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Bush Sr.'s 'message' to Bush Jr.

WASHINGTON -- IT'S NOT AS THOUGH Osama bin Laden gave a Jihad Award to Ariel Sharon, or Donald Rumsfeld gave his Good Pal Award to Condoleezza Rice. It's not even as though Dick Cheney gave his Favorite Foreigners Citation to the French.

But the news from College Station, Texas, this week -- that the First Father, former President George H.W. Bush, has given his own most treasured award to Senator Edward Kennedy -- is nearly as astonishing.

When it was announced (with amazingly little fanfare) that the pugnaciously anti-Iraq war Democrat Kennedy had been awarded the 2003 George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service, so many jaws dropped all over Washington that usually voluble politicians were only heard swallowing their real thoughts.

Since the current President Bush veered away from the real war against terrorism in Afghanistan and went a'venturing in Iraq, much to his father's dismay, just about everybody close to Washington politics has known of the policy schism between father and son.

It was politically and philosophically obvious. But people around Father Bush, a coterie of traditional internationalist conservatives who protect him like a wolf mother does her cubs, would heatedly deny any family rift -- and nobody spoke publicly about it.

Now it's all out. Father Bush has done it in his own preferred nuanced way -- the way Establishment gentlemen operate -- but he has revealed the depth of his disagreement with his impetuously uninformed son.

And won't it be interesting to analyze the speeches citing Teddy, who is surely one of W's primary political nemeses, for his public service and principles at the Bush Library Center on the Texas A&M campus on Nov. 7? One can bet they will be subtle -- but also very clear.

The ideological rift between father and son has been growing ever since George W. began focusing on Iraq and, with that obsession, proposed "theories" of unilateralism (America needs room in the world) and preemption (kill even your perceived enemy before he kills you).

But while family friends say Father Bush has made his disagreements known to his son, they clearly have not found fertile soil in this White House.

More curious, and in many ways depressing, is the fact that this President Bush has embarked upon a policy designed to counter, or even to wipe out, his father's entire political legacy.

The father lived his life in the service of moderate and intelligent internationalism. His manners were always meticulously courteous, as he wooed even critics overseas to see the American position. He was even-handed in the Middle East and thus brought the area to the verge of peace for the first time in history; he was capable of using force but preferred to do it supported by coalitions of friendly states, thus cementing international cooperation.

The son seems to have made posturing against his father's accomplishments and beliefs his life's work.

W has given way to a radical right that abhors international coalitions and manners; he mocks the world and denies any need for its help. He has led the Middle East to the nadir of its hope and possibilities, and he has led the United States to a moment in history in which we face asymmetric warfare from one end of the globe to another.

And above all, he has replaced his father's courtesy and good graces with an almost proud rudeness and scorn for others.

Why? I'll leave the question of "killing the father" to the psychiatric thinkers. Meanwhile, the tension between these two men reveals itself daily.

November 7 will give us a chance to see how this tension, which is crucial to the public and political lives of all Americans, plays out. In the Bush Library announcement of the award to Teddy Kennedy, the spokesman praised the liberal senator as a man who "consistently and courageously fought for his principles," and as an "inspiration to all Americans."

You know what I wish (besides being able to read the president's mind)? I wish Father Bush would drop his polite reticence and tell us what he and the team of his presidency really think about what is happening in America today. I think, as responsible citizens, we deserve that.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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