David Sanger, chief Washington D.C. correspondent for The New York Times, spoke Thursday on "Bush Foreign Policy Legacy," discussing President George W. Bush's foreign policy for the past eight years and what the next president will inherit.
Speaking to an audience of approximately 50 people in the Sanford Institute for Public Policy, Sanger also talked about his experiences as a Washington correspondent during the Clinton and Bush administrations. His appearance, part of the Von Der Heyden Lecture Series, was co-sponsored by The American Grand Strategy Program, the Department of Political Science and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies.
In his discussion of Bush's foreign policy, Sanger focused on Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran, citing missed opportunities for the United States to develop stronger diplomatic relationships in all three nations.
The war in Iraq drained resources that the United States needed in order to deal with the North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats and maintain the initial stability in Afghanistan, Sanger said.
He praised the Bush administration for the six-party talks with North Korea, which he said was one of Bush's greatest accomplishments as President.
"This was about building some kind of way to manage problems in Asia that we've never had before," Sanger said.
Still, he criticized the Bush administration for foreign policy failures that he said would influence the next administration, adding that the current administration should have directed attention to North Korea earlier but was distracted by the invasion of Iraq.
The War in Iraq also emboldened Iran and sapped resources from efforts in Afghanistan, he said.
Sanger also discussed the unusual attitude that the Bush administration had toward the press.
"In the Bush White House, the press secretary, in most cases, was the last to know [about breaking stories]," he said.
In order to obtain information about the decisions being made within the Bush administration, Sanger said the press had to rely on members of Congress and foreign leaders, who often spoke anonymously.
"If reporters could run the world, everyone would be on the record," he said. "We don't have a desire to use anonymous sources... the truth of a matter is that it impinges on the credibility of what you're writing."
Sanger faulted the Bush administration's unwillingness to release information to the press for negative characterizations of Bush.
"[President] Bill Clinton wouldn't stop talking," Sanger said. "It enabled [the media] to explain the way [the administration] approached problems... and what's better for the country is a White House that can explain their views."
He added that Bush appeared to be less informed because the press had far less access to his decision-making process.
Sanger also weighed in on the role of the media in the current election and its coverage of past events.
"Boy, could we do a better job. Absolutely," he said of the news media.
He defended the current coverage of the presidential election and the coverage of the War in Iraq as fair and balanced, but he said the media should have more thoroughly examined the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"We ran some very lengthy investigative pieces on Iraq," Sanger said when asked whether or not The New York Times had adequately covered the human cost of the war.
He also said he believed the portrayal of Alaska Gov.Sarah Palin in The Times had been fair.
"[We discovered] a lot of the petty politics," he said of Paln's terms as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska.
Sanger noted that both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama would have to contend with the Bush legacy, which is the subject of his forthcoming book-"The Inheritance."
He added that the United States would need to return to diplomacy in order to regain their reputation in the global community.