Richard Reeves

Why Bush Will Be a One Term President

WASHINGTON -- This was a day in the life of the president of the United States, Thursday, April 18, 2002:

-- The circumstances of endless savagery in the Middle East forced him to look into a television camera and tell the world that Ariel Sharon is "a man of peace."

-- Halfway around the world, on the West Bank, the U.N. peace envoy to the Middle East, a Norwegian hardly given to flamboyant language, one of the first outsiders to inspect Mr. Sharon's recent work, looked into other cameras and said: "Horrifying, horrifying ... Israel has lost all moral ground in this conflict."

-- In Kabul and Washington, members of the forces commanded by President Bush had to face the cameras and apologize for the killing of Canadian soldiers, our best friends, by American bombs in yet another friendly-fire incident of the kind that punctuates long-distance, high-tech warfare.

-- On Capitol Hill, it was Democrats who commanded the cameras, exulting in easily defeating Bush's most important energy initiative, the drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

-- Back on television, the president gave a lecture to the elected president of Venezuela, an incompetent, if charismatic, lefty named Hugo Chavez, who had been overthrown two days before with some help and cheers from the right-wingers running the middle levels of the Bush State Department. Bush warned Chavez that he better do more of what we consider the right things, or we'll get his army after him again.

-- Up the road in New Jersey, which happened to be one of the 13 original United States, the federal Justice Department issued directives to prevent the state from releasing the names of hundreds of people who have been held in five Jersey jails without charges for as long as seven months. The order from "Justice" reads: "It would make little sense for the release of potentially sensitive information to be subject to the vagaries of the laws of various states within which these detainees are housed or maintained." Meaning no disrespect, I seem to remember we fought a revolution to protect the vagaries of state laws.

-- In England -- now I remember that's who we fought the revolution against -- the ambassador from our favorite oily medieval monarchy, Saudi Arabia, has published poems he wrote about "God's Martyrs," the killers of Americans and Israelis at the World Trade Center and in shopping malls and restaurants.

-- Back close to home, The Washington Post is beginning to publish photographs of Taliban prisoners in liberated Afghanistan. They are starving. Teen-agers are weighing in at less than 100 pounds. Are they bad guys? Probably. But they look like Auschwitz. What the hell is going on out there?

-- And meanwhile, the president's men and women are on the Hill testifying that such things as workplace injuries can more effectively be controlled by filing lawsuits than by rules and regulations. That may be true, but only if the injured are both rich and graduates of Harvard Law School.

That really is what it is like to be president of the United States. The job is so much more than one man can ever conceive of, much less "handle," because all of these things are happening at the same time. And in some way, George W. Bush, former slacker, will have to do something about each of them. You can already see that in his face. It is not blank anymore.

Take this. While the president and his secretary of state have tried (and failed) to talk some sense into the helmeted head of Prime Minister Sharon, a New York Times reporter named C.J. Chivers was out in an Israeli settlement overlooking the Palestinian city of Ramallah -- the better to snipe from -- and the Times guy asked one of the settlers about Colin Powell's mission impossible. "What Colin Powell says, I do not care," said Baruch Zekbas. "This is not Colin Powell's country."

It is not George Bush's either, but he will end up being held responsible for whether Zekbas kills or is killed. That is his job -- and I suspect he will end up giving it up or losing it in three years.

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