WASHINGTON – President Bush, often a main attraction at U.N. General Assembly meetings, is sharing the spotlight this week with candidates, the crisis on Wall Street and world standoffs with Russia, North Korea and Iran that will play out long after he's gone.
His farewell address to the world body on Tuesday will stress the need for multinational diplomacy, but it comes at a time when many of these collective diplomatic ventures he's championed are stuck in reverse.
A prickly North Korea is backing away from pledges to abandon nuclear weapons. A Palestinian-Israeli peace pact before Bush leaves office is highly unlikely. Violence is flaring in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran is pursuing its nuclear work in defiance of U.S. and international demands. The West is trying to restrain an increasingly aggressive Russia that drew condemnation for its recent invasion of U.S.-backed Georgia.
U.S. officials have uttered sharply worded statements against Russia, but they still need Moscow's help on issues like passing a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also will be in New York, stepped up his own anti-U.S. rhetoric, exclaiming on Sunday that his nation's military would "break the hand" of any aggressor that targets his country's nuclear facilities.
The theme of his speech is a tough sell for Bush, who still is trying to shed the caricature of a go-it-alone cowboy.
White House officials insist Bush never swaggered in spurs across the world stage. They say he's spent years working with other leaders to rein in the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, get a Mideast peace deal, fight extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan and find lasting stability in Iraq. Still, Bush hasn't been able to shake the perception.
"I think it's an image that remains in the minds of a lot of people. But if it ever was true, it certainly isn't true today," said Brett Schaefer, an expert on international organizations at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington and advocate of U.N. reform.
In his speech, Bush will talk about ways that the U.S. and international organizations can more effectively confront problems, such as getting quicker deployment of peacekeeping forces in Sudan — something that Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley describes as "glacially slow."
"He'll talk about the need to focus on results," Hadley said. "You've heard him say he's kind of an outcomes guy, not a process guy, and sometimes we spend too much time on the process and not enough time on the outcomes."
Bush also is meeting with political dissidents, attending an event on food security and talking about free trade with leaders in the Western Hemisphere. The president's chats with foreign leaders also will be peppered with talk about the U.S. financial crisis on Wall Street — just a few miles from the U.N. headquarters — that has rocked world markets.
Besides his meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Bush's only official sitdown is with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Topping their talks will be the series of suspected U.S. missile attacks and an American-led cross-border ground assault in Pakistan's volatile northwest.
Current and former U.S. officials have told The Associated Press that in July, Bush secretly approved aggressive operations on the Pakistan-Afghan border. The move signaled impatience with Pakistani efforts to eliminate Taliban and al-Qaida hideouts thought to be staging areas for attacks in Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In his first address to parliament on Saturday, Zardari said Pakistan would not tolerate violations of its sovereignty by any power in the name of fighting terrorism. Hours after Zardari spoke, a massive suicide truck bomb devastated the heavily guarded Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing more than 50 people.
With just four months left in office, Bush's only option is to work closely with the new government let by Zardari. Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who will be at the White House on Friday, each are looking beyond Bush. The two, along with other dignitaries, have agreed to have sidebars while at the U.N. with GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin who is trying to burnish her foreign policy credentials.
Unlike past years, the war in Iraq won't take center stage. Violence is down in Iraq and Defense Secretary Robert Gates expects the U.S. combat role to keep shrinking there. With conditions still fragile, however, Bush decided this month not to jeopardize security gains by bringing any more U.S. combat brigades home from Iraq before his presidency ends.
During his three-day visit to New York, Bush and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will co-host a meeting to show appreciation to countries that participated in the U.S.-led coalition on the ground in Iraq. The coalition is dwindling from about 30 countries to a handful in the next 90 days or so. Iraq is drafting bilateral agreements with the U.S. and other countries to replace a U.N. mandate authorizing their presence that expires at year-end.
The event is a thank-you, but it also is a means of trying to show the world that the U.S. is a team player. However, it was the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, without the blessing of the United Nations, that earned him the unilateralist label — something that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has resurrected in hopes of leading next year's U.S. delegation to the U.N.