Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press. He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.
MSNBC: President George W. Bush began his second term with a promise to spread freedom and end tyranny around the world. That lofty ambition is surprising a lot of people.
Tim Russert: Many people are comparing it to Woodrow Wilson and John Kennedy, in terms of its rhetoric. But, like all speeches, the application is what becomes important to historians.
How will the president implement, if you will, the Bush Doctrine, in terms of bringing freedom and liberty around the world? Will it be like the Iraq model, or will he treat Iran and North Korean differently? And what about China and Cuba? Whose dictators are your friends and who are your enemies? No one knows those answers.
You can talk boldly about remaking and reshaping the world in terms of democracy, but it is the application that historians will judge.
It’s an interesting evolution of the thinking of George W. Bush. In the 2000 campaign he decried nation building and talked about a humble foreign policy. Thursday’s speech, with the broad themes of liberty and freedom, it’s the Bush Doctrine.
MSNBC: Some see the president’s vision of the world as a bit of a fantasy world.
Russert: Certainly utopian, there’s no doubt about it. And at the end of four years, people are going to go through a checklist as to what was the state of the world in 2005 and what is it as he leaves in 2009.
MSNBC: Do his broad statements set America squarely against dictatorial, oppressive governments of the world in more than the diplomatic front?
Russert: Well, if you read it carefully, you would think that.
If you’re going to stand with the people who are rising up against an oppressive government, they’re all going to take solidarity from it.
The European press is very, very nervous this morning, because they believe it’s an indication the president believes he was right in Iraq. They are concerned we’re going to see the Iraq model imitated around the world.
The contrast of Thursday’s and Mr. Bush’s first inaugural address and first presidential campaign – where Mr. Bush decried nation building and talked about a humbler foreign policy – there’s been a amazing transition in the last four years in his thinking on that issue.
He will say it’s because of 9-11. Others will say this is an attempt to restart and give meaning – give explanation to – his Iraq policy.
I think the president was trying to be much loftier in his rhetoric. And he did have a line in there saying it doesn’t always take arms. So, perhaps the whole idea of winning people’s hearts and minds and aspiring them to great good without military intervention was what he had in mind. We don’t know.
MSNBC: Could all of the president’s proposals be for naught, if there is not an overwhelming international sense of success in Iraq?
Russert: Absolutely. That’s why a week from Sunday – the Iraqi elections on January 30th – is so crucial.
America’s exit strategy in Iraq is simple: train the Iraqi security forces and military to protect their own people and then withdraw. If the Iraqis do not have a government that is perceived as legitimate, it can not train a military force and we can’t get out.
MSNBC: The Senate had delayed okaying Mr. Bush’s secretary of state and attorney general until next week. Should we read anymore into this than just a little political squabble?
Russert: Condoleezza Rice will be confirmed easily, Wednesday, after nine hours of debate on Tuesday. There will be a handful of votes against her. But what the Democrats want to do next week is say, “Mr. President, you never mentioned Iraq in your inaugural address” and they’re going to debate the management of the war for a couple of days in the United States Senate. The Senate, I believe, will be very precise in its criticism and management of the war in Iraq.
And, I believe a week from next Wednesday, in the State of the Union address, the president will have to talk about Iraq and Social Security and other issues in much more specific terms than he did Thursday. But Condi Rice will hear a preview of that from the floor of the Senate next week.
MSNBC: Who will we see this Sunday on Meet the Press?
Russert: First we interview the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte. We'll discuss the situation in Iraq as we approach the January 30th elections there.
Then we'll have an exclusive interview with the Chairman of the Ways and Means committee, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-CA – the man in charge of overseeing any changes in social Security.
We’re going to listen to him very, very carefully. If you’re interested in Social Security, you'll have a pretty good idea what changes will be made for future participants.