- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

President Bush's top priorities winning a long war and protecting the homeland will distinctively mark his presidency. On the other hand, his State of the Union message contained elements echoing his predecessors.

For instance, Mr. Bush came to office disparaging Bill Clinton's idea of nation building "international social work," some aides called it and yet, this issue has become a major feature of his agenda.

Not only did Mr. Bush promise to rebuild Afghanistan, he expansively declared in idealistic terms akin to Woodrow Wilson's that "we have a great opportunity during this time of war to lead the world toward the values that will bring lasting peace."

He added, "We have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."

As part of the effort, he is pledging to double the size of John F. Kennedy's prize invention, the Peace Corps, and send its volunteers to work in the Islamic world, especially to counter hatred spread in religious schools.

On the domestic front, Mr. Bush called for a doubling of Mr. Clinton's volunteer program, AmeriCorps, which congressional Republicans routinely tried to zero-out at budget time.

The president announced plans to organize a new USA Freedom Corps of 200,000 volunteers to work on homeland security, teaching and mentoring, and he will create a high-level White House office to coordinate volunteerism.

Mr. Bush did not sound a clarion call like Kennedy's celebrated "ask not what your country can do for you" line, which inspired many young people to enter public service. But he did enunciate an expansive vision. "This time of adversity offers a unique moment of opportunity a moment we must seize to change our culture" through community service.

Arguably, even Mr. Bush's ability to fight a robust war on terrorism is an outgrowth of actions taken by the Clinton administration.

The high-tech weaponry used so effectively in Afghanistan was developed and acquired on Mr. Clinton's watch. Five of the six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were appointed by Mr. Clinton, as was the war's regional commander, Gen. Tommy Franks.

Of course, Mr. Bush gets the credit, and deserves it, for summoning the nation's resolve after September 11 and settling on the one-target-at-a-time strategy for conducting the war on terrorism.

He served notice last Tuesday night that the war might last for the duration of his presidency and even beyond. He also explicitly extended the nation's war aim beyond the uprooting of the al Qaeda network to preventing an "evil axis" of nations from deploying weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Bush did not reveal exactly how he planned to confront North Korea, Iran and Iraq, but he said "these regimes pose a grave and growing danger," implying the world will not be safe as long as the regimes are in power.

And he added that dealing with such nations is urgent business. "I will not wait on events while dangers gather," he said. "The United States will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

The breadth and depth of Mr. Bush's commitment hardly one that can be turned back had echoes of Franklin Roosevelt's goal of defeating America's enemies unconditionally in World War II, Kennedy's vow to "oppose any foe" and Ronald Reagan's determination to topple the communist "evil empire."

Iran, Iraq and North Korea plus al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist groups are clearly more manageable foes than Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, but it will still require enormous skill on Mr. Bush's part to organize a war he says "has only begun."

The president called for the biggest defense increases in two decades, a doubling of homeland security spending, and a major anti-recession "jobs" agenda that includes making his 2001 tax cuts permanent a recipe for large budget deficits in the short run, at least.

Mr. Bush seemingly reversed Mr. Clinton's claim that "the era of big government is over" and sounded like Lyndon Johnson in arguing that bioterrorism, police upgrades and stronger border security will reap lasting national benefits.

Partly to avoid the fate of his father, Mr. Bush did not stint on domestic programs, either, putting forth a "guns-and-butter" program, including an economic stimulus package, welfare reform, a Medicare prescription drug benefit, significant education upgrades and tax credits for the uninsured.

In each case, except for tax cuts, Mr. Bush's proposal will be smaller than that put forth by Democrats. In most cases, that move will ensure that no agreement is reached this year. Mr. Bush's policies may pass the House, but not the Senate.

Among the many echoes of prior presidencies in Mr. Bush's speech, one caught a whiff of Richard Nixon: the assertion that Americans deserve the same bipartisan unity on domestic policy as on war policy.

The implication though he did not push it is that opposition to his domestic agenda is unpatriotic. Fortunately, Democrats are not being cowed. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri responded that his party wants to "work together" with Mr. Bush, but on a very different domestic agenda.

It looks as though Washington will have to fight wars abroad and political battles at home at the same time. It can.

Morton Kondracke is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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