- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005

President Bush is widely regarded by supporters as some one who says what he means and means what he says. Thus, will his stirring inaugural address of two weeks ago signal a bold, ambitious and activist second term both abroad and at home the first salvo in a huge barrage against tyranny and excessive government intrusion into American society? Or, will his words about the “force and fire of freedom” and his emphasis on “character” and “determination of self” be tempered by reality and pragmatism, serving as distant yet noteworthy goals for America?

Current betting on these prospects is fairly divided. George H. W. Bush, the nation’s 41st president, is the gold standard in taking the first bet. Those who believe pragmatism will limit dramatic action argue this way. Guided by his father’s example, Bush 43 has recognized the mistakes and ideological biases of his first term. Unlikely to make public admission of error, nonetheless, policy will reflect that conclusion.

This bet is supported by appointment of what appears a less ideological cabinet reminiscent of his father’s. The State Department, with Condoleezza Rice, Robert Zoellick and Nicholas Burns in the top slots is illustrative. In last week’s press conference, the president ratcheted back on the lofty aims of his inaugural address noting that they did not imply major policy shifts. The additional $80 billion request to cover operations in Iraq underscores the common-sense view that the nation can ill afford to engage in new ventures in Iran, Syria, North Korea or elsewhere especially with so many American forces deployed to Iraq.

Domestic policy would follow a similar course. Ambitious plans for privatizing a portion of social security and incurring more red ink would be constrained by the economic realities of rapidly escalating budget and trade deficits that will swell the national debt. Thus, whether or not the president has the “vision thing” his father purposely avoided, this case bets that Mr. Bush’s second term will be more cautious and expectations modest. But those who claim to know the president well bet otherwise.

They argue that peace and stability can only come through muscular efforts to advance democracy. The larger than expected turnout in last Sunday’s elections in Iraq is seen as persuasive proof that the administration is on the right track. While there are limits to American power and influence, there are also opportunities for bold foreign policy initiatives aimed at spreading liberty and freedom across parts of the globe.

Domestically, Social Security reform through private savings accounts would become the engine for transforming American society by reducing citizen’s dependence on government. Here, character and “determination of self” are foundations for changes potentially as dramatic as FDR’s “New Deal.” Religion is an important component. A more religious America, in the president’s mind, emphasizes the values that will make the nation stronger and more self-reliant.

Mr. Bush, of course, is likely to prove selective in determining where he is bold and where he is not. For example, there is speculation inside the administration that Syria, not Iran or North Korea, will be next on the hit list because it serves as the base for the Iraqi insurgency. Eliminating that role not only aids Iraq — Syria too might have a regime change for the better. At home, Social Security reform takes on a similarly pivotal role.

But there is a better bet. Getting Iraq “right” after the election is not only the game. It is the last chance for the administration to make good on its aim of bringing peace and pluralism there. However, the White House must learn from past misjudgments.

The short war to depose Saddam Hussein was a brilliant stroke. The peace that followed was not. Sunday’s election went far better than expected. Yet the test will be the exceptionally difficult transition to a permanent government that is representative, stable and based on the rule of law. This will not happen on its own or by accident.

Here the administration must be bold, aggressive and ambitious in three areas. Training of Iraqi security, police and military forces must be accelerated many times over. The primary role of coalition forces must shift to training from operations.

Second, international partners must be engaged. Many states have volunteered to assist in training. The Bush administration should actively solicit and welcome that assistance. Rather like donors’ conferences to raise money for reconstruction, there should be another international conference on training to win partners. Participation of Arab and Islamic states is crucial.

Finally, to prevail in Iraq, the battle of ideas against radicalism must be won. Unfortunately, this campaign has not been well fought. If the rhetoric of the inaugural is to be matched by deed, these are the areas where the administration must place and not hedge its bets.


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