Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ten Suggestions for Rescuing the Bush Legacy

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: December 31, 2006
The New York Times

Particularly after all the tributes to Gerald Ford in the last few days, President Bush may be pondering his own legacy and obituary. Sorry, Mr. Bush, but it doesn’t look good right now, with your obit perhaps beginning something like this:

“George W. Bush, who achieved tremendous acclaim for his handling of the 9/11 terror attacks but left office vilified and disgraced, mired in the Iraq war and stalemated at home, his hard-line partisan tactics souring the electorate and crippling his beloved Republican Party for a generation, died. ...”

But Mr. Bush, your plight isn’t hopeless. In the holiday spirit, let me offer you 10 suggestions for what you can do in 2007 to try to rescue your legacy.

First, seriously engage Iraq’s nastier neighbors, including Iran and Syria, and renounce permanent military bases in Iraq. None of that will solve the mess in Iraq. But these steps will suggest that you are belatedly trying to listen and are willing to give diplomacy a chance. They may also help at the margins: renouncing bases is a simple move that has no downside and will make it harder for Iraqi militants to argue that Americans are just out to steal Iraqi oil and grab military bases.

Second, start an intensive effort to bring peace to the Middle East. Work with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to flesh out his peace proposals. And vigorously back the Geneva Accord approach to an Israeli-Palestinian peace, since everybody knows that is what a final peace deal will look like. Frankly, it seems unlikely that peace is going to break out anytime soon in the Middle East, but there is a huge dividend for America’s image if we at least try.

Third, confront the genocide in Darfur. President Bill Clinton has said that the biggest regret of his administration is not responding to the Rwandan genocide, and someday you — and your biographers — will rue your lame response to Darfur. For starters, how about inviting the leaders of Britain, France, China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to travel with you to Darfur and Chad to see firsthand the women who have been mutilated and raped, the men whose eyes have been gouged out? Follow that up with a no-fly zone, an international force to prop up Chad and the Central African Republic, and a major push for an internal peace among Darfur tribes.

Fourth, encourage Dick Cheney to look pale in public. Then he can resign on health grounds, and you can appoint Condi Rice or Bob Gates to take his place. Mr. Cheney has been the single worst influence on your foreign policy, as well as the most polarizing figure in your administration. There’s no better move you could make to signal a new beginning than to accept Mr. Cheney’s resignation.

Fifth, revive the theme of compassionate conservatism by extending your excellent five-year AIDS program (while not being so squeamish about condoms in the future). And above all, work with Europe to promote incentives for business investment in Africa, modeled after the African Growth and Opportunity Act program. The best hope to raise Africa’s standard of living is to nurture factories manufacturing clothing, shoes and toys for export.

Sixth, address climate change. Nobody expects you to be an Al Gore, but you sully America’s image when you run away from any serious attempt to curb carbon emissions.

Seventh, put aside those thoughts of a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, and make it clear to Israel that we oppose it conducting such an attack. A strike would set back Iran’s nuclear programs by only five years or so, but it would consolidate hard-line rule there for at least 25 years.

Eighth, instead of giving up on Social Security, revive the reform proposals that President Clinton urged in 1999. That does mean bringing the budget back into black ink, which will mean phasing out some tax cuts for the wealthy.

Ninth, address our disgraceful inequities in health care. You could push for comprehensive coverage for children up to age 5 (as President Jimmy Carter tried to achieve a generation ago), and for almost zero cost you could mount a public health campaign to tackle obesity in children. Mike Huckabee, the Republican governor of Arkansas, has shown how state governments can fight diabetes and obesity, and you should take his approach nationwide.

Tenth, don’t toss this newspaper to the floor and curse the press for your unpopularity. Instead, borrow from your playbook after you lost the New Hampshire primary in 2000 — grit your teeth, retool and steal ideas from your critics and rivals. It worked then, and it just might help in 2007.

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