"We will withdraw from the ABM Treaty on our time table at a time convenient to America. And one of the things I've said in the course of questions about the ABM treaty, I said that we would consult closely with our allies in Europe as well as continue to consult closely with Mr. Putin. I have no specific time table in mind. I do know that the ABM treaty hampers us from doing what we need to do."
-- President Bush, declaring his intent to withdraw from 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
Bush effectively declared the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty dead in remarks to the press on Thursday. The administration has been consistently critical of the ABM agreement, calling it an outdated relic of the Cold War, and an obstruction to Bush's plans to develop a space-based missile defense system. Still, America's allies have been cool to the idea of trashing the treaty, and Bush tried to smooth over those concerns by promising to consult with them. We will officially withdraw from the treaty "at a time convenient to America," Bush said, but added he has not decided on a date.
Apparently, Bush doesn't have similar latitude in deciding how hard to push for increased defense spending. At least that's what Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a Thursday news conference. The Office of Management and Budget this week declared that all but $2 billion of the $160 billion projected surplus is tied up in Social Security and Medicare, and Bush has pledged not to touch the trust fund cash for any reason. While Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson now admits that plans to expand children's health coverage may be lost to budget shortfalls, Rumsfeld insists that the president will press for every penny of the $18.4 billion defense budget boost he has requested.
Rumsfeld may feel comfortable in making decisions about Bush's budget, but he avoids making decisions himself about weapons systems because of his stock portfolio. While Rumsfeld insists that he's sold most of his stock, a pair of his "illiquid" investment funds still contain defense-related stock, and he doesn't want to risk the appearance of a conflict of interest. So less senior Defense Department officials handle the nitty-gritty decisions about weapons contractors and defense industry mergers. Though lower-ranking defense officials have sold off their entire portfolios, Rumsfeld doesn't see his stocks -- or his disengagement from weapons and merger decisions-as problematic.
But then, he pretty much writes off most of criticism that's come his way as meaningless noise. "I'm sure there is some static in the system," Rumsfeld said. "There always has been in bureaucracies. Down six, eight, 10 layers, people are going to be unhappy about this one day, and unhappy about that another day."
The group of people routinely unhappy with Rumsfeld, however, is big and broad, and not confined to the lower levels of the Pentagon bureaucracy: American allies who think his and the administration's missile defense plans are a pointless antagonism to the Russians and Chinese; the Russians and Chinese who agree; and congressional Democrats and even some congressional GOP leaders who feel that Rumsfeld shuts them out of defense policy decisions.
Bush ran on pledges to boost the military's morale and modernize its combat capabilities. If military matters are moved to the center of the Bush agenda in the coming months -- and that's quite likely, given that the president will have to fight a deficit-wary Congress to boost the Pentagon budget -- Rumsfeld's tendency to dismiss criticism as "static in the system" could make it tougher for the White House to score points on defense.
And don't miss the president backing off his previous support for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Before his summer break, Bush earned the praise of Hispanic leaders and the derision of many conservatives by hinting that the administration would bestow legal status millions of Mexican nationals who entered America illegally. During an impromptu visit to a Crawford, Texas school on Thursday, Bush said that "Amnesty is not the right answer to the immigration issue," though he supported "a worker program of some type" for some illegal immigrants.
Friday schedule: The president will hold a news conference to announce the appointment of Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bush will also meet with Rumsfeld to discuss the Quadrennial Defense Review.
This day in Bush history
August 24, 1992: U.S. News and World Report columnist David Gergen comments on James Baker's new role as campaign godfather for President Bush. Though the move might look desperate to outsiders, Gergen observes that Bush White House insiders --including son George W. Bush-- see it as a cure-all for a listless campaign. Gergen hints that the younger Bush views Baker's ascension with too much optimism, but doubts that anyone will point that out to him. "With the exception of Barbara Bush, no one else can tell Bush when he is wrong -- and expect another audience."
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