WASHINGTON — During a recent working vacation, President Bush was showing off his new Texas ranch house to a television reporter. "Let's see, here's my office," he said, adding as an aside:
"Probably call a couple of world leaders today."
That was Aug. 10--one month and one day before the terrorists struck.
Those attacks instantly transformed Bush's nonchalant attitude toward calling his counterparts.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 13, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Bush meeting--A story Sunday said that President Bush, in a meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, emphasized that American is after extremists and Muslims in its war on terrorism. In fact, Bush said that America is after extremists, not Muslims.
Exuding an unprecedented sense of urgency and purpose, he began working the telephone--and has hardly let up since.
The president must assemble--and then maintain--an amorphous anti-terrorism coalition whose members harbor their own agendas and face a maze of domestic concerns that constrain their ability or willingness to participate.
So far, Bush's measured but unrelenting campaign to build an alliance before striking has won considerable plaudits, including in Europe, where only weeks ago he was still being lampooned as a go-it-alone Texas cowboy.
Aided by the morally unambiguous case against terrorism, the president has assembled an impressive array of nations to join a U.S.-led coalition for what he calls "the first war of the 21st century."
Adapting to Audience
Bush has done so by summoning his repertoire of interpersonal skills--but using them selectively, depending on his audience.
With Mexican President Vicente Fox, another rancher, Bush tested the "Wanted: dead or alive" phrase, said presidential Counselor Karen Hughes. Fox liked it, and Bush used it two days later, declaring that he would take Osama bin Laden either way.
When Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited, Bush again reverted to his penchant for colloquialism, expressing his desire to "smoke 'em out of their caves."
But in a meeting with President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, Bush stressed that America is after extremists and Muslims.
And when he called Czech President Vaclav Havel, who recently had been hospitalized, Bush inquired about Havel's health.
"It varies from country to country," one top White House aide explained.
When Bush phoned Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Sept. 15, Bush was friendly but stern as he posed a list of requests.
Bush's efforts produced a major breakthrough Thursday when Pakistan, a potentially crucial ally in the Muslim world, declared that Washington's evidence "certainly provides sufficient basis for indictment" of Bin Laden.
"I think President Bush [has been] doing remarkably well in a short time," said Michael H. Armacost, a veteran diplomat and former top State Department official.
"But when you get down to specifics, that gets more difficult," said Armacost, now president of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank.
While Bush has visited a mosque and hosted Islamic leaders at the White House, he must keep at it, said Armacost, former ambassador to Japan and the Philippines.
"This isn't something that gets done once and takes care of itself," he said. "You've got to keep hammering away, because you've got a lot people working on the other side of street."
All modern presidents, at their own pace, warm to the task of reaching out to other leaders. And no one worked at it more diligently or adeptly than the 41st president--and father of the incumbent. A decade ago, the first President Bush built an unlikely alliance that liberated Kuwait and remains a yardstick for wartime diplomacy.
Today, as the younger Bush undertakes a similar task, he faces an even more daunting challenge, not only because the world has changed but also due to circumstances of his own making.
When Bush became president, after only six years as Texas governor, foreign policy was his thinnest portfolio.
Then he adopted a distinctly unilateralist approach, upsetting allies with his uncompromising rejection of the Kyoto global warming treaty and his determination to build a missile defense system.
But all that seems forgotten since Bush donned his statesman-warrior hat.
The key to what Bush on Thursday called "this fantastic coalition" are his dozens of calls to capitals around the world.
"Every conversation is about how the world cannot lose its focus on what happened," said Condoleezza Rice, the White House national security advisor.
Bush has conferred with dozens of foreign leaders, many of them more than once. He and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, America's fiercest champion, have spoken more than a dozen times.
His first post-attack conversation came when Russian President Vladimir V. Putin reached him the day after the attacks.
By then Bush already had put the U.S. military on alert, and Putin wanted to reassure him that he would not respond in kind. On that frantic first day, Putin simply asked Rice to relay his message to Bush.