- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

We didn’t need a speech to figure it out, but President Bush’s remarks Wednesday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, show beyond a doubt that winning the war on terror and securing a democratic Iraq stand at the top of his foreign policy agenda. As in previous addresses, Mr. Bush warned of the dangers of letting terrorists and their abettors acquire weapons of mass destruction and plot future attacks, along the way highlighting Iraq, Afghanistan and the need for a more democratic Middle East. Early in the speech, he also expressed a strong desire to work through the United Nations to secure key goals. Foreign policy challenges “cannot be accomplished by a single nation alone,” he said, and so he told listeners that “building effective multinational and multilateral institutions” will be the first great commitment of his second term. That’s not anything new, but the emphasis was unmistakeable.

What did it mean? The president didn’t say so explicitly, but it’s clear he thinks that reform is key: Building such institutions will require extensive reform, echoing the conclusions of the United Nations’ own long-awaited panel on reform this week. “America and Canada helped create the United Nations, and because we remain committed to that institution, we want it to be more than a League of Nations,” he said. “The objective of the U.N. and other institutions must be collective security, not endless debate,” he explained, saying that “the success of multilateralism is measured not merely by following a process, but by achieving results.” Let’s push the United Nations to follow through on reform, in other words. For things to work, we need big changes in how the United Nations conducts its business.

That’s all clear enough. For some in the mainstream media, however, apparently it’s not. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank yesterday put a novel spin on the president’s remarks, saying the speech “outlined a second-term foreign policy that would make international cooperation his administration’s top priority.” Maybe Mr. Milbank is fantasizing about some Kerry administration foreign policy, so here’s the full quote to remind him what President Bush said. “The first great commitment is to defend our security and spread freedom by building effective multinational and multilateral institutions and supporting effective multilateral actions.” Defending security and spreading freedom: These hardly constitute some sea change in policy. What’s more, the president was clear to remind listeners of his doubts: “My country is determined to work as far as possible within the framework of international institutions,” he said. Reforming the institutions will expand the possibilities. But multilateralism is still a means toward the ends in the president’s view, not an end in itself.

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