To burnish legacy, Bush goes abroad
The president is planning a heavy travel schedule in '08, to promote his foreign-policy successes.
George W. Bush, the globe-trotting president.Skip to next paragraph
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For the first seven years of the Bush presidency, such a description would not have fitted a chief executive who limited overseas travel and preferred to set the tone of his foreign policy by which world leaders he invited to his Texas ranch rather than by the foreign capitals he chose to visit.
But throughout his final year in office, all that could change. Mr. Bush's passport will get a lot of new stamps, and Air Force One will be busy crossing oceans as the homebody president shifts to a boots-on approach to making his mark on the world.
Bush will launch into this new global mode early in January, when he will make a seven-country, week-long tour of the Middle East. Aside from visiting Israel – for the first time as president – and the Palestinian territories, he'll make stops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.
Then in February, Bush heads to sub-Saharan Africa, where he will highlight his administration's role in the global fight against AIDS and in focusing foreign assistance and development funds on the most efficient, corruption-fighting democracies. After two international summits – NATO in Bucharest, Romania, in April, and the Group of Eight economic summit in Japan in July – Bush will attend the Beijing Summer Olympics in August.
In some respects, Bush is following a typical pattern among recent presidents. Finding themselves increasingly irrelevant domestically as eyes turn to who might be the next White House occupant, presidents tend to turn to foreign policy – and foreign travel – to put the finishing touches on their legacies.
But Bush, as much the lame duck at home as any two-term president on his final lap, faces a pattern of dislike abroad, both of himself and of his foreign policy, as he undertakes a year of travel.
This president's uncustomary travel agenda "is partially about burnishing the legacy and trying to highlight some of the administration's accomplishments when it comes to foreign policy," says Charles Kupchan, a professor of international relations at the School of Foreign Service and Government at Georgetown University in Washington. "But it's a particularly tall order for this president, in the sense that the Bush administration will be remembered, as much abroad as at home, more for mistakes and unpopular policies than for accomplishments in the foreign-policy arena."
America's image continues to lag around the world, as the war in Iraq has left many people with a bitter taste, and with the perception of a superpower bent on unilateral action.
Mr. Kupchan says he expects Bush to remain focused on his two main foreign policy aims of 2008: consolidation of recent gains in Iraq with an ebb in violence, and progress toward a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. A surprise visit to Iraq – especially if it extended beyond a drop-in on US troops to include a sit-down with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – could be used to press the urgency of moving early in 2008 on legislation promoting national reconciliation.