NEW YORK – President Bush's bright reputation abroad was only diminished by his misguided — indeed counterproductive — stab at appeasing radical environmentalists on the day before heading to Asia. This White House proposal makes little foreign policy, economic, political, or scientific sense.
Undoubtedly pressured by the Environmental Protection Agency crowd and some eager-beaver White House staffers, the president uncharacteristically pulled back from a principled stance that he took against the Kyoto accord months ago.
In contrast, last Thursday he proposed some "voluntary" steps on global warming.
The Chinese government he visits this week will smile and understand such "voluntary action" proposed by a government. That government sent hundreds of thousands of men to fight our troops in the Korean War as a "voluntary action." No matter that these armed "volunteers" looked a whole lot like Chinese army regulars.
Nonetheless, the Bush team somehow felt compelled to propose something new and innovative after rejecting Kyoto. But one wonders:
Why? Bush already took political hits for dismissing Kyoto, even though the Clinton administration never submitted the protocol to the Senate, which was on record 95 to 0 against it. And since then, the tide of opinion was moving his way.
Why now? The international agenda changed on Sept. 11, the main, if not sole, topic being the global war against terrorism. Other topics prominent in the case of Korea and China, such as human rights, weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, and intelligence sharing, are enough for any presidential visit. Highlighting global climate change right before the commander in chief departed blurred this otherwise sharp focus.
With what upside? Here's the big clincher: The days immediately after the White House announcement, major U.S. columnists and newspaper editorials blasted the Bush proposal. The Bush administration caused a stir when it announced its opposition to the Kyoto accord, but most Americans had forgotten it in the transformed world after Sept. 11.
But the White House helped its adversaries by dragging the climate change issue back front and center. Paul Krugman of The New York Times was first out of the starting gate with a vicious attack on both Bush's current proposal and his former nixing of Kyoto. Not to be outdone, lead editorials in the Times, The Washington Post and nearly every other major newspaper followed suit. Perhaps a columnist or editorial somewhere supported the new Bush proposal. But if so, I — and I suspect nearly all Americans — missed it. Bush gets it coming and going, too — he is criticized by liberals for not going far enough and by conservatives for going too far.
With what evidence? Worst of all, the evidence simply doesn't exist to justify Bush's decision. Dr. Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and deputy director of Mount Wilson Observatory, argued that Bush's new proposal rested on old, bad science. She said: "The most substantial authority — science — has weighed against the fear of potential human-made global warming. No reliable evidence for a catastrophic human warming trend can be found in the best temperature data available."
Moreover, it makes for bad economics and bad politics. As my colleague James Glassman quickly pointed out: "President Bush has established a reputation for taking firm stands based on principles and facts. But his new position on global warming is clearly a disingenuous attempt to appear concerned about the environment — for the sake of empty plaudits from domestic and foreign audiences. It hurts his credibility, and, frankly, it won't work because the opposition won't buy it."
President Bush had enjoyed a buoyed reputation for his principled stances on Kyoto, the ABM treaty and in prosecuting the war on terror. He had proved through a series of strong actions that he says what he means and he means what he says. I'm left scratching my head wondering why he would go wobbly on climate change.
Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.