Richard Reeves

President Bush: The King of The World

NEW YORK -- I hope the stories that claim President Bush doesn't read all that much are true. With any kind of luck he might miss the current issue of the conservative Weekly Standard, which presents him, in words, as the grown-up Leonardo DiCaprio, standing in the bow, wind in his hair, shouting: "I'm the president of the world!"

"The Bush Era," heralds the cover, and the trumpets inside are all playing the same notes: The attacks of Sept. 11 focused the nation and were the making of George Bush, mainly because the American people are happier at war than at peace. The issue celebrates war and the opportunities for American expansion -- and in doing that it unintentionally celebrates Sept. 11 as well. Among the citations are Gallup Poll numbers reporting that 43 percent of respondents the week before the attacks were "satisfied with the way things are going in the United States," and that number jumped to 70 percent the week after.

"Bush's extraordinary first year in the White House culminates in his emergence as a full-blown war president," writes Fred Barnes, the magazine's executive editor. "A prominent feature now of Bush's governing style is presidential power exercised baldly, boldly and worldwide. ... He talks, with self-assurance, in private and public, about foreign leaders, whether they should be taken seriously, precisely how they fit into his plans for making the world safe for America.

"Bush has the luxury of defining his presidency, deciding exactly what he wants it to be about. And now we know: It's about war and security and sustaining the spirit of America produced by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bush is ready to be judged, up or down, on how well he thwarts America's enemies."

To me that says the president must define himself by his enemies. It's the oldest hack trick in politics.

The magazine's editorial, signed by Robert Kagan and editor William Kristol, goes back to the 1980s to find a peer and then the 1940s to find an event comparable to Bush's leadership: "Bush has charted the course of an expansive new American foreign policy, a paradigm shift equal to the inauguration of anti-communist containment more than a half-century ago. ... The president knows what he has to do. We're confident he will do it."

Senior editor David Brooks then outlines the politicial implication he finds in the moment: "If the Bush administration ever wends its way to a reform initiative, if it champions a national service agenda that includes both military and faith-based components, if, most important, it prosecutes the war against the axis of evil, then President Bush and his aides will not only have done great things for America, they will have laid the groundwork for a governing Republican majority. And George Bush will have established himself, with FDR and Reagan, as one of the great transformational presidents of the age."

Finally, Noemie Emery, a contributing editor, makes the argument that the president -- she seems to mean any president -- needs war to function as a leader. She begins with the frustration of this president's father's time in the Oval Office:

"George H.W. Bush is said to have told Michael Beschloss that he could feel the air leave his office once the Cold War ended. On Sept. 11, it came rushing back. ... The presidency of school uniforms and wars on tobacco has been replaced by the presidency of Special Forces uniforms and shooting wars. ... There are no issues more basic than life and survival; nothing bigger than this around-the-world war. The presidency is back at the center of everything."

If the president reads this stuff -- and believes it -- he will have to spend the rest of at least this term seeking out enemies. Al-Qaida, the Taliban, Iran, Iraq and North Korea may not be enough to meet the Standard's standards for greatness and national transformation into a war state.

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