This week, Bush traveled to Europe, a less confounding part of the world, for the annual conference of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, held this year in Bucharest. Yet here, too, he behaved like a bad lawyer—and did more harm than good to those whose cause he advocated, in this case the new (if somewhat shaky) democracies of Ukraine and Georgia.
Leading up to the NATO conference, Bush assured those leaders that he would push for their admission into the alliance. The problem was that he hadn't checked with the other members first. When most of those other members voted down the proposal, for a variety of reasons, the Ukrainians and Georgians felt insulted and humiliated—understandably so. Their hopes had been raised and then dashed—all in public.
NATO did release a statement noting that the two nations might be admitted someday. If Bush hadn't made his baseless promises ahead of time, the document might have been read as an assurance. But, under the circumstances, it seemed like a brushoff.
Again, Bush turned the status quo into defeat. Why? The New York Times quoted a "senior official" as saying that Bush wanted to "lay down a marker" for his legacy. First, Bush may be thinking about his legacy, but the other Western leaders will have to live and lead in Europe after he's out of power. Second, what kind of marker is it to tick off Ukrainians and Georgians for no good reason and to pile another layer of uncertainty and awkwardness onto the whole panoply of East-West relations?
As Casey Stengel once screamed, "Can't anybody here play this game?" That was when he was manager of the New York Mets in the team's first season. Bush has been in power now for seven years and two and a half months. It's unbelievable that he has nine and a half months—enough time for more "birth pangs"—to go.