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The act-now, think-later president

Having denounced the Kyoto global-warming treaty, President Bush then asked the National Academy of Sciences to see if there was a global warming problem and then took to Europe a proposal for a multimillion-dollar research effort.

This was the latest manifestation of a disconcerting tendency in this administration to act first, propelled by ideological imperatives, and study later.

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The Rumsfeld-in-Wonderland Pentagon is working on a crash program to deploy a handful of missile interceptors before the end of the current presidential term, even if they have not been fully tested - and even if Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Mr. Bush will see in Slovenia tomorrow, is still refusing to agree to changes in the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

There are other examples in President Bush's record of "leap before you look." Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill denounced the Clinton administration for "too frequent" bailouts of failing economies. Now the Bush administration has endorsed a $17 billion World Bank and International Monetary Fund bailout for Turkey and $13 billion for Argentina.

Last March, President Bush upset the visiting president of South Korea by announcing, in the presence of his guest, that he didn't trust North Korea and had no plans to resume negotiations with the Kim Jong-il regime. Now the administration has announced new talks with North Korea. Maybe helping to change his mind was a memo forwarded by his father, urging on him the importance of these negotiations to end the threat of North Korean missiles.

The administration had said it didn't plan to send any special envoy to the Middle East. It has now sent two - CIA Director George Tenet and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, dealing, respectively, with a cease-fire and the resumption of peace talks.

At home, Attorney General John Ashcroft promised a new study of racial and ethnic inequities in federal death sentences. But meanwhile he plans to proceed with the execution of 19 men on federal death row, only two of whom are white.

But perhaps one should not be surprised at this tendency to act now and think later. This, after all, was the president who decided how much money he wanted to commit for tax relief before he knew how much he would need for defense, education, and prescription drugs.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor


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