In any failing presidency, a narrowing vision progresses until the aperture the president sees the world through resembles a tiny pinhole, instead of a broad global sweep.
At the end of the Carter presidency, the chief executive was focused only on an embassy building in Teheran, acting like a bank teller clearing deposits and wires of ransom money. When Johnson left office, the world had narrowed to Vietnam. To Nixon, it had become no larger than the spools of his tape recorder.
In President Bush's speech on Wednesday night, he gave graphic evidence of the same kind of increased tunneling of his vision, seeming to focus on concerns more typical of a Mayor of Baghdad, than of the leader of the free world. Only Iraq only a city in Iraq - seemed to exist. The entire weight and gravitas of his presidency are brought to bear on nine districts of a foreign city.
But the world is larger and the presidency is more encompassing. Rather than focusing on his failure in Iraq to the exclusion of everything else, the president needs to speak to the broader world and address the full panoply of his efforts to curb terrorism.
Of course he needs to speak about Iraq and adjust our failing policy as he sees fit; but he also needs to tell us about Iran, North Korea, Somalia, the effort to achieve energy independence, the tracking and destruction of al Qaeda, and his work to cut off the funding for terrorists. This broader sweep contains some notable successes and even more ongoing efforts that are bearing fruit. By focusing only on his biggest failure, he trivializes his presidency and sets a national agenda that is artificially narrow and encourages justifiable popular pessimism and cynicism.
In North Korea, the administration seems to have found Kim Jung Il's Achilles heel, by isolating the banks that help his illicit counterfeiting from the international monetary system. It seems North Korea's growth industry is printing U.S. hundred dollar bills. By cracking down, and therefore limiting his available capital, Bush has forced North Korea back to the negotiating table and real progress seems to be at hand. By explaining to China how a nuclear North Korea will lead to a nuclear Japan, he seems to be persuading Beijing to bring real pressure on the rogue regime.
Nobody in the administration least of all the president ever talks about North Korea, the progress we are making, or even reveals what we are doing. Bush could have kept control of Congress, by using the North Korean bomb explosion to initiate an international focus, akin to that of JFK on the Cuban missile installations. Why he didn't, is a mystery. But why he seems to have forgotten to tell us about his increasingly successful strategy there is equally opaque.
In Iran, the slap-on-the-wrist sanctions voted by the U.N. seem to have opened the door to a massive American effort to persuade European and American companies to stop doing business with Iran. Imposing sanctions against the fifth largest Iranian bank is a bold step. Now the president should lead the world in disinvesting in companies like BNP, Total, and Shell that help Iran develop its oil and gas reserves. He should lead an economic war against Iran and prepare the nation for military action, if a financial squeeze doesn't bear fruit quickly. Instead, he ignores this danger in public, even as Rice and his people focus on it admirably in private behind the scenes actions. Why?
Tell us about Somalia, where the Islamists are in full retreat, and about the Horn of Africa, which has become an increasingly inhospitable home for terrorists. Discuss why we struck at al Qaeda, with military aircraft in southern Somalia. Let us know of our successes there.
The president should discuss the global reach of all of the U.S. efforts against al Qaeda, our recent successes in killing its top leaders, and our homeland security accomplishments in thwarting additional terror attacks.
And finally, he should use the presidency and a Congress that would be complicit - to pass sweeping legislation, setting up a major national effort to encourage conversion to bio-mass and hydrogen fuels in our automobiles over the next five to ten years. Legislation introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman with almost thirty co-sponsors from both parties and ideologies, offers an omnibus solution the president should make his own.
When Clinton faced a Congress run by his opponents, he used the opportunity to balance the budget and reform welfare. Bush should seize the chance it gives him, to promote a generation of energy independence, disempowering the terrorists.
This is an agenda worthy of a president, not just the narrow pinpoint focus on developing a civil society in Iraq.