An agenda for Bush II

H.D.S. Greenway



Congratulations, Mr. President. Now that you never have to face an electorate again, I would hope that your second term might be based a bit more on reality than ideology. One of your senior advisers told the writer Ron Suskind that his kind were "what we call the reality-based community," people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." That, according to your adviser, was old hat. "We're an empire now," he said, "and when we act, we create our own reality. We're history's actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

There can be no doubt that you are one of history's actors, but the first act has not gone so well. Your advisers, especially your messianic ideologues, have gotten you and the country into an awful mess in Iraq.

Your first business should be to sweep out the Pentagon. I don't blame you for making Donald Rumsfeld defense secretary. He had the experience and the proven leadership qualities that you lacked in 2000.

But he has badly bungled the war in Iraq. Even your loyal lieutenants like L. Paul Bremer have said that there were not enough troops in Iraq to secure the country when Baghdad fell, and you are left now with the results of Rumsfeld's inadequacies. He, too, ignored the reality-based advice of his generals and decided to use Iraq as a laboratory for his theories about a smaller, more lively military.

You will be paying for his mistakes for the next four years. The country will be paying for perhaps a generation.

And then there is the stain of the Abu Ghraib. Neither you nor John Kerry had much to say about this during the campaign, but in the Muslim world it still looms large and is not forgotten. The trail of subverting the Geneva Conventions leads up through the Pentagon even to our own legal advisers, but it is Rumsfeld who presided over this.

It was clear within weeks of Baghdad's fall that Rumsfeld should resign, and Abu Ghraib reinforces that. Personal responsibility used to be a Republican virtue, and if Rumsfeld doesn't understand the concept, you should explain it to him.

You should also rid yourself of advisers further down the line who promoted "regime change" as your administration's hallmark. Paul Wolfowitz ought to be unemployed and waiting on the tables of neoconservative fantasies.

Democracy is a great idea, especially for the Mideast, but it is not going to grow in a garden trod upon by American boots. And you know full well that those who oppose you in Iraq are much more than a "handful" of malcontents. You are faced with a growing popular rebellion. Now you can drop the pretense that all is going well in Iraq, and you certainly don't need to repeat the mistakes in Syria or Iran.

A second term is the time to get serious about your road map for peace in the Middle East. I know you admire Ariel Sharon. Your father's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, has said that Sharon has you "wrapped around his little finger," and that you are "mesmerized" by him. But it is clear that if you want to make headway against Muslim rage you have to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people.

You need to take a leaf from your father's book and give them hope. You cannot make the Palestinians the one exception to your ideal of spreading democracy in the Middle East, as some of our advisers have suggested, not if you are going to make headway in the antiterrorist cause. And the good news is that you can actually help Israel out of the corner that Ariel Sharon has painted the country into.

Lastly, bitter experience has shown you that it is counterproductive to scorn the alliances that all the presidents since World War II, including you father, have assiduously promoted. Your second administration could heal these unnecessary breaches in international relations. The reality-based community can be of enormous help to you, if you choose to listen.