President Bush's Strengths and Weaknesses

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 22, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

BOB SELLERS, GUEST HOST: Whatever happens with the economy, President Bush was at least supposed to have foreign policy and the war on terror in his back pocket going into next year's election. Now with somewhat shaky situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saddam and Usama bin Laden (search) on the run, is the president's supposed strength turning into a weakness?

Washington Post White House reporter Mike Allen joins us now from Washington, D.C. The big question for him, is President Bush vulnerable on foreign policy?

BOB ALLEN, WASHINGTON POST: Hey, Bob. This is a question that the president's advisers never thought to be asking themselves. When you look at the chaos that is continuing this week, they're beginning to say, 'Will people begin to wonder if [we're] more vulnerable than [we] were before?

Democrats will be asking this question, 'Are you safer [today] than you were four years ago?' And the White House was quite confident of the answer to that before. As the situation deteriorates in Iraq, they expect to be answering more questions about why they took that action. Now every time when a Democrat challenges [the president] on this, they are going to say, 'Would you have gone to war or wouldn't you?' Try to shift it away from the post-war question.

SELLERS: Yes. You have a situation now with the U.N. attack on the headquarters there, the U.N. has pulled out a number of people, and it seems like the U.N. community, the members, are not really coming forward to help. It is kind of like, 'You got yourself into this and we really weren't in favor of you going in anyway.'

ALLEN: Yes. Well, you saw the two sides disagreeing about whose responsibility it was to provide the security. It certainly has been a tense relationship. What the president's people say is that the attack on the U.N. proves his point. Shows that this is a global ...

SELLERS: That's right. That's right. And why does that not play with the rest of the community? The world community. It is an attack on the U.N., an attack on the world, these are bad guys, they're not going to go away and you have to deal with them.

ALLEN: And so that could be used as an argument now by the administration. On the other side, you have countries that are reluctant to participate while the U.S. is still in charge. And there is no indication that members of the administration at this point are willing to yield any of that control. The president said just today that he expects more foreign troops to come in to assist. But the U.S. at this point is insisting on keeping control.

SELLERS: Do they have any other solution at the White House for dealing with this situation? Because if they're trying to get international support and they're not getting as much as they want, and they don't want to relinquish control — which is understandable to a certain point. You can't give away complete control. Somebody has to have ultimate control — do they have any other avenues?

ALLEN: Well, one thing the president is going to keep doing is describing the problem on his terms, casting in his terms. You saw the president just today talking about the foreign elements that are coming into Iraq. Now we're told that the number of foreign troops the administration actually believes [is in Iraq] has gone down. But this attack, which they think more likely than not involves elements other than just the Saddam remnants, the dead-enders that you've heard Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) talk about. There is concern they're becoming more sophisticated and that maybe they're coordinating. The president is going to talk a lot about the problem.

SELLERS: All right. Mike Allen, thank you very much, sir.

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