President Bush's speech at the UN today was notable for a couple of reasons--not merely the fact that he ostentatiously rolled his R's in referring to Peru and Morocco. He declined to rise to the provocative rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He didn't want to make the Iranian leader the focus of his speech. The ongoing confrontation between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program has elevated Ahmadinejad's profile, plenty already.
Instead, a legacy minded president sought to cast himself as a peacemaker seeking to expand freedom, cure the sick, and feed the hungry around the world. He also offered, but in subdued tones, the familiar conservative challenge to the UN to ease up on Israel and strengthen ethical standards.
Was it persuasive? Democrats complained that Bush, even as he called for stronger international action to ease the crisis in Darfur, hasn't fully funded the U.S. contribution to that effort.
Was it the calm before the storm? Whether and how the U.S. will confront Iran over its nuclear ambitions and meddling in Iraq remains the big foreign policy question mark looming over the remaining months of the Bush presidency.
But on this day, Bush's priority was rallying world opinion to the extent that's still possible, not defying it. The U.S. still wants the UN to pass stiffer economic sanctions on Iran, though China and Russia have resisted so far. So Bush chose a more temperate rhetorical course.
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