We are days away from hearing the President’s new Iraq strategy and I hope against hope that something much bigger is waiting in the wings. This is a President famously unwilling to adopt other people’s ideas, so even if he should bow to public opinion on Iraq, or adopt some portion of the Iraq Study Group recommendations, he will take no comfort in doing so. Meanwhile, we know that this President is newly concerned about his legacy to the point of inviting a stream of historians to meet with him and reflect on how history will treat his presidency.
Given the vast wreckage of Iraq, the muddled “War on Terror,” and nothing to show on the domestic front after six years in office except a teetering economy, perhaps this President will make some sort of grand gesture in hopes of buffing up his place in the history books.
In fact, he has already shown an inclination for the dramatic with his 2004 vision for a return to space, this time to colonize the Moon and land humans on Mars. Space worked for Kennedy (who launched the Moon Program with a speech before Congress on May 25, 1961 – pic below), but is unlikely to work for Bush, particularly because the President’s vision is unfunded, making his words long on atmospherics and short on reality.
But even a funded space program won’t secure Bush’s place in history. He needs something bigger than big — it has to be truly dramatic and above all, counter-intuitive. Something comparable to former Commie-fighter Nixon opening up China, or tough guy Reagan chumming up with Gorbachev. And these days, there are only two issues big enough to fit the bill — global climate change and nuclear disarmament. It is unlikely that Bush would do something on climate change, a topic owned by opponent Al Gore and detested by the Neo-cons. But disarmament is quite another story. Imagine the President addressing the UN General Assembly with a call for comprehensive global nuclear disarmament. Done right, it would trump Iran and North Korea and thus help solve an immediate problem, while also confounding his critics and setting in motion something that could be a true legacy for an otherwise muddled and unhappy Presidency.
There is just one catch — the initiative must be real, with diligent, substantive follow-on. And above all, the President must not wobble. We still remember the lost opportunity of Reykjavik in October 1986, when Reagan had the chance to close a disarmament deal with Gorbachev, but lost his nerve and missed the opportunity to change history. Bush now has another chance to change history by bottling the nuclear genie, and given the course of events, it well may be mankind’s last chance. Let us hope it occurs to this President — and hope that he doesn’t flinch.