Last week was rough for U.S. President George W. Bush. A top official in the White House was indicted, his Supreme Court nominee withdrew her name from consideration, the U.S. military sustained its 2,000th death in Iraq, and opinion polls show a majority of Americans unhappy with their president. While there are many grounds to disagree with U.S. policies, no one should take pleasure in these misfortunes. In addition to their human costs, a paralyzed and weakened U.S. presidency is not good for the world.
All second-term U.S. presidencies labor under the prospect of eventual departure from office. Typically, this situation — being a “lame duck” — does not set in until after the off-year congressional elections, when the president’s continuing appeal (or lack thereof) to voters is evident to other politicians and they no longer feel compelled to heed his wishes.
With his White House distracted by the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA agent Ms. Valerie Plame and a string of miscues of recent months, including the mishandling of the response to Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush appears to have become a lame duck earlier than expected.
Many will rejoice in this prospect. Mr. Bush has alienated many around the world: The invasion of Iraq is the primary complaint, but there is a long list of grievances that encompasses specific policies — such as the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warning or U.S. readiness to disregard international protections for prisoners of war — and the way that the administration deals with those who disagree with it.
Mr. Bush’s misfortunes should not be celebrated.
While some will argue whether this is a good thing, it is plain that there is no substitute for U.S. leadership on many issues. Few other nations have the will or the authority to muster international support on key concerns. There is a dangerous vacuum when the U.S. president is weak.
Hopefully, Mr. Bush will rebound from his rough week and use the lessons constructively. Many of his problems stem from a readiness to reject the opinions of others. Now, he should work harder with friends and allies to find the common ground that makes effective international action possible.
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