the warming ties, the two countries signed a $1-billion agreement for Russia to build a nuclear fuel enrichment plant in China and supply uranium. Sergei V. Kiriyenko, the director of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, described the deal as “a good addition to our presence in China.”

Alan Cowell reported from Paris and Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow.

    Russia and China Condemn U.S. Missile Shield Plan, NYT, 24.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/24/world/24china.html







Talking With the Enemy


May 23, 2008
The New York Times


Everybody knew President Bush was aiming at Senator Barack Obama last week when he likened those who endorse talks with “terrorists and radicals” to appeasers of the Nazis. But now we know what Mr. Bush knew then — that Israel is in indirect peace talks with Syria, a prominent member of Mr. Bush’s list of shunned nations — and it seems as if the president was going for a two-for-one in his crack about appeasement.

If so, it was breathtakingly cynical to compare the leadership of the Jewish state with those who stood aside in the face of the Nazi onslaught, and irresponsible to try to restrain this American ally from pursuing a settlement that it judges as possibly being in its best interests.

But Mr. Bush turned his back on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for seven years (before opening the anemic Annapolis process in November), and he resisted previous moves by Jerusalem and Damascus to revive serious negotiations, last held in 2000, over the Golan Heights. Instead, he has sought to isolate Syria.

The list of Syria’s bad behavior is long: support for Hamas and Hezbollah, interference in Iraq; objections to Israeli-Palestinian peace; a suspected role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; and increasingly close ties to Iran. But Israel has chosen to keep talking anyway and despite discovering — and bombing — an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria.

There are reasons to be skeptical that the negotiations, brokered by Turkey, will succeed. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is politically weak and under a corruption inquiry. Syria is more closely tied to Iran than ever. Many Israelis believe returning the Golan Heights, seized in the 1967 war, could put their country at greater risk. There also are concerns that a focus on Syria will divert Israeli attention from peacemaking with the Palestinians.

There could, however, be a big payoff if Syria can be weaned from Iran. We’ll never know unless Damascus’s willingness to talk is tested. We trust that Israel would not accept a deal that does not meet minimum demands, including an end to Syria enabling Hezbollah and Hamas and undermining democracy in Lebanon.

When he lashes out, as he did in Israel, Mr. Bush makes it harder for reasonable people to pursue diplomacy. And it is hypocritical. His administration has negotiated successfully with Libya (formerly on the terrorism list) and North Korea (still on the terrorism list) and has had limited, largely unsuccessful, contacts with Iran over its support for insurgents in Iraq. Israel is indirectly negotiating a cease-fire in Gaza with Hamas with the help of Egypt.

Mr. Bush’s approach is increasingly undermining American interests and causing Washington to be sidelined. To wit: an Arab-brokered political settlement on Lebanon reached Wednesday strengthened Hezbollah by giving it a veto over cabinet decisions.

Like Mr. Obama (and many others), we strongly encourage diplomacy, including contacts with adversaries. If Mr. Bush cannot use his remaining months in office to do the same, he can at least get out of the way.

    Talking With the Enemy, NYT, 23.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/23/opinion/23fri1.html






Op-Ed Columnist

Imbalances of Power


May 21, 2008
The New York Times


There has been much debate in this campaign about which of our enemies the next U.S. president should deign to talk to. The real story, the next president may discover, though, is how few countries are waiting around for us to call. It is hard to remember a time when more shifts in the global balance of power are happening at once — with so few in America’s favor.

Let’s start with the most profound one: More and more, I am convinced that the big foreign policy failure that will be pinned on this administration is not the failure to make Iraq work, as devastating as that has been. It will be one with much broader balance-of-power implications — the failure after 9/11 to put in place an effective energy policy.

It baffles me that President Bush would rather go to Saudi Arabia twice in four months and beg the Saudi king for an oil price break than ask the American people to drive 55 miles an hour, buy more fuel-efficient cars or accept a carbon tax or gasoline tax that might actually help free us from what he called our “addiction to oil.”

The failure of Mr. Bush to fully mobilize the most powerful innovation engine in the world — the U.S. economy — to produce a scalable alternative to oil has helped to fuel the rise of a collection of petro-authoritarian states — from Russia to Venezuela to Iran — that are reshaping global politics in their own image.

If this huge transfer of wealth to the petro-authoritarians continues, power will follow. According to Congressional testimony Wednesday by the energy expert Gal Luft, with oil at $200 a barrel, OPEC could “potentially buy Bank of America in one month worth of production, Apple computers in a week and General Motors in just three days.”

But that’s not all. Two compelling new books have just been published that describe two other big power shifts: “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, and “Superclass” by David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment.

Mr. Zakaria’s central thesis is that while the U.S. still has many unique assets, “the rise of the rest” — the Chinas, the Indias, the Brazils and even smaller nonstate actors — is creating a world where many other countries are slowly moving up to America’s level of economic clout and self-assertion, in every realm. “Today, India has 18 all-news channels of its own,” notes Zakaria. “And the perspectives they provide are very different from those you will get in the Western media. The rest now has the confidence to present its own narrative, where it is at the center.”

For too long, argues Zakaria, America has taken its many natural assets — its research universities, free markets and diversity of human talent — and assumed that they will always compensate for our low savings rate or absence of a health care system or any strategic plan to improve our competitiveness.

“That was fine in a world when a lot of other countries were not performing,” argues Zakaria, but now the best of the rest are running fast, working hard, saving well and thinking long term. “They have adopted our lessons and are playing our game,” he said. If we don’t fix our political system and start thinking strategically about how to improve our competitiveness, he added, “the U.S. risks having its unique and advantageous position in the world erode as other countries rise.”

Mr. Rothkopf’s book argues that on many of the most critical issues of our time, the influence of all nation-states is waning, the system for addressing global issues among nation-states is more ineffective than ever, and therefore a power void is being created. This void is often being filled by a small group of players — “the superclass” — a new global elite, who are much better suited to operating on the global stage and influencing global outcomes than the vast majority of national political leaders.

Some of this new elite “are from business and finance,” says Rothkopf. “Some are members of a kind of shadow elite — criminals and terrorists. Some are masters of new or traditional media; some are religious leaders, and a few are top officials of those governments that do have the ability to project their influence globally.”

The next president will have to manage these new rising states and these new rising individuals and networks, while wearing the straightjacket left in the Oval Office by Mr. Bush.

“Call it the triple deficit,” said Mr. Rothkopf. “A fiscal deficit that will soon have us choosing between rationed health care, sufficient education, adequate infrastructure and traditional levels of defense spending, a trade deficit that has us borrowing from our rivals to the point of real vulnerability, and a geopolitical deficit that is a legacy of Iraq, which may result in hesitancy to take strong stands where we must.”

The first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.

    Imbalances of Power, NYT, 21.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/opinion/21friedman.html?ref=opinion







Mr. Bush’s Travels


May 20, 2008
The New York Times


President Bush’s visit to the Middle East last week offered a graphic primer on his failed policies — and the many dangers his successor will face.

The Peace Process: In Israel, President Bush spoke again about his vision of a two-state solution with Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in peace. But after ignoring the conflict for seven years, the negotiations he opened in Annapolis last November have made little apparent progress. And Mr. Bush did not use the trip to press either side to make even minimum concessions.

The Israelis need to halt all settlement activity. The Palestinians need to do more to end attacks on Israel. The United States needs to be ready to press compromise proposals, something Mr. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, show little interest in doing.

After a three-day stay in Jerusalem, Mr. Bush met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Egypt — not Ramallah — a fact that was duly and angrily noted by Palestinians. The next president will have to make a much stronger, and earlier, commitment to the peace process, appoint a more skilled and creative team of advisers and resolve to be a more sensitive and honest broker than Mr. Bush.

Saudi Arabia: Two months after Vice President Dick Cheney went to Saudi Arabia to plead for increased oil production, President Bush was there making the same pitch. The Saudis were only slightly more accommodating, agreeing to a modest increase that will do nothing to lower prices at American gas pumps or America’s dependence on imported oil. Such special pleading is unseemly. The next president is going to have to do a lot more to reduce America’s consumption of fossil fuels, and its dependence on the Saudis.

Lebanon: While Mr. Bush traveled the region, Lebanon’s pro-Western government was losing ever more ground to Hezbollah. Mr. Bush offered little help to the prime minister, Fouad Siniora — once a poster boy for Mr. Bush’s claimed rising tide of democracy — beyond promising to speed delivery of American military aid and urging Arab leaders to rally to Mr. Siniora’s side.

Mr. Bush is still stubbornly refusing to talk with either of Hezbollah’s backers — Iran and Syria — and accused all those who urge direct negotiations of appeasement, a barely veiled attack on Senator Barack Obama.

Mr. Bush has strengthened the region’s radicals with his failed Iraq war. And his refusal to talk has also made it easier for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions. The next president is going to need a better approach.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan: In Egypt, President Bush also met with leaders of the three countries that will present his successor with the greatest challenges: planning and executing an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and helping nuclear-armed Pakistan defeat those same extremists while not unraveling. He made no progress on any of these dangerous fronts.

Americans need to hear from the presidential candidates — now — about how they plan to reverse this disastrous legacy.

    Mr. Bush’s Travels, NYT, 20.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/20/opinion/20tue1.html






Bush Presses Arab Leaders on Reform


May 19, 2008
The New York Times


SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt — After a showy celebration of America’s close ties with Israel, President Bush presented Arab leaders with a lengthy to-do list on Sunday, telling them that if Middle East peace is to become a reality, they must expand their economies, offer equal opportunity to women and embrace democracy.

“Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail,” Mr. Bush said in an address to the World Economic Forum here, adding, “The time has come for nations across the Middle East to abandon these practices, and treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

The speech, to an audience of diplomats, world leaders, policy makers and business executives attending the forum in this Red Sea resort town, wrapped up a five-day Middle East tour that also took Mr. Bush to Israel and Saudi Arabia. It was meant as a book-end to an address Mr. Bush delivered last week to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

The White House had billed the Middle East trip as a mix of symbolism and substance, and said Mr. Bush would use his time in the region to shore up the faltering Arab-Israeli peace talks. But the president’s three-day stay in Jerusalem, including tours of Masada, the ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea, a private viewing of the Dead Sea scrolls and a host of laudatory exchanges between Mr. Bush and Israeli leaders, drew sharp criticism in the Arab world, where he was accused of being insensitive to Palestinian concerns.

Here in Sharm el Sheikh, Mr. Bush tried to soften that impression. He hosted a series of back-to-back meetings with regional leaders — including those from Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan — at a spectacular villa, with stone walkways lined by pink and red bougainvillea, overlooking a kidney-shaped pool and the sparkling Red Sea beyond.

Emerging from a session with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Bush said he told Mr. Abbas that he is “absolutely committed” to a Palestinian state.

“It breaks my heart to see the vast potential of the Palestinian people really wasted,” Mr. Bush said, with Mr. Abbas by his side. “They’re good, smart, capable people that when given a chance will build a thriving homeland.”

Yet Mr. Bush’s speech Sunday afternoon seemed to chide as much as reassure.

“In our democracy, we would never punish a person for owning a Koran,” Mr. Bush said, at one point, taking aim at those who, he said, claim democracy and Islam are incompatible. “And we would never issue a death sentence to someone for converting to Islam. Democracy does not threaten Islam or any other religion. Democracy is the only system of government that guarantees their protection.”

At another point, the president warned that Middle Eastern economies would not thrive unless opportunities are offered to women. “This is a matter of morality and basic math,” he said.

And after unsuccessfully trying to persuade Saudi Arabia to increase oil production enough to cause a drop in gasoline prices in the United States, Mr. Bush had a message for oil-producing nations that as America and other countries look to alternative forms of energy, the market for Middle East oil would diminish, forcing countries here to diversify their economies.

The speech stood in stark contrast to the one Mr. Bush delivered to Israeli lawmakers, although he tried to link the two. In the first speech, timed to coincide with the 60th birthday of Israel, Mr. Bush outlined his vision for the Middle East on Israel’s on its 120th birthday. He used some of the same language on Sunday, repeating certain passages word for word and telling his audience that his vision “is not a Jewish vision or a Muslim vision, not an American vision or an Arab vision – it is a universal vision.”

The trip was Mr. Bush’s second to the region in five months, and his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, told reporters that one reason for the speech was “to give some hope” that progress toward peace is possible. Many analysts say the most Mr. Bush can hope for is to hand off a working peace process to his successor, and are skeptical about Mr. Bush’s pronouncements that the contours of a Palestinian state can be defined before he leaves office.

But Mr. Hadley insisted progress, though quiet, is occurring, and hinted Mr. Bush might return to the region before his term is over.

“The president will come back here,” Mr. Hadley said, “when there is work for him to do.”

    Bush Presses Arab Leaders on Reform, NYT, 19.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/world/middleeast/19prexy.html?hp






Obama Says Bush and McCain Are ‘Fear Mongering’


May 17, 2008
The New York Times


WATERTOWN, S.D. — Senator Barack Obama responded sharply on Friday to attacks on his foreign policy, linking President Bush and Senator John McCain as partners in “the failed policies” of the past seven years and criticizing them for “hypocrisy, fear peddling, fear mongering.”

Confronting a major challenge to his world view, Mr. Obama tried to turn the tables on his critics, saying they were guilty of “bluster” and “dishonest, divisive” tactics. He cited a litany of what he called foreign policy blunders by the Bush administration and accused Mr. McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, of “doubling down” on them.

“George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for,” Mr. Obama said at a midday forum here, listing the Iraq war, the strengthening of Iran and groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden’s being still at large and stalled diplomacy in other parts of the Middle East among their chief failings.

“If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America,” Mr. Obama said, “that is a debate I am happy to have any time, any place.”

His defiance and disdain for Mr. Bush’s record appeared to be a signal that he will push back against efforts to define him or his record as weak on terror or accommodating to foreign foes, a strategy Republicans used successfully against Senator John Kerry in 2004.

The appearance also signaled that the campaigns are pivoting swiftly toward the general election, with the two sides already in full attack mode.

Consistently throughout his comments about foreign policy, Mr. Obama yoked Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain as one entity, mentioning their names in the same sentence 10 times in barely 10 minutes. He portrayed them as being not only inflexible, but also “naïve and irresponsible,” the characteristics they ascribe to him.

The remarks were made a day after Mr. Bush, addressing the Israeli Parliament, spoke of what he called a tendency toward “appeasement” in some quarters of the West, similar to that shown to the Nazis before the invasion of Poland.

Mr. Bush also said he rejected negotiations with “terrorists and radicals,” implying that Democrats favored such a position. Mr. Obama said he found the remarks offensive.

“After almost eight years, I did not think I could be surprised by anything that George Bush says,” Mr. Obama said, criticizing Mr. Bush for raising an internal issue on foreign soil. “But I was wrong.”

Mr. McCain endorsed Mr. Bush’s remarks, saying, “The president is exactly right,” and adding that Mr. Obama “needs to explain why he is willing to sit down and talk” with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Mr. Obama at first joked that he wanted to respond to “a little foreign policy dustup yesterday.” But he quickly made it clear that he regarded the exchange as anything but funny, criticizing Mr. Bush and saying Mr. McCain “still hasn’t spelled out one substantial way in which he’d be different from George Bush’s foreign policy.”

“In the Bush-McCain world view, everyone who disagrees with their failed Iran policy is an appeaser,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. McCain’s campaign answered quickly and sharply on Friday. A spokesman, Tucker Bounds, called the remarks a “hysterical diatribe in response to a speech in which his name wasn’t even mentioned.”

Mr. McCain, speaking to the National Rifle Association in Louisville, Ky., said he welcomed a debate with Mr. Obama over national security and threw the naïve description back at Mr. Obama.

“It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies,” Mr. McCain said. “But that is not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe.”

For nearly a month, Republicans have stepped up attacks on Mr. Obama’s foreign policy perspective, highlighting a Hamas official’s complimentary comments about him in mid-April, as well as Mr. Obama’s statements that he is willing to meet with leaders of so-called rogue states like Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela “without preconditions.” On Friday, Mr. Obama tried, not for the first time, to deflect and counter the criticisms by articulating his view of foreign relations, one in which military might is accompanied by diplomatic engagement with all countries, including enemies. His most specific example was a significantly changed policy toward Iran, one that would be equal parts carrot and stick.

“It’s time to present Iran with a clear choice,” Mr. Obama said. “If it abandons its nuclear program, support for terror and threats to Israel, then Iran can rejoin the community of nations. If not, Iran will face deeper isolation and steeper sanctions.”

The administration’s policy has merely “empowered Iran,” he said, with its unmitigated hostility. As a result, it is now Iran, not Iraq, he added, that “poses the greatest threat to America and Israel in the Middle East in a generation.”

“Our Iran policy is a complete failure,” Mr. Obama said. “And that’s the policy that John McCain is running on.”

Mr. McCain responded by saying: “I have some news for Senator Obama. Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a ‘stinking corpse’ and arms terrorists who kill Americans will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.”

As a setting for a major statement of Mr. Obama’s views on how the United States should deal with some of the most problem-laden areas in the world, the venue here was an unlikely one. Although Mr. Bush issued his criticism from the Israeli Knesset, Mr. Obama stood in what was grandly called a “livestock arena,” with wood chips and even cow chips scattered on the floor.

The Obama campaign said it wanted to move strongly and swiftly, guided by lessons learned from the 2004 campaign.

“There is no question that when the president on foreign soil launches a political attack we need to respond with the facts and with force,” said Bill Burton, national spokesman for the campaign.

Mr. Burton said he expected many such confrontations between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain. “The truth is that there are many, many real differences,” Mr. Burton said.

In a news conference after the forum, Mr. Obama’s criticisms of his Republican adversaries were even more pointed.

“This White House, now mimicked by Senator McCain,” he said, “replaces strategy and analysis and smart policy with bombast, exaggeration and fear mongering.”

He also said Mr. Bush’s speech on Thursday in Israel “wasn’t about a foreign policy argument — it was about politics.”

To maintain, as the White House and the McCain campaign have done, that Mr. Bush’s remarks about appeasement were not aimed at administration critics like him is “being disingenuous,” Mr. Obama said.

He addressed Republican contentions that he was willing to meet unconditionally with Mr. Ahmadinejad. Mr. McCain has said several times recently that he could not conceive of sitting down and talking with a foreign leader who has called for Israel’s extinction, and he has described Mr. Obama as all too willing to do so.

The criticism is clearly meant to stoke unease that some Jews have expressed over Mr. Obama’s candidacy, a problem Mr. Obama has been trying to address.

Mr. Obama drew a distinction, saying his administration would start negotiations with Iran “without preconditions” and being directly involved himself. For that to occur, he added, Iran would have to meet benchmarks or conditions.

That reiterates remarks he has made numerous times in the past year, though not in a YouTube debate last July that the McCain campaign has repeatedly cited.

Agreeing to begin talks without preconditions “does not mean we would not have preparations,” Mr. Obama said.

“Those preparations would involve starting with low-level diplomatic contacts” like National Security Council or State Department emissaries, he said.

In addition to defending his concept of diplomatic engagement, Mr. Obama said it was Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain who have strayed from what he described as a robust tradition of bilateral support for resolving conflicts through direct negotiations, a tradition that ran from John F. Kennedy to Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

“What’s puzzling is that this in any way would be controversial,” he said. “This has been the history of U.S. diplomacy until very recently.”

Michael Powell contributed reporting from New York.

    Obama Says Bush and McCain Are ‘Fear Mongering’, NYT, 17.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/us/politics/17obama.html?hp






Bush Rebuffed on Oil Plea in Saudi Arabia


May 17, 2008
The New York Times


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — With the price of oil hitting record highs, President Bush used a private visit to King Abdullah’s ranch here Friday to make a second attempt to persuade the Saudi government to increase oil production. And while Saudis appeared to rebuff the request, the Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, announced that the kingdom had increased output by 300,000 barrels a day, starting May 10.

The Saudis have previously rejected American requests to increase production, and Mr. Naimi insisted that the increase was in response to demands from some 50 “customers” worldwide. He did not specify further. “Our response is positive,” he said at a news conference. “If you want more oil you need to buy it.”

The increase means that Saudi Arabia aims to produce 9.45 million barrels a day.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, said at the briefing, “The president showed great concern for the impact on the American economy,” adding, “We of course sympathize with that.”

Earlier, the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way here from Jerusalem that Mr. Bush was asking for increase production so that American consumers could get some relief at the gasoline pump.

“Clearly, the price of gas is too high for Americans and it is causing a hardship for families with low income,” she said. “We do count on the OPEC countries to keep adequate supplies out there so the president will talk with the king again about that.”

But the Saudis have not been eager to solve the American gas problem. When Mr. Bush was last here in January, a similar request caused him some embarrassment. The president asked the Saudi oil minister to increase production, and his request on that occasion was publicly turned down. He then took up the matter with the king, but the conversation did not get very far.

The president had little choice but to try again. Back in Washington, Democrats like Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York are pressing for sanctions against Saudi Arabia. Mr. Schumer wants to limit arms sales to the kingdom, saying he wants them to “cooperate and not strangle American consumers.”

The Bush White House opposes such methods. But with gasoline nearing $4 a gallon, clearly Mr. Bush is looking for some cooperation. Oil prices rose by more than $3 on Friday to more than $127 a barrel, according to The Associated Press.

In an interview with CBS Radio before leaving Washington, Mr. Bush was asked what he would tell the king this time that he did not say when he was here last.

“That I didn’t say last time?” he asked, adding, “The price is even higher.”

Mr. Bush arrived in Saudi Arabia from Jerusalem, where he spent the past several days celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary. The Saudi visit marks another anniversary — seventy-five years since the first formal American-Saudi diplomatic relations.

On Friday, the White House announced a series of initiatives meant to increase the partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia on energy and fighting terrorism.

Among the steps: Saudi Arabia will join 70 partner nations of a global initiative to fight nuclear terrorism, and will join more than 85 countries participating in an initiative intended to reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In exchange, the White House said, the United States will help the Saudis develop civilian nuclear power, as well as new infrastructure to safeguard its energy supplies.

Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from New York.

    Bush Rebuffed on Oil Plea in Saudi Arabia, NYT, 17.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/world/middleeast/17prexy.html?hp






Bush Speech Criticized as Attack on Obama


May 16, 2008
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — President Bush used a speech to the Israeli Parliament on Thursday to denounce those who would negotiate with “terrorists and radicals” — a remark that was widely interpreted as a rebuke to Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, who has argued that the United States should talk directly with countries like Iran and Syria.

Mr. Bush did not mention Mr. Obama by name, and the White House said his remarks were not aimed at the senator, though they created a political firestorm in Washington nonetheless.

In a lengthy speech intended to promote the strong alliance between the United States and Israel, the president invoked the emotionally volatile imagery of World War II to make the case that talking to extremists was no different than appeasing Hitler and the Nazis.

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” Mr. Bush said. “We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

The Obama campaign issued an angry response. In an e-mail statement to reporters, the senator denounced Mr. Bush for using the 60th anniversary of Israel to “launch a false political attack,” adding, “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.”

Other Democrats leapt to Mr. Obama’s defense, among them Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who accused Mr. Bush of taking politics overseas.

“The tradition has always been that when a U.S. President is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge,” Mr. Emanuel said in a statement. “President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head.”

The White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said the comment was not a reference to Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush was simply reiterating his own longstanding views.

"I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you — that is not always true and it is not true in this case," Ms. Perino told reporters here.

Mr. Bush made the remarks in a lengthy speech in which he painted a picture of the future Middle East as a place of “tolerance and integration.” He told the Israeli Parliament that the United States would stand by Israel in its fight against extremism, and predicted that in decades to come, Palestinians would “have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved.”

As Israelis celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Israeli state — an event Palestinians were marking Thursday as “the nakba,” or catastrophe, with rallies and the launch of thousands of black balloons — Mr. Bush did not use his time before the Knesset, the Parliament, to discuss the differing Israeli and Palestinian versions of the events of 1948.

Nor did Mr. Bush specifically address Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, though the White House has said he hoped to use his time here during his trip to the Middle East to shore up the faltering negotiations.

Instead, Mr. Bush laid out what he called “a bold vision” for how the Middle East might look on Israel’s 120th anniversary, a vision that bears little resemblance to the way the region looks today.

Drawing parallels to the transformations of Europe and Japan after World War II, Mr. Bush in his speech touched on themes familiar to him, including the triumph of democracy over terrorism. He predicted “free and independent societies” across the region. “Iran and Syria,” he said, “will be peaceful nations, where today’s oppression is a distant memory.” Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas “will be defeated,” he said.

“Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of integration and tolerance,” Mr. Bush said. “This does not mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings.”

If it sounded overly optimistic, White House officials insisted it was realistic as well.

“For 60 years from now, the 120th anniversary? Yes,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, when asked if Mr. Bush believed his predictions. “If you don’t set out a goal for what the region should look like, then what’s the point in anyone sitting down to talk at all?”

Thursday was the second day of Mr. Bush’s five-day Middle East tour, which will take him to Saudi Arabia on Friday and Egypt after that.

Israeli officials have heaped accolades on Mr. Bush during his time here, a pattern that continued Thursday when Dalia Itzik, the speaker of the Knesset, said Mr. Bush was “a great friend, one of the greatest we’ve ever had.”

The Parliament rolled out the red carpet, literally, for Mr. Bush, who arrived on the plaza in the early afternoon under bright sunny skies. A military band played the national anthems of both countries, and then broke into lively traditional Israeli music — including a few strains of Hava Nagila, a bar mitzvah standard — as Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, strode into the building’s grand entry hall, accompanied by Ms. Itzik.

Mr. Bush likes to say he is the first American president to call for a “two-state solution,” of Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in peace. But his three-day visit here, timed to coincide with the 60th birthday celebration, is also reinforcing the impression among Palestinians that he is too closely allied with Israel.

Mr. Johndroe said Mr. Bush expected to go into greater detail about the plight of the Palestinians when he meets the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt over the weekend.

Mr. Bush is also expected to meet on Thursday with Tony Blair, the international envoy for Palestinian development, who earlier in the week announced a package of economic and security aid for Palestinians to improve life in the West Bank.

Though Mr. Bush hoped to use his trip here to promote peace, it has been overshadowed by violence. On Wednesday, four Palestinians were killed, including two militants, and nine were wounded in a series of Israeli Army strikes and incursions into Gaza, according to medics and witnesses there.

In the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, a rocket that the police said was launched from northern Gaza struck a commercial center, crashing through the roof of a health clinic and badly wounding a woman and her 2-year-old daughter, both in the head. The doctor who was attending to them and a fourth person were also badly hurt.

Maj. Gen. Uriel Bar-Lev, the police commander of Israel’s southern district, said bomb experts had determined that the rocket was Iranian-made. “It has Iranian fingerprints on it,” he said in an interview outside the mall, crushed glass underfoot.

The White House condemned the rocket attack, blaming Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza and that Mr. Bush calls a terrorist organization. In Gaza, several groups claimed responsibility for the rocket. Hamas praised the attack.

Israeli leaders, meanwhile, said it seemed a matter of time before a military operation was undertaken.

“What happened today is entirely intolerable and unacceptable,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at a gala in Jerusalem on Wednesday, as the audience cut him off with applause. “The government of Israel is committed to stopping it. We will take the necessary steps so that this will stop.”

In Ashkelon, the cafeteria of Barzilay Hospital was turned into a makeshift clinic for the 60 or so lightly wounded people from the attack. Political sentiment turned raw and ugly as a crowd gathered outside the damaged commercial center while the police moved the wounded.

“Olmert Resign!” members of the crowd shouted, “We don’t want you anymore!”

The timing of the visit has been difficult for Mr. Bush, in part because Mr. Olmert is the subject of a corruption investigation that some say could cost him his job. When Mr. Bush arrived in Tel Aviv Wednesday morning, Mr. Olmert’s banter with the White House national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, was picked up by a sensitive microphone.

“Holding on, holding on. Don’t worry,” Mr. Olmert was overheard telling Mr. Hadley.

    Bush Speech Criticized as Attack on Obama, NYT, 16.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/16/world/middleeast/16prexy.html?hp






Op-Ed Columnist

The New Cold War


May 14, 2008
The New York Times


The next American president will inherit many foreign policy challenges, but surely one of the biggest will be the cold war. Yes, the next president is going to be a cold-war president — but this cold war is with Iran.

That is the real umbrella story in the Middle East today — the struggle for influence across the region, with America and its Sunni Arab allies (and Israel) versus Iran, Syria and their non-state allies, Hamas and Hezbollah. As the May 11 editorial in the Iranian daily Kayhan put it, “In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the U.S.”

For now, Team America is losing on just about every front. How come? The short answer is that Iran is smart and ruthless, America is dumb and weak, and the Sunni Arab world is feckless and divided. Any other questions?

The outrage of the week is the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah attempt to take over Lebanon. Hezbollah thugs pushed into Sunni neighborhoods in West Beirut, focusing particular attention on crushing progressive news outlets like Future TV, so Hezbollah’s propaganda machine could dominate the airwaves. The Shiite militia Hezbollah emerged supposedly to protect Lebanon from Israel. Having done that, it has now turned around and sold Lebanon to Syria and Iran.

All of this is part of what Ehud Yaari, one of Israel’s best Middle East watchers, calls “Pax Iranica.” In his April 28 column in The Jerusalem Report, Mr. Yaari pointed out the web of influence that Iran has built around the Middle East — from the sway it has over Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to its ability to manipulate virtually all the Shiite militias in Iraq, to its building up of Hezbollah into a force — with 40,000 rockets — that can control Lebanon and threaten Israel should it think of striking Tehran, to its ability to strengthen Hamas in Gaza and block any U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Simply put,” noted Mr. Yaari, “Tehran has created a situation in which anyone who wants to attack its atomic facilities will have to take into account that this will lead to bitter fighting” on the Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf fronts. That is a sophisticated strategy of deterrence.

The Bush team, by contrast, in eight years has managed to put America in the unique position in the Middle East where it is “not liked, not feared and not respected,” writes Aaron David Miller, a former Mideast negotiator under both Republican and Democratic administrations, in his provocative new book on the peace process, titled “The Much Too Promised Land.”

“We stumbled for eight years under Bill Clinton over how to make peace in the Middle East, and then we stumbled for eight years under George Bush over how to make war there,” said Mr. Miller, and the result is “an America that is trapped in a region which it cannot fix and it cannot abandon.”

Look at the last few months, he said: President Bush went to the Middle East in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went in February, Vice President Dick Cheney went in March, the secretary of state went again in April, and the president is there again this week. After all that, oil prices are as high as ever and peace prospects as low as ever. As Mr. Miller puts it, America right now “cannot defeat, co-opt or contain” any of the key players in the region.

The big debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is over whether or not we should talk to Iran. Obama is in favor; Clinton has been against. Alas, the right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage.

When you have leverage, talk. When you don’t have leverage, get some — by creating economic, diplomatic or military incentives and pressures that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore. That is where the Bush team has been so incompetent vis-à-vis Iran.

The only weaker party is the Sunni Arab world, which is either so drunk on oil it thinks it can buy its way out of any Iranian challenge or is so divided it can’t make a fist to protect its own interests — or both.

We’re not going to war with Iran, nor should we. But it is sad to see America and its Arab friends so weak they can’t prevent one of the last corners of decency, pluralism and openness in the Arab world from being snuffed out by Iran and Syria. The only thing that gives me succor is the knowledge that anyone who has ever tried to dominate Lebanon alone — Maronites, Palestinians, Syrians, Israelis — has triggered a backlash and failed.

“Lebanon is not a place anyone can control without a consensus, without bringing everybody in,” said the Lebanese columnist Michael Young. “Lebanon has been a graveyard for people with grand projects.” In the Middle East, he added, your enemies always seem to “find a way of joining together and suddenly making things very difficult for you.”

    The New Cold War, NYT, 14.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/opinion/14friedman.html?ref=opinion






Bush Scolds Congress on Colombia Trade


April 14, 2008
Filed at 1:10 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush stepped up pressure Monday on Congress to approve a controversial free-trade pact with Colombia, saying the deal is ''dead'' unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi schedules a vote.

After a meeting with his Cabinet, Bush said it's not in America's interest to ''stiff an ally'' like Colombia.

Bush sent the agreement to Capitol Hill earlier this month, but the House, led by Democrats, decided to eliminate a rule forcing a vote on the deal within 60 legislative days. The House's decision probably kills consideration of the Colombia agreement this year, leaving it for the next administration.

''This free trade agreement is in our national interests,'' Bush said. ''Yet that bill is dead unless the speaker schedules a definite vote. This was an unprecedented move. It's not in our country's interests that we stiff an ally like Colombia and that we don't encourage our goods and services to be sold overseas.''

Pelosi, D-Calif., who initiated the rules change, blames Bush for submitting the agreement before a consensus was reached with congressional leaders on outstanding differences. She has said that whether the agreement is dead for the year depends on the good faith of negotiations between Democrats and the White House.

The president, Pelosi said Monday at a news conference, has demonstrated again ''how out of touch he is with the concerns of America's working families.'' Responding to Bush's charges she had stiffed an ally, she said that ''for seven long years the president's economic policies have stiffed'' the American people.

Bush has staked out free trade as one of his chief economic legacies, winning a bruising battle to implement the Central American Free Trade Agreement with six countries in Latin America as well as a number of individual pacts. While two other agreements with Panama and South Korea are also pending, analysts said the Colombia agreement is likely to be the last one that has any chance of winning approval in Bush's last year in office.

The administration insisted the deal would be good for the United States economically because it would eliminate high barriers that U.S. exports to Colombia now face, while most Colombian products are already entering the United States duty-free under existing trade preference laws.

Trade also is shaping up as a key issue in the presidential campaign and in the fight for control of Congress.

The administration charged that Democrats were forsaking a key South American ally while Democrats said Colombia needed to do more to halt the violence against union organizers before they would consider the trade pact.

In explaining their opposition, Democrats have cited the continued violence against organized labor in Colombia and differences with the administration over how to extend a program that helps U.S. workers displaced by foreign competition.

White House press Dana Perino told reporters later that unless Pelosi scheduled a vote, she will be accused of killing the deal. Perino said she was not aware of any conversations between Bush and Pelosi since last week, but that presidential advisers are working with lawmakers.

''The president believes she (Pelosi) made a choice to kill the Colombia free trade agreement, and that if, and until, she schedules a vote on the Colombia free trade agreement, she has, in effect, killed it,'' Perino said.

Bush also talked with members of his Cabinet about the troubled U.S. economy and urged lawmakers to make his tax cuts permanent. Noting that income taxes are due on Tuesday, Bush said the economic stimulus package will allow some tax payments to be returned to taxpayers.

''The second week of May, checks and/or credits to your account will start coming to you,'' Bush said. ''And that's going to be an important part of making sure this economy begins to recover in a way that will add confidence and hope.''

''One way Congress can act is to make the tax cuts permanent. If they really are that concerned about economic uncertainty, they ought to create certainty in the tax code.''

He said his administration has set up programs to help more homeowners stay in their homes, but that Congress also needs to modernize the Federal Housing Administration and implement other changes that will encourage the housing market to turn around.

''Congress recently has been working on legislation for beach monitoring and landscape conservation, and those are important issues, but not nearly as important as FHA modernization and the Colombia Free Trade Agreement or making the tax cuts permanent,'' Bush said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush's call to extend the tax cuts would help multimillionaires and special interests, not average working Americans. Reid said that stagnating incomes and rising health care, education, food and energy prices are squeezing middle-class families, who are looking for a change in U.S. economic policy -- ''not the same economic ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.''

    Bush Scolds Congress on Colombia Trade, NYT, 14.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Bush.html






Bush and Putin

Remain Apart on Missile Defense


April 7, 2008
The New York Times


SOCHI, Russia — Meeting for the last time as heads of government, President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia failed Sunday to resolve their differences over missile defenses in Europe, but declared that the United States and Russia would seek to cooperate on that and a variety of other security and economic issues.

The two agreed to a joint statement on missile defenses that U.S. officials had suggested was unlikely Saturday. But the statement, part of a larger “strategic framework,” largely restated well-established positions. Russia, for example, said it remained opposed to U.S. plans to build parts of a national missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Our fundamental attitude to the American plans has not changed,” said Mr. Putin, appearing with Mr. Bush at his presidential retreat here on the Black Sea.

But the two leaders strived in their farewell meeting to avoid public disagreements, and largely succeeded.

They pledged to work closely together, and Mr. Bush said he would do so with the incoming Russian president, Mr. Putin’s protégé, Dmitri Medvedev. Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin praised each other for a frank, respectful personal friendship that has often appeared to contrast with the steady deterioration of relations between the United States and Russia since 2001.

“I’ve always appreciated his honesty and openness, his willingness to listen to his partner, and this is precious,” Mr. Putin said, painting a portrait of Mr. Bush that is rare in Russia’s state-controlled news media or in its political discourse.

Mr. Bush, for his part, described the agreement they signed as a breakthrough that would lay a foundation for U.S.-Russian relations for Mr. Medvedev, who assumes office in May, and for Mr. Bush’s own successor, who will become president in nine months.

“We spent of a lot of time in our relationship to get rid of the Cold War,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s over.”

On the issue of missile defense, Russia did signal in the joint statement that while it remained opposed to the system’s being installed in Europe, it was willing to consider cooperating with the United States and NATO on a global system of missile defense, something the Russian leader called “the best guarantee of security of all.”

The Russians also welcomed proposals — presented in Moscow last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates — to provide more transparency abut the sites planned in Eastern Europe.

“If they believe the system is aimed at them,” Mr. Bush said, “then obviously they’re going to do something about it.”

Mr. Bush dismissed a question about whether the agreement reached Sunday simply passed the dispute to his successor, perhaps one who would not pursue the missile defense system as aggressively as he has. “You can cynically say it’s kicking the can down the road,” he said. “I don’t appreciate that.”

After 27 previous meetings between the two leaders — one-on-one and in groups, formally and informally — their last meeting took on a reflective tone.

“We have met a lot over the past years, and I’ve come to, you know, respect you,” Mr. Bush said at the start of his meeting with Mr. Putin. “I respect the fact that you love your country. You’ve been a strong leader. You’re not afraid to tell me what’s on your mind. And when it’s all said and done, we can shake hands.”

Mr. Bush met separately with Mr. Medvedev, who was elected the third Russian president in March in a vote that few outside of Russia considered fair or free. Mr. Bush, who after first meeting Mr. Putin famously described looking into his eyes and getting a sense of his soul, described his first impressions of the new leader in a less mystical way, calling him “a smart fellow.”

Mr. Medvedev, a considerably younger man, said Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin had done much to advance the two countries’ relations. “The relationship between Russia and the U.S. is a key factor in international security,” he was reported to have told them at their meeting. “When I officially begin my duties, I would like to keep up that work.”

    Bush and Putin Remain Apart on Missile Defense, NYT, 7.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/07/world/europe/07prexy.html?hp






US - India Nuclear Deal's Future Uncertain


April 4, 2008
Filed at 5:09 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Jeopardized by an Indian political squabble, the landmark U.S.-India nuclear deal -- one of President Bush's top foreign policy priorities -- is at risk of being left to an uncertain fate when the next president takes office in January.

The three contenders to replace Bush -- Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain -- endorsed legislation in late 2006 that would reverse three decades of American anti-proliferation policy by allowing U.S. shipments of civilian nuclear fuel to India.

The pact faces fierce opposition in India, where communists within Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition continue to bar it. The next U.S. president could revive Bush's coveted deal if it should fail this year, but it is not clear that any of the candidates would consider it a priority. Also, the new administration would be working without many of the high-level Bush officials who led painstaking talks with India and then persuaded skeptical U.S. lawmakers to approve the deal.

''It just becomes much more burdensome, because the principal players who were involved in the negotiations will have moved on; there will be a loss of collective memory,'' said Ashley J. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has advised McCain's campaign on Asia issues. ''It's entirely possible, for someone who doesn't like the agreement, to simply say, if they were to come into office: `Thank you very much; this is the policy of the last administration; I don't want to have any part of it.'''

The pact is portrayed by Bush as the cornerstone of what he hopes will be a new strategic relationship with democratic India, a growing economic and military power in Asia with what Bush considers a responsible nuclear program. Some see a strong India as a possible counterweight in the region to China. Critics say the deal would ruin global efforts to stop the spread of atomic weapons and boost India's nuclear arsenal.

The United States says India must approve the agreement soon if Congress is going to have enough time to take it up again before lawmakers leave for a break in August and then begin campaigning for the November elections.

''Time is running out,'' the State Department warned on Thursday.

After recent meetings with Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, India's foreign minister could offer no assurances that his government was close to settling its differences. Indian communist parties, which are crucial to the survival of Singh's government, have threatened to pull their support if Singh should try to complete the deal.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey held out the possibility that the deal could be finished even if it bogs down this year. He told reporters Thursday that ''there would be opportunities in future Congresses and with the future administration to move forward on this.''

''Regardless of whether this arrangement is passed in the next year or not, one thing that I don't think will change is the continuing strengthening and deepening of the U.S.-Indian relationship that has begun under this administration and we certainly hope will continue into the future,'' Casey said.

Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank and an adviser to the Clinton campaign, says that if India should fail to act this year, ''It's unlikely that any of the (U.S.) candidates will be anxious to resubmit this or push this ahead.''

The Bush administration, Wolfsthal said, wanted to win over India as ''a strategic military partner to help contain China.'' McCain, Clinton and Obama, he said, do not have the same drive to settle the deal.

Tellis, however, says a President McCain could support the Bush policy to use the nuclear deal as the foundation of new, stronger ties with India.

Obama and Clinton, though, ''were very uncomfortable supporters of the agreement,'' he said, and would be less likely to embrace it as president. Tellis served as an adviser to former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, a top negotiator on the deal.

Burns' recent departure from the administration was another blow to the agreement, although Rice has said he would remain involved even after he left.

Final passage of the deal would set up a major shift in U.S. policy. India has been shunned by the world's nuclear powers since it conducted its first underground nuclear test in 1976.

The new pact would give India access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology and fuel in exchange for India's allowing safeguards and international inspections at its 14 civilian nuclear installations. Eight self-designated military plants would remain off-limits.


On the Net:

India: http://www.state.gov/p/sca/ci/in

    US - India Nuclear Deal's Future Uncertain, NYT, 4.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-US-India-Nuclear.html






Bush Wins NATO Backing on European Missile Shield


April 4, 2008
The New York Times


BUCHAREST, Romania — NATO leaders agreed Thursday to endorse the United States missile defense plans for Europe and provide more troops for Afghanistan, as American officials tried to put a brave face on the alliance’s refusal to back President Bush’s desire to bring Ukraine and Georgia into a closer relationship.

Washington’s failure to win over Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other key European countries to its view on Ukraine and Georgia was considered by some countries of Central and Eastern Europe to have sent a message of alliance weakness to Moscow, a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin makes his first visit to a NATO summit.

The alliance decided not to offer Ukraine and George entry into its Membership Action Plan, or MAP, a set of requirements and reforms necessary to achieve full alliance membership. Instead, after a long debate among NATO leaders over dinner Wednesday night, NATO pledged that the two countries would become members one day and agreed that foreign ministers would review the decision in December.

NATO officials suggested that invitation to the MAP program might come in a year, at the next summit to be jointly held by Germany and France, or in 2010.

Mr. Bush could claim success in NATO endorsement of his missile-defense plan, despite Russian objections, and in an agreement with the Czech Republic, announced on Thursday, to build a radar for the system.

Mr. Bush also succeeded in getting NATO to agree to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan, a Washington priority.

The main contributor was France, whose president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that Paris would send another battalion – some 700 troops – to eastern Afghanistan, freeing up American soldiers to deploy more in the south, where the fighting against the Taleban is heaviest, in support of the Canadians.

Mr. Sarkozy, in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, again said that France intended to reintegrate fully into NATO once a separate European defense pillar became a reality. "Let Europe’s defense pole advance and we will continue to advance toward NATO,” he said. “I repeat, these are two things that go together, not one or the other, so let’s wait for the summit" in 2009, he said.

He praised Mr. Bush for comments “on the need for European defenses that would complement the alliance, which was, in my opinion, a historic turning point in U.S. policy," Mr. Sarkozy said. "It was a gesture we have been waiting for, that has been noticed. It’s a gesture that shows understanding for what is happening in Europe."

Mr. Bush praised Mr. Sarkozy, too, saying his trip to the United States last fall had an impact "like the latest incarnation of Elvis," a senior American official said.

NATO did extend full invitations to join the alliance to two key countries of the Western Balkans, Croatia and Albania. But in an embarrassment for NATO, Greece insisted on vetoing the membership invitation of tiny Macedonia because Athens insists that the country must have a name different from Greece’s northern province to avoid revanchism and “instability.” The Macedonians walked out of the NATO meeting, and while NATO runs by consensus, giving Greece a veto, most NATO officials regard the Greek objection as ludicrous. Macedonia has been usually known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, because of earlier Greek objections.

"This is a huge disappointment," said Macedonian government negotiator Nikola Dimitrov. "It goes against the values that stand behind NATO. It’s very much against stability in the Balkans."

Addressing his NATO colleagues, Mr. Bush praised Macedonia’s reforms and said that the “name issue needs to be resolved quickly, so that Macedonia can be welcomed into NATO as soon as possible.”

He did not mention Greece. Nor did Mr. Bush mention Ukraine and Georgia.

He did endorse the broadest possible policy of inviting European democracies to join the alliance. "We must give other nations seeking membership a full and fair hearing," he said. "As we invite new members today we’re also clear that the progress of enlargement will continue."

Privately, German and British officials criticized the Bush Administration for not coming to grips soon enough with the Ukraine and Georgian problem. They suggested that Mr. Bush’s failure to try to work through the issue with Russia in advance created doubts among key allies like Germany and France, who also felt that Georgia’s leadership is unstable and that Ukraine, with a divided population and a new government, was not yet ready to enter MAP.

Borys Tarasyuk, a former Ukrainian foreign minister and supporter of NATO membership, said in an interview that “Moscow will be very satisfied with the outcome. But I’d like to say to them that this is not the end of the story. Sooner or later it will happen.”

Georgia’s foreign minister, David Bakradze, said: "A ’no’ for Georgia will show those people in the Kremlin who think that by a policy of blackmail, by arrogance and aggression" they can influence NATO’s decisions.

Istvan Gyarmati, a former Hungarian official and director of the International Center for Democratic Transition, said that “this is a sad day for Ukraine and for the alliance.” Mr. Putin “will say that the policy of brutality we started in Munich,” when he attacked the United States at an international conference in February 2007, “has worked,” Mr. Gyarmati said. “This is the result of a Western appeasement policy and the Russians will be extremely proud of it.”

Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Center for European Reform, said that “not giving MAP to Ukraine and Georgia is bad enough, but it also leaves our policy toward Russia in confusion.” The alliance had made it clear that it would try to work with Russia on security, no longer had any military plans against it and would make its own decisions about membership.

“But now all this is up in the air,” Mr. Valasek said, citing the comment this week of German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeyer, in an interview with the Leipziger Volkszeitung, that after Russian anger over Kosovo’s independence, “we could see no convincing reason to create more tension.” ((keep this graf pls))

Mr. Valasek said: “Now we must again avoid the impression that brutality works.”

Russia doesn’t like the missile defense system to be installed in the Czech Republic and Poland, despite Washington’s assurances that it is aimed at Iran and North Korea or China, not at Russia. Mr. Putin has even threatened to target the system with Russian missiles, while also offering a substitute system in Kazakhstan.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of

the Russian parliament, said that the topic would be high on the agenda for the Bush-Putin meeting in Sochi, after this conference.

Mr. Kosachev said Russia doubted Washington’s motives. “We still do not have a proper explanation of this project,” he said. “It is not about the number of interceptors. It’s about undermining mutual confidence and trust.”

NATO’s votes on membership were held in secret, but Mr. Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen J. Hadley, said that half of the NATO allies supported inviting Ukraine and Georgia now. Seeking to put the best face on a defeat, he pointed to language in NATO’s statement that they would ultimately be members, though that is a largely symbolic expression of support. He did say that NATO’s foreign ministers would reconsider the issue again in December.

Ronald Asmus, a former Clinton Administration official and head of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund, said that Mr. Bush had “a modest success on Afghanistan and got what he wanted on missile defense,” but leaves “a legacy of divisiveness” over Ukraine and Georgia.

“It was a classic example of bad diplomacy -- waiting too long to decide, then going public and then trying to roll people, and only getting half a loaf,” Mr. Asmus said.

As for Greece and Macedonia, he said, “only Washington could have taken Greece to the woodshed on this issue, and it didn’t do so.”

Judy Dempsey contributed reporting.

    Bush Wins NATO Backing on European Missile Shield, NYT, 4.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/world/europe/04nato.html?hp






Bush Sets Out to Salvage Legacy on World Stage


April 2, 2008
Filed at 12:13 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BUCHAREST (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush sought to salvage his legacy on the world stage on Wednesday by defending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and appealing to Russia to drop opposition to a missile defense shield.

Laying out his agenda for his farewell NATO summit, Bush also pressed the defense alliance to put Ukraine and Georgia on the path to membership despite French and German qualms that it could further strain Moscow's relations with the West.

Bush's keynote speech at a pre-summit conference in Bucharest read like a laundry list of his foreign policy woes as he struggles to stay relevant abroad in the twilight of his second and final term.

But with Bush even more unpopular overseas than at home, he could have a hard time swaying world leaders as they look to whomever will succeed him as president in January 2009.

Bush is aware that NATO allies have grown weary of the war in Afghanistan against a resurgent Taliban and its al Qaeda allies but called on partners to send more troops there, saying they could not afford to lose the battle.

"Our alliance must maintain its resolve and finish the fight," Bush said.

The issue of troop levels in Afghanistan, where some NATO allies have shied away from areas of heavy combat, has brought trans-Atlantic finger-pointing and was expected to remain a source of tension at the NATO summit starting on Wednesday.

European critics accuse Bush of being distracted by the Iraq war, which cemented his go-it-alone image.

With Iraq expected to define Bush's presidential legacy, he kept up his defense of the five-year-old war, which has damaged credibility with friends and foes alike.

Bush said a U.S. troop buildup in Iraq had yielded significant security progress. "There's tough fighting ahead, but the gains from the 'surge' we have seen are real," he said.

But the latest increase in fighting has increased doubts of further drawdowns of U.S. forces before Bush leaves office.



With U.S.-Russia relations deemed to have sunk to a post-Cold War low, Bush also appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to embrace the U.S. plan for a missile defense system partly based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Putin, who will be a guest at the Bucharest summit, has fiercely criticized Washington's plan, seeing it as an encroachment on the former Soviet sphere of influence.

Bush again said the missile shield was not aimed at Moscow but was meant to deter missile threats from countries such as Iran that Washington considers dangerous.

"The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy," he said.

After the summit, Bush will fly to Russia for final talks with Putin, who steps down in May.

Bush, roundly mocked by critics as naive for saying he had peered into Putin's soul and liked what he saw when they first met in 2001, said this would be the leaders' last chance for a "heart-to-heart."

At talks in a villa in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, they will try to repair relations strained over missile defense, Kosovo's independence and NATO expansion.

Diplomats have sketched a possible trade-off, in which Moscow would accept U.S. plans to deploy its missile shield and Washington would accept a delay in NATO bids for Georgia and Ukraine, both former Soviet republics.

But Bush has denied any such deal is on the table.

U.S. officials have said the Sochi talks could yield a "strategic framework" of U.S.-Russia relations. But the meeting could also help Bush gauge how much power Putin will wield behind the scenes after Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, takes over as president. Putin is expected to become prime minister.

Aides say he Bush is now more realistic about Putin, who has become more assertive of Russia's place in world affairs and more strident in his criticism of U.S. policies.

    Bush Sets Out to Salvage Legacy on World Stage, NYT, 2.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/washington/politics-nato-bush.html






Bush Supports Ukraine’s

Bid to Join NATO


April 2, 2008
The New York Times


KIEV, Ukraine — President Bush expressed strong support for Ukraine’s membership in the NATO alliance on Tuesday, risking a diplomatic confrontation with Russia even as the administration seeks an agreement with President Vladimir V. Putin over American missile defenses in Europe.

Mr. Bush spoke on the eve of a meeting of NATO leaders in Romania even as Ukraine’s hopes for putting itself on a clear path to membership appeared increasingly in doubt.

Beginning a weeklong trip through Eastern Europe with his first visit to Ukraine, Mr. Bush vigorously embraced a long-sought goal of President Viktor A. Yushchenko, who has made joining NATO a priority despite fierce opposition within Ukraine and from its biggest neighbor, Russia. He said Russia had no right to wield a veto over the alliance’s decisions even as if those decisions expanded the alliance deeper into the former Soviet bloc.

“Your nation has made a bold decision, and the United States strongly supports your request,” Mr. Bush said, seated beside Mr. Yushchenko. “Helping Ukraine move toward NATO membership is in the interest of every member in the alliance and will help advance security and freedom in this region and around the world.”

At the meetings, which begin Wednesday in Bucharest, NATO leaders will decide whether to extend full membership to three countries — Albania, Croatia and Macedonia — as well as “action plans” for eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia. Those two nations, both former republics of the Soviet Union, have met skepticism within the alliance, in part because of Russian opposition.

Germany and other NATO allies have indicated they would oppose invitations for Ukraine and Georgia, and France joined them on Tuesday, citing the fear of upsetting relations with Russia.

“We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think that it is not a good answer to the balance of power within Europe and between Europe and Russia,” the French prime minister, François Fillon, said in a radio interview, Agence France-Presse reported.

Because NATO operates on consensus, the opposition of any country can block a decision. Macedonia’s bid for membership, for example, remains stalled by Greece, which wants Macedonia to change its name, saying it implies territorial claims to the Greek province of Macedonia.Mr. Bush dismissed as “a misperception” reports suggesting that the United States had agreed to put off the NATO aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia in exchange for cooperation with Russia on the installation of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia has vehemently opposed those plans, but Mr. Putin appeared open to a recent American proposal to operate the system more openly and invite Russian cooperation.

Mr. Bush said he would continue to make the case for Ukraine and Georgia in Bucharest and had already made his point of view clear to Mr. Putin. An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, suggested that a compromise could stop short of a formal invitation to Ukraine and Georgia, while leaving open the possibility in the future.

Mr. Putin, whose government has openly opposed even preliminary steps toward including Ukraine and Georgia, is also scheduled to attend the meeting in Bucharest and to meet with Mr. Bush over the weekend in Sochi, a Russian resort on the Black Sea.

“I wouldn’t prejudge the outcome yet,” Mr. Bush said of the NATO decisions.

Mr. Bush said he was hopeful of persuading Mr. Putin that the missile defense system was not a threat to Russia but rather an effort to protect Europe — and even Russia — from a limited missile attack. “A missile from the Middle East can fly north just as easily as it could fly west,” he said, referring to Iran, which he and others have indicated as a primary missile threat.

Here in Ukraine, where Mr. Bush’s visit has been met with pride and apprehension, the question of NATO membership mirrors sharp ethnic and political divisions between those favoring closer ties to Russia and those seeking to turn the country toward Western Europe.

On Monday and again on Tuesday, protesters gathered on Independence Square, where tens of thousands gathered in 2004 to protest fraudulent elections, eventually clearing the way for Mr. Yushchenko’s election as president in January 2005. The protesters, representing the modern Communist Party of Ukraine and other parties, waved flags with the hammer and sickle and displayed banners that included obscenities directed against Mr. Bush and NATO.

“Just because there were a bunch of Soviet-era flags in the street yesterday, you shouldn’t read anything into it,” Mr. Bush said when asked whether Russia was exerting undue pressure on the alliance or Ukraine by denouncing NATO’s expansion as destabilizing.

He praised the political and economic progress in Ukraine since the 2004 protests, known as the Orange Revolution, and noted that Ukraine already contributed troops to NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as to the American-led war in Iraq. “Ukraine is the only non-NATO nation supporting every NATO mission,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Yushchenko, whose presidency has been hobbled by political infighting, corruption and tensions with Russia, said that he took heart that support for NATO had steadily climbed in polls — to 33 percent from 17 percent three years ago. He denounced the protesters in Kiev as people carrying “the flags that caused totalitarianism and suffering that caused the deaths of millions of people.”

Opponents of NATO, though, also include the largest opposition group, lead by the former prime minister and presidential rival, Viktor F. Yanukovich. Mr. Bush met him during a morning reception, but they had no public appearances together. In addition to his meetings, Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, toured St. Sophia’s, a cathedral that dates to the 11th century, and an English-language school.

Mr. Yushchenko defended his goal of joining NATO, saying collective security was essential to maintaining Ukraine’s sovereignty and overcoming its ethnic divisions, a reference to Russians who favor closer relations to Moscow.

“This is not a policy against somebody,” he said, his demeanor grim compared to Mr. Bush’s. “We’re taking care of our national interest. Taking a look at our history, it’s very rich in many tragedies for Ukrainian state that only a system of collective defense and security international guarantees of the political sovereignty for Ukraine and territorial integrity will give the full response to the internal question in Ukraine.”

Bush Supports Ukraine’s Bid to Join NATO, NYT, 1.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/02/world/europe/02prexy.html




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