Patient Bush gives ‘diplomacy’ a chance

  • Rick Horowitz / Syndicated Columnist
  • Saturday, July 15, 2006 9:00pm
  • Opinion

The president is explaining things.

“The problem with diplomacy,” he’s reminding people, “it takes a while to get something done. If you’re acting alone, you can move quickly. When you’re rallying world opinion and trying to come up with the right language at the United Nations to send a clear signal, it takes a while.”

And hasn’t “acting alone” worked out just wonderfully so far, in so many places?

Not so much.

Which is why, presumably, the president is trying something different. Diplomacy. He’s been dropping the word into nearly every conversation lately, although it’s still got that new-car smell about it. Every time he says it, in fact, you can still hear the air quotes and the italics.

“So we’re now working the diplomacy, and you’re watching the diplomacy work, not only in North Korea, but in Iran.”

The “diplomacy.” This strange new toy.

Has the president been seeing a tutor? In the privacy of the Oval Office, or upstairs in the residence, has he been taking special elocution lessons?


“Not quite, Mr. President. Dip-lo-macy.”


“One more try, Mr. President. Dip-lo-macy.”

“Awwww, do I have to?”

It’s never easy learning a foreign language – especially not at his age. But what are the options when you bump up against the limits of your native tongue? “Bring it on!” and “Wanted, dead or alive” can take a person – even a president – only so far.

So it’s time to be bilingual. But it’s not without its struggles, as the president is quick to admit.

“It’s kind of painful in a way for some to watch,” he points out, “because it takes a while to get people on the same page. Not everybody thinks the exact same way we think.”

He’s showing off his new learning: “Not everybody thinks the exact same way we think.” His audiences may have figured out this particular piece of reality years ago, but they’re polite about it. It wouldn’t do to giggle at him. He is, after all, the president of the United States, and he’s trying as hard as he can.

It can’t be easy, not after being surrounded for so long by the We’ll Do It Ourselves Caucus. The president’s top advisers never cared that other people, that whole other countries, didn’t think the exact same way we think. We were going to do what we wanted to do anyway. They could climb aboard, or they could eat our dust. “Diplomacy” was for wussies.

But now? Now the president’s making nice. Or at least he’s saying the right nice things. Whether he means them is another matter. Whether he plans to stick with them is still another matter.

“There are different – words mean different things to different people,” the president is explaining, “and the diplomatic process can be slow and cumbersome. This is why this is probably the fourth day in a row I’ve been asked about North Korea – it’s slow and cumbersome. Things just don’t happen overnight.”

Somebody needs to tell the president: Four days in a row is not “slow and cumbersome.” Four days in a row is an eye blink. He’s dealing with people all around the globe who measure time in decades, in centuries. People who take the long view. It might be useful to have a little bit of that in the president’s own approach.

Maybe that’s his next lesson.

Rick Horowitz is a nationally syndicated columnist. Contact him by writing to

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