The Inside Scoop
A senior administration official speaks about President Bush's plans and hidden resolve.
8:00 PM, Jan 28, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED about President Bush as he delivers his second State of the Union address and forges ahead with the second half of his presidential term? A lot, really, from White House aides and an extremely knowledgeable insider who insists on being called "a senior administration official." Such as:
(1) The president is not in a forgiving mood regarding the French and the Germans--quite the contrary. Bush was blindsided by the French on their decision to oppose any war resolution against Iraq by the United Nations Security Council. He was not given a heads up by French President Jacques Chirac. And Bush takes personally the anti-American theme adopted by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in his re-election campaign last year. Warmer relations with France and Germany won't come again soon. A foreign leader who asked if Bush had talked to Chirac was told that the president was only talking to friends these days.
(2) Bush doesn't say so, but he has a deep Woodrow Wilson streak. What's that? It's a powerful desire to spread democracy and freedom around the world, especially in the Arab world. He's said to believe that now is uniquely the appropriate time for this evangelistic cause to achieve success, and for not worrying about such notions as achieving a balance of power in the world and respecting the sovereignty of countries run by cruel dictators such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
(3) Another idea Bush has come to embrace is that, whatever snotty Europeans may say, the United States must play an overarching leadership role in the world. For good things to happen, the American president must display will, purpose, and leadership--that's the Bush view. And so the next step he'll take after delivering regime change in Iraq is to seek to block other dangerous countries (Iran, Syria, Libya, etc.) from acquiring nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction while forcing nations who may already have such weapons to divest.
(4) Contrary to Democratic claims, the Bush administration--the president included--has given a lot of thought to post-Saddam Iraq. Bush envisions a geographically intact Iraq that's a federation of ethnic groups: Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south, others in the middle. Bush hopes democracy in Iraq will be contagious in the Middle East. In any case, he doesn't intend to abandon the country after Saddam is gone.
(5) As you might expect, Bush is a true believer in the idea that September 11 changed everything. And the most important thing it changed is the battleground. World wars have been fought everywhere in the past century--except in the contiguous 48 states. Now, however, the United States is the battleground, which explains Bush's emphasis on homeland security, preemption, locking up terrorist suspects without charges, increasing defense spending, and ousting Saddam.
(6) An old notion from the Reagan presidency has come alive again in the Bush White House: the strategic deficit. It was associated with Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, and posits that a budget deficit is a good thing to have because it holds down spending schemes. In other words, spenders can be told, "Nope, can't pay for that. We've got the deficit, you know." The most important fan of a strategic deficit in Bushland: Bush.
(7) According to that senior administration official, the power that be at the White House does not regret going to the United Nations and creating an army of weapons inspectors in Iraq. Why would folks at the White House think so? Well, punching the U.N. ticket facilitates the signing up of allies in the effort to supplant Saddam--that is, allies willing to join the United States in a war against Iraq.
(8) Is it really the elimination of the taxability of stock dividends that's the chief target of Democrats and liberals? The president is thought to think otherwise. The real target of tax-cut foes in his view: those reductions in the rate of taxation on individual income that Bush would accelerate and put in place as of January 1, 2003.
(9) One final thing. Is there a way to depose dictators short of deploying ground troops? One analogy that's intrigued Bush is Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. He was rendered powerless when he was hooted and heckled during a speech from a balcony of a building. When he tried to escape, he was caught and killed, with no ground troops from any country needed. When Bush spoke in Romania not long ago, he was struck by a fantastic rainbow, which he took as a good sign.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.