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More American Unilateralism

Last night the president announced that the United States will embark on a campaign to rescue Africa from AIDS. Europe can't be happy.

9:45 AM, Jan 29, 2003 • By DAVID TELL
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COURSING THROUGH THE post-SOTU cable news chatter last night, I notice that most "analysts" are "struck" by the extent to which "this president," agree with him or not, has "become" a "decisive" leader. What's all that striking about it, I wonder? That Bush, even now, halfway through his first term, still manages to provoke such condescension, that so many professional observers still get him mixed up with Dan Quayle--it's surely one of his greatest strengths. He repeatedly covers the spread: He always demonstrates more self-confidence than his critics believe him entitled to, and he confounds them twice over by doing so persuasively. This time two years from now, most "analysts" will no doubt be "struck" by the fact that such an obvious lightweight could have gotten himself reelected president.

A few technical quibbles: Substantive conviction is one thing, performance mechanics are another. This is an eccentric opinion, I know, but as a rule, I think Bush delivers formal, Telepromptered speeches better than any president in modern memory. Better even--no letters on this, please--than Ronald Reagan. Not last night, though. Was anybody else out there . . . well, "struck" by the number of times the president got tripped up on some otherwise perfectly innocuous, non-tricky word or phrase, especially as the evening wore on? He didn't seem entirely comfortable with the text, it seemed to me.

Perhaps it was the structure and pacing of the thing. The papers will concentrate--appropriately, I suppose--on the extent to which the SOTU did or did not effectively advance the administration's domestic and international diplomacy about Iraq. Anticipating as much, the president's speechwriters saved the Iraq stuff for last. But it simply couldn't compete, for emotional impact, with Bush's earlier, absolutely gripping announcement that the United States will embark on a solo, multi-billion-dollar effort to rescue the continent of Africa from AIDS. The rest of the speech, the reiteration of American resolve to unseat Saddam--though quite eloquent on paper, actually--can't but have felt less interesting to the television audience. I had the sense that the president found it less interesting, too.

About the AIDS initiative: Shouldn't the administration have sought U.N. Security Council approval before embarking on a unilateral foreign adventure like this? What will the French and Germans say?

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.