Bush is not the first cowboy President. Ronald Reagan was also fond of wearing 10-gallon hats and saying things like, "Go ahead. Make my day!" Nor is Bush the first President to shock the allies by using blunt language. During Reagan's first year in office, his tough talk and military buildup brought on a nuclear freeze movement in Europe. The allies were shocked in 1983 when Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire."
Reagan's policy was, "Talk tough and carry a big stick." In the end, it worked. The Evil Empire crumbled. Europeans scoffed in 1987, when Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and demanded, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" But two years later, the wall did come down.
Critics argue that Bush's cowboy rhetoric is counterproductive, that it undermines reformist forces in countries such as Iran. When the United States denounces their country as "evil," moderates have no choice but to join the hard-liners in denouncing the United States. They cannot risk being seen as pro-American. But that's all theatrics, the President's supporters would argue. What matters, they say, are the realities—the tyranny and corruption of the targeted regimes, and the steadfastness of U.S. opposition.
U.S. allies understand the military realities. Afghanistan proved that the United States is perfectly capable of fighting this war on its own—militarily. But the United States does need the cooperation of allies in two other, equally crucial areas—intelligence-gathering and financial sanctions. The United States cannot get information about terrorist networks or cut off their financing without other countries' cooperation.
Will Bush's blunt rhetoric cause our allies to go their own way? Here, too, the Administration claims the realities are on our side. Terrorists threaten the allies just as much as they do us. Are the allies going to refuse to cooperate with the United States when the reality is, we're all in this together?
In some ways, Bush's tough policy appears to be working. The Iranians have been arresting suspected terrorists. The Iraqis have issued statements saying that they are not interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. ("I've heard that before," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.) The North Koreans are promising to keep their agreements with respect to missile development. Our enemies are all acting scared.
So are our allies. They're complaining about Bush's return to "unilateralism." What makes them think the United States is ready to go it alone? "The United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory," Vice President Dick Cheney declared on February 15.
Well, OK. But wait. Powell can explain. "What the President said is, 'I'm calling it the way it is,' " Powell observed on February 17. "He did it in a very straightforward, direct, realistic way that tends to jangle people's nerves." You bet.