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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: March 13, 2006
Latest Update: March 13, 2006

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March 13, 2006
News Analysis
A Bush Alarm: Urging U.S. to Shun Isolationism
By DAVID E. SANGER

Highlights added by jeanne.

"In Global Shift, Bush Rethinks Going It Alone" - Headline in my hardcopy home editiion.

WASHINGTON, March 12 The president who made pre-emption and going it alone the watchwords of his first term is quietly turning in a new direction, warning at every opportunity of the dangers of turning the nation inward and isolationist, and making the case for international engagement on issues from national security to global economics.

President Bush's cautions on the dangers of pulling back behind American borders in trade and investment, in immigration and in his effort to make the spread of democracy the signature of his second term first cropped up in his State of the Union address six weeks ago.

But it accelerated even before the Dubai ports deal was derailed by members of his own party, and before an unexpected uprising began among some neo-conservatives, who are now arguing that Iraq, while a noble effort, has turned into a failed mission that must be abandoned.

In interviews over the past week, Mr. Bush's aides, insisting on anonymity, they say, because they do not want to worsen the fissures, say they fear that the new mood threatens to undermine the international agenda for the rest of Mr. Bush's presidency.

"We're seeing it in everything," said one of Mr. Bush's closest aides last week. "Iraq. The ferocity of an irrational argument over the ports. Guest workers. China and India."

So starting on Monday, just a few days shy of the third anniversary of Mr. Bush's order to topple Saddam Hussein, the president will begin an effort to explain his Iraq strategy anew in the changed environment of increased sectarian killings.

He acknowledged on Saturday that "many of our fellow citizens" are "now wondering if the entire mission is worth it."

But rather than simply delve into the familiar talk about the need to root out terrorists abroad so they cannot strike Americans here, the White House plans to have Mr. Bush expand his discussion of the need for the United States to embrace a new role in the world, even if that means explaining the benefits of globalization to a nation that does not appear to be in a mood to hear that message.

It is yet another change for a man who came to office talking of a "humble foreign policy," and after Sept. 11 used the hammer of the world's sole superpower around the globe.

To his critics, the internationalist approach is too little too late the price Mr. Bush has paid for a foreign policy that seemed relentlessly focused on building defensive walls and hunting enemies. A search of the White House Web site confirms that Mr. Bush, who in the days before he took office kept the take-no-prisoners speeches of Teddy Roosevelt on a table at his ranch, made little mention of "globalization" for much of his first five years in office, even when European leaders brought it up.

Asked once, several years ago, about his aversion to the topic, one of his senior aides said Mr. Bush associated the word with "mushy Clintonianism."

"It ranks up there with 'nation-building,' " he added.

No longer. Now Mr. Bush is moving into a new phase of his presidency, not by choice or natural inclination, it seems, but by necessity. Mr. Bush changed his tone on nation-building several years ago.

As the invasion turned to occupation, he emphasized the spread of democracy. But even that talk, especially during his re-election campaign, had a unilateralist subtext: the schools and polling places were open because the hammer of the American military made it possible.

His new theme is different, because it is all about interdependence. Two of his aides say the near defeat of the Central American Free Trade Agreement in Congress last summer it passed by one vote, after arm-twisting by the president brought just enough Republicans back into the fold jolted Mr. Bush into recognizing a new retreat from the world by his own party.

For the State of the Union address, Mr. Bush instructed his speechwriters to make global engagement a major theme, a big change for a man who ran in 2000 under the banner of a "humble foreign policy." In the speech, he warned that "the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting yet it ends in danger and decline."

By the time he visited India earlier this month, he argued that while American jobs were often lost to outsourcing, "you don't retrench and pull back."

He said he had to convince Americans that "a 300-million-person market of middle-class citizens here in India" would soon be buying American goods.

"If we can make a product they want, then it becomes at a reasonable price and then all of a sudden, people will be able to have a market here," he said.

Mr. Bush's remarks may signal a halting emergence from a mind-set that, by his own acknowledgment, was set by 9/11. "There is a lot of on-the-job training in the modern presidency," said David J .Rothkopf, the author of "Running the World," a history of the National Security Council, and a Commerce Department official under President Clinton.

"Clinton ran on taking a tough line with China, and decided we needed China," Mr. Rothkopf said. "Bush came in with a philosophy that was almost neo-isolationist. When they dealt with Iraq, they did it alone outside the context of what globalization implies. That's why the second term is the un-first term."

In the next few weeks, Mr. Bush will try to outmaneuver the next Dubai. On immigration, he is fighting in Congress to retain his guest-worker program rather than just strengthen the borders. When President Hu Jintao of China arrives here next month, Mr. Bush must once again do a delicate balancing act, convincing Congress that he is pressing China to close the $201 billion trade gap, while courting Beijing to help disarm North Korea and Iran.

But Iraq is the elephant on the White House lawn. Mr. Bush's speeches on Iraq are intended to shore up fast-ebbing public support, made worse by talk of civil war.

When Mr. Bush gave a set of speeches on Iraq in December, the calls to pull out were mostly from the left. Now, a rising chorus of neo-conservatives, who urged Mr. Bush to topple Mr. Hussein, say that, having liberated Iraq, the rest is up to the Iraqis.

"The administration has, now, to cope with failure," William F. Buckley Jr. wrote in February. "The kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat."

Briefing reporters on Friday about Mr. Bush's coming speeches, a senior White House official, speaking anonymously because he was describing speeches still being drafted, said Mr. Bush would answer those criticisms and "explain why we and the Iraqis must finish the job together." A year ago, Mr. Bush's allies took such statements as a given. Today, that is no longer the case.

Copyright 2006The New York Times Company



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