Bush talking like a dove has precedent

"The first order of business is to build multilateral institutions." ... "America always prefers to work with allies at our side." ... "The tasks of the 21st century ... cannot be accomplished by a single nation alone."

Who spoke those words? Would you believe President George W. Bush? The same George W. Bush who once said, "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country."

Something seems to happen to a president's outlook in his second term. Ronald Reagan, in his first term, attacked the Soviet Union as "the evil empire." He cracked down on Western European countries that wanted to build a gas pipeline to Siberia, eventually killing the project, to the great distress of both the Soviet Union and America's Western European friends. But in his second term, Mr. Reagan had soulful discussions with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev about the dream of abolishing all nuclear weapons. In 1988, I watched the two acting like warm buddies amid a friendly crowd in Red Square. To the cheers of the multitude, Reagan said that he no longer considered the Soviet Union to be an evil empire.

It is as though a president, looking to his legacy and no longer dependent on a conservative voting base, begins to act like a born-again dove. So last week in Canada, a country to which he had given the back of his hand in his first term, the president said a new term in office is "an important opportunity to reach out to our friends." He joked that, for Canada, being the neighbor of a superpower must be like sleeping next to an elephant. Canada was only a preliminary to what looks like a plan for active fence-mending with allies and friends - perhaps one should say former friends.

The White House says that soon after the inauguration, the president plans to visit several European countries. A White House official said, "Diplomacy is necessary to consolidate the gains of the first term."

We may differ about what those gains were, but that probably will not hinder a second-term president bent on writing a legacy of peace and friendship.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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