CRAWFORD, Texas – While the Bush administration is waging one war in Afghanistan, it is actively trying to prevent two others — one between Israel and the Palestinians and another between India and Pakistan. Add to that his domestic agenda, including a recovery plan from a year-long economic downturn, and the president has his hands full in 2002.
On Wednesday, President Bush called British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is headed to the South Asian region with Bush's encouragement, on a diplomatic mission to reduce tensions between neighboring India and Pakistan.
Blair is seeking ways to get the two nations to ratchet down tensions in a situation that could easily get out of hand. American officials fear the conflict could create a massive diversion from Pakistani and American efforts to eradicate the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terror network from Afghanistan.
The U.S. is urging the Pakistanis to rein in the radical Islamic groups thought responsible for the attack on India's Parliament Dec. 13, killing 14. The State Department said Wednesday that Secretary of State Colin Powell talked to Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf four times over the weekend and to the Indian foreign minister three times.
Earlier this week, Bush, who recently called both leaders himself, gave Musharraf credit for "cracking down hard" on the militants, a view he clearly shared with the Indian leader.
"I explained to the Indian prime minister that while I understood his anger, I was hoping they were not headed for a war," Bush told reporters.
While diplomats and statesmen work to resolve the India-Pakistan dispute, the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute is also headed for another round.
Mideast envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni is arriving back in the region Thursday in hopes of assisting the Israelis and Palestinians in establishing what the United States calls a "sustainable" cease-fire there.
Officials said a cease-fire is more possible now since violence declined following a pre-New Year's speech by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat calling on Palestinians to halt such actions.
"I would note in this context that there has been a reduction in violence in the region. We continue to urge Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to continue their efforts, including arrests of terrorists in the Palestinian territories and firm actions to dismantle terrorist networks and institutions," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.
At home, the administration is considering how much attention and effort it should shift back to domestic issues as the two parties start wrangling in advance of the 2002 congressional elections.
"I think the greatest challenge for the administration is to implement a government-wide strategy for homeland defense without allowing the overall level of government to explode," said Mike Franc, vice president of governmental relations at the Heritage Foundation.
Democrats have made clear their intention to challenge the president on domestic issues, trying to block his proposals and push their own, Franc said. With the war on terror and potentially two other wars overseas, the president's latest challenge will be focusing on political challenges at home.
"I think the greatest danger will come if the president's domestic agenda is allowed to languish mostly in the Senate and create a perception that the president is a one-dimensional president without any kind of domestic accomplishments," Franc said.