Trouble piles up

WASHINGTON -- Pretend for a moment that you are in the president's cabin on Air Force One as he tours Europe this week and heads for a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. What does the world look like to you?...

WASHINGTON -- Pretend for a moment that you are in the president's cabin on Air Force One as he tours Europe this week and heads for a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. What does the world look like to you?

The answer, in one word, is trouble.

Taking them in ascending order of difficulty, the trouble spots look like this:

Canada -- Our northern neighbor has a new prime minister, Stephen Harper, a friend of the United States who went home empty-handed last week from his first visit to Washington because George Bush had to turn down his request to suspend the new requirement that travelers between the two countries carry passports. It was a rebuff that will make cooperation on other issues harder.

Mexico -- The apparent winner of this month's presidential election, Felipe Calderon, in his first comments decried talk of building more barriers between Mexico and the United States to curb illegal immigration -- the very step that Republicans in Congress are pressing Bush to take as the basis for any legislation they will approve. Given the closeness of his apparent victory over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Calderon probably has to play to the nationalist-populist sentiments that almost prevailed -- making any concessions to the United States more politically perilous.


Geneva -- The main players in the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks have reached impasse, frustrating Bush's hopes for a deal that would lower barriers to international commerce and cap his drive for expanding America's markets. The stumbling block of agriculture subsidies and tariffs aligned countries from India to France against us, dashing hopes for a breakthrough.

Iran -- The silence from Tehran about the offer from the United States and Europe of major benefits in return for a suspension of its nuclear program extended for six weeks, and no one knows whether it is a stall or, as Iranian diplomats suggested this week, genuine indecision. But it is surely a frustration for Bush, who made a major concession in saying the United States was ready to negotiate.

The Middle East -- Open warfare has broken out again between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is an old story, but a heartbreaking one for the people involved and for the United States.

East Asia -- Presumably China holds the key to the challenge from North Korea with its missile tests and nuclear weapons program. But Beijing is threatening to veto the U.S.-supported sanctions resolution introduced by Japan in the United Nations, and seems reluctant to apply its full leverage on its neighboring country. The foot-dragging is understandable, when you remember that both countries have communist regimes and China does not want to trigger an exodus of refugees facing starvation. But it's more frustration for Bush.

Russia -- Bush's pal and G-8 host Vladimir Putin has stuck his finger in the president's eye by openly mocking Bush's professed commitment to democracy. Putin is taking Russia back to the bad old days at breakneck speed, clamping down on the press and television, limiting and harassing independent organizations, centralizing power in the Kremlin and trying to undermine liberal regimes in neighboring countries. His behavior makes Bush look hypocritical for continuing his friendship.

Bush is largely blameless for all these troubles. The nations involved have made their own choices for their own reasons, and probably would be behaving that way no matter who was in the White House. But the same cannot be said of the final and largest trouble spot:

Iraq -- This country was transformed by Bush's war of choice, and it is increasingly doubtful that the change is for the better.

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