National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Veto Power Makes Bush Relevant

WASHINGTON — The dying months of the disastrous Bush presidency are beginning to resemble the twilight of the Clinton administration.

Both presidents have had to plaintively proclaim they were still "relevant" even as their epitaphs were being written.

Both presidents belatedly looked for a solution to the perennial Israeli-Palestinian problem to put a feather in their foreign-policy caps.

On that score, President Clinton struck out big time and petulantly put all the blame on the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Clinton supported a plan by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for Palestinian enclaves to be surrounded by Israeli checkpoints, making a mockery of Palestinian sovereignty. It would have been perilous for any Palestinian leader to accept that plan.

The failure of the peace talks was a blow for Clinton who gambled on a last bid to add a Middle East triumph to his fading presidency.

President Bush is in the same boat.

Bush repeatedly brags that he is the first president to endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

But he has done nothing except give it lip service and has been so pro-Israeli that the U.S. cannot act as an "honest broker" between the two. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is frantically trying to pull together a Middle East peace conference in November.

Bush also lost some of his credentials to tout democracy in the Middle East when he immediately cut off any dealings with the beleaguered Palestinian region of Gaza after the Hamas party won an election, fair and square.

Some humanitarian aid has been restored to Gaza but the economic squeeze is still on. Bush did not enhance the credibility of his drive for democracy by choosing to ignore the results of the legitimate internationally-monitored election.

If Bush wants to make a grand exit with a Middle East splash, he would do better by getting American troops out of Iraq where they are continuing Bush's unprovoked war.

He also should think twice before letting conservative hawks talk him into an attack on Iran. The inflammatory drum beat against Iran has an all-too-familiar ring that we heard in the run-up to the war on Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney and his cohorts are apparently the chief proponents for attacking Iran's military and nuclear facilities.

As for the relevancy of lame duck presidents, both Clinton and Bush were questioned about their relevancy at news conferences late in their presidencies, when both were suffering weakened political status.

Clinton — who had to deal with a Republican Congress — told reporters "the Constitution gives me relevance." He also played up his veto power to bolster his importance.

When a reporter suggested last week, that Bush has become "increasingly irrelevant," Bush replied:

"On the contrary, I've never felt more engaged and more capable of helping people to recognize… that there's a lot of unfinished business. And I'm really looking forward to the next 15 months. I'm looking forward to getting some things done for the American people."

He also noted that he still has veto power to block any legislation he doesn't like.

"This is one way to ensure that I am relevant," he said. "That's one way to ensure I'm in the process. And I intend to use the veto."

He proceeded to prove his relevancy by vetoing the expansion of children's health insurance. Sad to say, Congress upheld his veto.

Bush's poll standings remain low, but he still has the power to counter the Democrats — and often the will of the American people.

c. 2007 Hearst Newspapers