With adulation from Democrats and Republicans alike washing over him Wednesday evening, President Bush enjoyed his finest hour - or, rather, half hour.
After all, it should have been an occasion for harmony and rejoicing. Riding a crest of unprecedented popularity following the amazing victory in the Persian Gulf, Bush drew a dozen standing ovations and nearly constant applause from lawmakers waving American flags. Besides, the 30-minute address made history, since Bush became the first president to address a Congress at the end of war since Woodrow Wilson spoke two hours after the World War I armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918.The loudest applause Wednesday evening came when Bush saluted American troops, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Gen. Colin Powell, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. The lawmakers also clapped lustily when Bush declared that "tonight, Kuwait is free."
But, partisan politics being what it is, cheering seldom lasts long. Likewise, human nature being what it is, the remarkable new U.S.-led alliance between the West and Arab nations may not last long either.
So the White House, which has the habit of offering proposals and letting it go at that, had better be prepared to keep pushing for the plans Bush outlined Wednesday evening if it expects them to get very far. His main objectives face long odds. They include:
- A comprehensive peace settlement to end the chronic conflict between Arab nations and Israel.
- Enactment in 100 days, by a Democratic-controlled Congress, of domestic proposals of a Republican administration.
- An economic comeback from the recession now that "Americans can move forward to lend, spend and invest" without the fears and uncertainties spawned by the Persian Gulf crisis.
- An end to ingrained congressional ways of doing business on defense and foreign policy issues. Specifically, Bush said there should be no more "micro-management" of weapons, of decisions on closing military bases, or on foreign and defense aid.
But the White House can't seriously expect Democrats to abandon their own objectives and values just out of deference to the commander in chief simply because he has a remarkable military victory under his belt - particularly not when polls show Bush's conduct of domestic policy is much less popular than his conduct of foreign policy.
Nor can the administration expect much cooperation from Congress if Republicans keep belaboring some Democratic lawmakers for their admittedly short-sighted failure to back his tough stance in the Persian Gulf.
As for pursuing a broader peace in the Middle East, that task will be needlessly difficult unless Arab nations get out of the habit of renewing old quarrels among themselves after a common threat has been surmounted. Even so, the victory over Iraq still provides a unique foundation on which Bush is trying to build.
Part of that foundation consists of the unaccustomed respect that Israel has won among Arabs for refraining from retaliation that could have broadened the gulf war. Another part consists of the sudden realization in the Middle East that the United States genuinely wants to be a friend not just to Israel but to Arab nations as well.
But that foundation can't be built upon unless key Arab nations stop boycotting trade and communications with Israel and stop fostering pointless mischief at the United Nations such as the notorious resolution equating Zionism with racism. Nor can the foundation be built upon unless Israel abandons a long-standing policy and agrees to trade occupied territory for peace.
Meanwhile, as his enthusiastic reception Wednesday evening demonstrated, President Bush has built up a big bank account of goodwill on Capitol Hill as well as in the Middle East. May he spend it with the same daring and vigor that brought victory in the Persian Gulf.