I’ll bet you can’t remember the word candidate George W. Bush used to describe the foreign policy he would pursue as president. Give it a shot, I’ll wait. I’ll even give you a clue. He said it during the second presidential debate. Begins with “h.”

Give up? The word is, “humble.”

I remember thinking it a strange word to use. Of course, as it turns out, Bush didn’t really mean it. Indeed, it’s doubtful anyone would use “humble” to describe the almost two years the administration has spent disavowing treaties it doesn’t like and otherwise acting with unilateral hubris. And all that was before the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The administration’s message was simple: We don’t need the world.

Now there’s the looming war with Iraq and guess what? It turns out we do. That’s the opinion of the American people, if not of their government. According to recent polls, public support for a strike against Baghdad is largely contingent on whether that strike is backed by the United Nations.

Without that, we the people aren’t so sure about hitting Iraq. And as Bush certainly knows, it’s hard to prosecute a war the nation does not want.

As a president who has specialized in cold-shouldering the world, George W. must find this incredibly frustrating. He has been beating the war drums – he’s been the Buddy Rich of war drummers – but all he’s managed to do is energize the political left, give it a focus and reason for existence it has lacked for years. Bush has almost single-handedly created a new anti-war movement. He has been much less successful in selling the nation, much less the world, on war.

I speak as someone who was willing to be sold – a supporter of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and a believer in the nation’s right of self-defense against terrorism. But I remain unsold. And more than that, morbidly suspicious that the push for action against Saddam Hussein’s regime is motivated not by clear and present danger but by a desire to clean up the unfinished business of the first Bush administration under the guise of a new phase in the war on terror.

To take Bush at his word that this is about pre-emptively hitting rogue nations that endanger us is to wonder why we aren’t hearing war drums against North Korea. I mean, that nation just admitted developing nuclear weapons in direct contradiction of a 1994 agreement. Why aren’t we preparing to go into Pyongyang?

Sorry, but it doesn’t add up. The president seems trapped by his own doctrine: the one that says, you’re either with us or against us.

Give him his due. Bush has had his moments. His moral clarity and icy, get-off-my-planet-by-sundown toughness were indispensable in the first awful days after the terrorist attacks. Indeed, the president’s post Sept. 11 speech to a joint session of Congress was one of the finest and most inspiring addresses by any chief executive in recent memory.

But the same tendency toward broad strokes and primary colors that served Bush so well in that setting impede him in others. He is discovering, belatedly and reluctantly, that the rest of the world matters and that going it alone, while fine for John Wayne movies, is sometimes problematic in real life.

Truth to tell, it’s another actor’s signature character who most vividly evokes George W. Bush for me. He comes across, after all, as an affable but intellectually shallow sort who was present for his greatest achievements without having quite earned them. President Gump.

So one wonders if he will be up to the task before him. If he understands that it will take more than tough talk to keep the trust we gave him in the days after Sept. 11. And if he possesses the intellectual and political agility to deal with an unpredictable world that seems to change with every sunrise.

Life is like a box of chocolates.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His e-mail address is: [email protected]

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