For more than three years now, America ’s reputation in the world has been in free-fall. The Bush administration’s war on terror, coupled with the war in Iraq , has angered allies and hardened the hatred of old foes. Now, though, it seems President Bush has begun to face publicly the issues most responsible for this collapse.
The signs were subtle at first. Then came Bush’s televised news conference with Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair late last month.
“Saying ‘Bring it on—kind of tough talk, you know—that sent the wrong signal to people,” Bush said contritely that day. “I learned some lessons about expressing my self maybe in a little more sophisticated manner—you know, ‘wanted dead or alive,’ that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that. And I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.”
Bush’s shift in tone was also evident on Thursday, when he reacted to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, with caution rather than flippant optimism. “We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him,” the president said.
This is a startling turn of events. For years, the administration has treated negative impressions of U.S.foreign policy as a public relations issue. Now, in the past month, the administration appears to have comprehended the depth of the problem. In the words of Karen Hughes, a longtime Bush adviser who is now, in effect, assistant secretary of state for making-nice-to-the-world, “policy must match public diplomacy.”