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On foreign policy, Bush wimps out

George Bush is acting like a wimp, and it is endangering the security of our country.
I never really thought I would write those words, but today I can, with little fear of contradiction from the left or right. The Bush foreign policy is disintegrating as earlier mistakes embolden our enemies while paralyzing us.

George Bush is acting like a wimp, and it is endangering the security of our country.

I never really thought I would write those words, but today I can, with little fear of contradiction from the left or right. The Bush foreign policy is disintegrating as earlier mistakes embolden our enemies while paralyzing us.

First, Bush gives up on finding our national nemesis, Osama bin Laden. Americans are not quitters. While the president plays tough with every two-bit enemy combatant ever picked up off a Kabul street corner, Bush has been spectacularly unsuccessful in tracking down the man behind the attack on America.

Now, unable to corner his quarry, Bush just quits, disbanding the CIA unit charged with capturing the elusive terrorist. Even if other parts of the intelligence community pick up the apparently cold trail, what kind of signal does it send to the rest of the world when the United States just gives up?

Pretty much the same signal we are sending on Iran and North Korea. In his 2002 State of the Union address, the president arrayed three nations along an axis of evil. Two of the three were well on their way to going nuclear. Bush invaded the third. Whoops. Bogged down in a war without a plan to win, against an adversary he created, the president is powerless to address the real threats we face.

Just a few weeks ago, the president was adamant — a long-range North Korean missile test was unacceptable. After the North Koreans thumbed their noses at the president, he was reduced to offering a scolding less severe than most parents give disobedient 2-year olds. “I told them not to do it, and they did it anyway,” the president whined. His diplomatic skills are so weak that he cannot even bring South Korea into line behind us — a country that owes its very existence to the United States and that ought to feel an existential threat from Kim Jong-Il’s saber rattling.

Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the United States that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. He was right. Now he is saying that Iran will be just months away from having nuclear weapons, once it begins processing uranium. Experts suggest Iran may be just six to nine months away from passing the technological point of no return, after which building nuclear weapons will just be a matter of time. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reports that Tehran could have those weapons constructed by 2009. Unlike the North Koreans, the Iranians have already successfully fired the missiles with which they will be able to deliver nukes.

Resolute in his opposition to a nuclear Iran, the president set a deadline of June 29 for Iran to respond. When Tehran announced it would not abide by the deadline the president took “tough” action: He gave the Iranians an extension until July 9. When that date passed without the response he demanded, President Bush leapt into action again, this time offering a strict July 12 deadline. It will be instructive to watch tomorrow’s headlines for our muscular reaction to Iran’s giving us the national finger.

As the danger for the United States escalates, the administration offers one all-purpose response: Stay the course in Iraq. Are we to believe that if only America stays the course in Iraq, Iran will renounce its nuclear ambitions? That Pyongyang will sue for peace so as not be subject to a tough Iranian-style “deadline?”

Rarely have we witnessed the spectacle of an American president so impotent. One can only imagine Bush is auditioning for Bob Dole’s part in Viagra ads when his term ends.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.