WASHINGTON For President Bush, the first word that the spy-plane stalemate with China was over came in a pre-dawn phone call yesterday from his national security adviser.
According to aides, Bush said “That”s great” when he heard that China”s state-run news media was reporting that the U.S. air crew would be sent home.
But he hid his elation as he stepped before cameras two hours later and announced matter-of-factly that a diplomatic deal had been struck.
“This has been a difficult situation for both our countries,” Bush said, reading a terse statement in the White House briefing room. Ignoring reporters” questions, Bush turned away from the microphones and headed to a previously planned trip to North Carolina. Aides said he did not want to say anything that might jeopardize the crew”s release.
Bush”s success in freeing the 24 crew members isn”t likely to erase all doubts about his ability to manage an overseas crisis. But if history is any guide, Bush will likely benefit politically, at least in the short term, from successfully meeting the first test of his young presidency.
The public”s assessment of how well a president is performing his job typically rises in the aftermath of a foreign policy crisis. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley recalled how President Gerald Ford”s popularity skyrocketed after 39 crewmen from the U.S. merchant ship Mayaquez were rescued in 1975 after being held for several days by Cambodian forces.
For Bush, standing firm against the Chinese and gaining the safe release of the crew would represent “a feather in his presidential cap,” said Brinkley.