WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration moved yesterday to control the damage from a milestone presidential trip to Asia that produced few significant economic gains while turning into a painful demonstration of the United States' competitive woes and Japan's new willingness to defy U.S. demands.
Landing at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland after the 12-day trip, President Bush conceded that he "might have achieved more" on what he had cast as a mission to help the recession-plagued U.S. economy, but he asserted that it will produce dividends later in the form of increased jobs and business opportunities for Americans.
"I don't think it's a bust at all," he said.
Yet Mr. Bush, who gave the trip such a high profile, has apparently drawn greater public attention to the economic problems bedeviling the country and virtually guaranteed that political opponents in both parties will continue to hammer away at his inability to protect American jobs.
As new unemployment figures were announced showing the jobless rate at its highest level in five years, White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner acknowledged that aides to Mr. Bush were "a little concerned" about negative assessments of the trip.
By all indications, the president will have a difficult time persuading Americans to view his trip in a positive light.
Beyond questions of presidential image, some critics suggested that Mr. Bush's trip demonstrated a broad failure of U.S. foreign policy in making the adjustment from Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union to the challenge of dealing with Japan's economic power.
"Japan is the size of two Germanys. It's the only place in the world that has real leverage over this country. And we don't know what we're doing," said Chalmers Johnson, a specialist on Japan at the University of California, San Diego. "American economic thought is being shown to be as outdated and irrelevant as the Marxism-Leninism taught at Moscow University. [National Security Adviser] Brent Scowcroft sounds very much like Marie Antoinette talking about a lost world."
The centerpiece of the trade mission was Japan's commitment to a new goal, which has emerged gradually over the past several months, to add to its purchases of U.S. auto parts by $10 billion over five years. In making his first specific claim about the rewards generated by his trip, Mr.Bush asserted to reporters aboard Air Force One that the deal would result in 200,000 new American jobs over the next five years.
"I think there's nobody suggesting anyone here is totally satisfied," Mr. Bush said. "What I'm saying is that we've made dramatic progress and it will result in jobs for the American worker."
But Clyde Prestowitz, a former Reagan administration trade negotiator, said that such promises of a new beginning sounded "like deja vu all over again. . . . I heard [former Commerce Secretary] Malcolm Baldrige say that, and I heard [former U.S. Trade Representative] Bill Brock say that."
Mr. Prestowitz pointed out that under the agreement worked out in Tokyo, part of the increase in Japan's purchases of U.S. auto parts will be the result of future increases in the number of cars to be produced by Japan's transplant automobile factories in the United States.
So far as his health was concerned, Mr. Bush said yesterday morning that he felt much better and had even eaten a full bacon-and-eggs breakfast. "I almost went running today, but I thought, 'Well, somebody would point out that was overdoing it,' " he said as he left Tokyo for the 12-hour flight home.
One Republican consultant conceded, "The best thing George Bush did on the trip . . . was to get sick, to divert attention from the absence of any trade progress."