Cool Rhetoric but Careful Policy : Bush works to keep the consensus

No matter how hard he tries, President George Bush will never go down in history as the great communicator.

He just doesn't have it. He lacks that fire and brimstone, that poetic flair, that determination to sink his rhetorical teeth into the emotions of his audience and drag them this way and then that.

What a good thing, really.

For what one heard and saw in his address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night was that sensible and thoughtful George Bush who might manage America and its allies out of the gulf crisis and into a world with one less Saddam Hussein.

The speech was addressed to the issue of the federal budget impasse as well as the gulf crisis. And there will be some rancor over his budget comments.

But the characteristics that in his speech seemed so definitively George Bush--the reasonableness, the willingness to listen, the intelligence--might very well prove to be defining qualities of his mainly pragmatic foreign policy that continue to attract friend and former foe alike.

For U.S. objectives in the gulf, Bush listed the obvious: Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the return of Kuwait's emir government to power, security and stability in the gulf region and protection of American citizens abroad.

Not many Americans will quarrel with these goals, though some will want more (the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) and others something different (the substitution of supervised elections and a new democratic government for the exiled emir). But in characteristic fashion, Bush splits the difference and goes for the consensus.

Bush was obviously proud of the recently concluded instant summit in Helsinki when, referring to the joint communique with President Gorbachev, he said: "Clearly, no longer can a dictator count on East-West confrontation to stymie concerted U.N. action against aggression."

The President added: "We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move forward toward an era of historic cooperation. Out of these troubled times . . . a new world order can emerge . . . ."

In the past that sort of presidential rhetoric would have been regarded as little more than mundane window dressing.

But in this post-Cold War epoch, anything is possible--the good as well as the bad. Optimism is no less realistic than pessimism.

The George Bush style--on the slow side, on the cautious side, on the consensus side, on the pragmatic side--is probably what is needed to maintain the international and domestic consensus on Iraq.

It can also help reinforce a nascent process of collective security that might just possibly work to achieve the containment and resolution of the next big crisis.

Give the President some due. The gulf crisis is far from over, and there is danger at every turn. But the dimension of the consensus against Iraq is attributable not only to Saddam Hussein's basic ferocity but also to George Bush's basic intelligence.

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