President Bush ran for office as a "compassionate conservative." And he continues to nurture his conservative base — even issuing his first veto this week against embryonic stem cell research.
But lately his foreign policy has come under fire from some conservatives — including the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley.
CBS Evening News Saturday anchor Thalia Assuras sat down for an exclusive interview with Buckley about his disagreements with President Bush.
Buckley's Stamford, Conn., home is a tranquil place that allows Buckley to think, write and spend time with his canine companion, Sebastian.
"He's practically always with me," Buckley says.
Buckley finds himself parting ways with President Bush, whom he praises as a decisive leader but admonishes for having strayed from true conservative principles in his foreign policy.
In particular, Buckley views the three-and-a-half-year Iraq War as a failure.
"If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign," Buckley says.
Asked if the Bush administration has been distracted by Iraq, Buckley says "I think it has been engulfed by Iraq, by which I mean no other subject interests anybody other than Iraq... The continued tumult in Iraq has overwhelmed what perspectives one might otherwise have entertained with respect to, well, other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular."
Despite evidence that Iran is supplying weapons and expertise to Hezbollah in the conflict with Israel, Buckley rejects neo-conservatives who favor a more interventionist foreign policy, including a pre-emptive air strike against Iran and its nuclear facilities.
"If we find there is a warhead there that is poised, the range of it is tested, then we have no alternative. But pending that, we have to ask ourselves, 'What would the Iranian population do?'"
Buckley does support the administration's approach to the North Korea's nuclear weapons threat, believing that working with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea is the best way to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. But that's about where the agreement ends.
"Has Mr. Bush found himself in any different circumstances than any of the other presidents you've known in terms of these crises?" Assuras asks.
"I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology — with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress," Buckley says. "And in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge."
Asked what President Bush's foreign policy legacy will be to his successor, Buckley says "There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush. I don't believe his successor would re-enunciate the words he used in his second inaugural address because they were too ambitious. So therefore I think his legacy is indecipherable"
At 81, Mr. Buckley still continues to contribute a regular column to the National Review, the magazine he started 51 years ago.
By Thalia Assuras