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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

President Should Try More Cooperation, Less Confrontation

If President Bush wants to influence world behavior in ways beneficial to the United States, he needs to re-examine his go-it-alone policies that are leaving us isolated on several policy fronts.

He also might consider toning down the tough-guy public rhetoric that often comes across to other heads of state more as a peremptory command than as a bid to reasonable discussion.

An old labor negotiator once told me a valuable tool of his trade, which I believe applies to any negotiating or bargaining process: Never back your negotiating partner into a corner from which he cannot do what you want him to do and keep his self-respect.

Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat and George W. Bush all need to apply this rule to their present situations. The purpose of a negotiation is not to humiliate one’s opponent. It’s to make him willing to do what one wants him to do.

Bush’s public demands to both Sharon and Arafat, laced with such comments as “I expect,” “without delay” and “I mean what I say!,” obviously put each in a position where neither leader could immediately comply with the Bush directive, even if he wanted to, without appearing to his own people as weak and servile.

The president should understand this. Bush himself, as well as Arafat and Sharon, has hard-liners in his own core political constituency. These zealots are prone to hold him in contempt and rebuff him publicly whenever he appears to compromise or vacillate from their extreme position.

If this constrains Bush at times, how much more must it undermine the credibility of a Palestinian or Israeli leader if it appears that he’s taking orders from foreigners – especially rich, powerful and influential foreigners – letting them jerk him around on a leash.

The blunt-spoken Clint Eastwood image, though popular with some Americans, is wearing thin on the world stage. Longtime Asia scholars cringed when our president, on his recent Asian trip, publicly lectured Far Eastern leaders, using such terms as “evil” to describe some of them.

South Korean officials, who’d spent much time and painstaking effort to cultivate a modest thaw in their relationship with the North Korean government led by Kim Jong Il, shook their heads in despair when Bush delivered gratuitous imprecations against Kim. Apparently Bush’s comments put the peace process on hold if not back in deep freeze.

China authorities insist that the return of our spy-plane crew, whose craft went down over Chinese territory last year, was facilitated only by Secretary of State Colin Powell’s patient diplomacy, sensitive to the raw nerve of nationalism that Bush scraped with his initial volley of threatening rhetoric.

The president is not without charm. He has developed strong personal ties with Great Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Vicente Fox of Mexico. These are valuable connections, showing that Bush is not blind to the country’s need for friends.

Before international terrorism brought that need forcefully home to us, Bush was causing raised eyebrows among our traditional allies by his unilateral abandonment of the nuclear nonproliferation and anti-global-warming treaties.

Two generations of world leaders had chiseled and molded the clay of these agreements, building support nation by nation. The treaties, products of human compromise (as are all such pacts), nevertheless represented progress toward making ours a safer and healthier world. Disappointment among our Free World allies was palpable when Bush withdrew U.S. support.

Most of all, Bush now needs to look homeward, make peace with middle America and the congressional Democrats, call off the petty personal vendetta against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and try to be a president for all the people.

The loyal Democratic opposition gave our president unstinting help, everything he’s asked in the war on terrorism. Against better judgment, it even caved in to his lopsided tax cut for the wealthiest 5 percent. Now it’s time for reciprocity – serious attention to the real problems nagging at the underside of the American economy.

For starters, millions of senior citizens need immediate help to roll back the runaway cost of prescription drugs. There’s overdue need for a minimum wage increase, something to help families cope with skyrocketing college tuition costs, and real action – not gimmicks – to shore up the Social Security trust fund.

These are the business of America, and the real test of presidential leadership. Cooperation works. Confrontation doesn’t.

By Jim WrightKnight Ridder Newspapers