May 08, 2006

The Most Powerless President of All Time?

A man and a woman sit in front of an unlit fireplace in the White House. The woman is Germany's most well known TV presenter. The man is the most powerful man in the world -- or at least that's how he's introduced before the interview begins. And yet what we're shown on German ARD public television Sunday night is really a trans-Atlantic misunderstanding. Sabine Christiansen, who asks George W. Bush about one pressing global issue after another -- and who is relatively insistent when it comes to human rights issues -- isn't really talking to the most powerful man in the world at all. In the spring of 2006, one-and-a-half years after Bush's triumphant re-election, she may in fact be speaking to the most powerless US president of all time.

From Der Spiegel Online English Site

From his failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, to his bungling Iran response, from the growing anti-USA sentiments in Latin America to the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Bush's mistakes and missteps have made him the least powerless US President in history, according to Claus Christian Malzahn, Berlin bureau chief of SPIEGEL ONLINE. Malzahn does not address any of Bush's domestic blunders or his narrow economic favoritism. Bush's foreign policy screwups seem to be enough to make his case. Of course, depending on how you define "power," he may be right.

On the other hand, I worry that Bush has all too much power at his disposal, even as a lame duck, even as a discredited leader. After his 2004 electoral victory, he talked about how much political capital he had to spend. Whether he did or not, he certainly has not spent any of it wisely.

Nevertheless, he does have power of the sort that bullies can use when they feel like rats trapped in a corner. He still can lash out, he still can employ American power in furtherance of his deluded world vision, great enough to cause dangerous mischief and great sorrow. He has proven his capacity to do this and the potential threatens us all. If he chooses to try to prove how powerful he is, in the end, it will manifest a much-weakened President leading a much-weakened America. And whoever is left to pick up the pieces in 2008 will be seriously challenged.

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