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Sunday, May 01, 2016

Bush on nation building

Was Donald Trump's foreign policy speech this week that far removed from George Walker Bush?

Hop into the Wayback Machine. Set the date for October 11, 2000. Place, Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Bush and Gore are holding a presidential debate:
MODERATOR: Should the people of the world look at the United States, Governor, and say, should they fear us, should they welcome our involvement, should they see us as a friend, everybody in the world? How would you project us around the world, as president?
BUSH: Well, I think they ought to look at us as a country that understands freedom where it doesn't matter who you are or how you're raised or where you're from, that you can succeed. I don't think they'll look at us with envy. It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us. And it's -- our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we have to be humble. And yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom. So I don't think they ought to look at us in any way other than what we are. We're a freedom-loving nation and if we're an arrogant nation they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation they'll respect us.
The conversation turned to Somalia.
BUSH: Started off as a humanitarian mission and it changed into a nation-building mission, and that's where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow the dictator when it's in our best interests. But in this case it was a nation-building exercise, and same with Haiti. I wouldn't have supported either.
He hit Haiti:
BUSH: I'm worried about over-committing our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. You mentioned Haiti. I wouldn't have sent troops to Haiti. I didn't think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation building mission, and it was not very successful. It cost us billions, a couple billions of dollars, and I'm not so sure democracy is any better off in Haiti than it was before.
There were missions he supported: Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf War, and Bosnia. And he warned: "The coalition against Saddam has fallen apart or it's unraveling, let's put it that way. The sanctions are being violated. We don't know whether he's developing weapons of mass destruction. He better not be or there's going to be a consequence should I be the president."

But Bush was no neoconservative.
BUSH: I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation building core from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops. I strongly believe we need to have a military presence in the peninsula, not only to keep the peace in the peninsula, but to keep regional stability. And I strongly believe we need to keep a presence in NATO, but I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious.
To portray Trump's speech as a rebuke of Bush is not entirely accurate. Both men oppose nation-building. Both are wary of intervention. Both want a strong military.

Events dictate presidencies. Had his father removed Hussein in 1991...


  1. Not sure if it's fair to criticize Bush 41 for not removing Hussein in '91 as I don't think our coalition at the time supported it and as events show, you can't leave a vacuum in the Middle East and not expect evil people to fill it.

  2. 9/11 was a year in the future. And Dubya had no better a crystal ball than any of the rest of us.

    Besides, going to Iraq had a geopolitical component - it boxed in Iran.

  3. Bush’s presidency will be remembered by history for his failed attempt to institute democracy in Iraq, a characteristically quixotic neocon nation-building exercise. To judge Bush to be other than a neocon on the basis of some interview he gave before his election is wrong. When faced with real world decisions, Bush behaved like a neocon and engaged in nation-building and failed. Today Iraq is in worse shape and the world is a more dangerous place than under Saddam because of Bush’s neocon policy.

    Bush’s policy in Iraq is in its broad outlines indistinguishable from Obama’s equally feckless policies in Libya, Egypt and Syria. Let’s pray Trump has learned from this multi-decade record of stupidity. Those countries have the governments they deserve and it is none of our business.

    Steve in Greensboro

  4. If Bush was against "nation building" then how did he get roped into the Iraq disaster? It seems like our choices for him are liar or fool.

  5. Bush won in Iraq.Obama did not want to keep the winnings because to do so would have been to preserve the legacy of a political enemy he had opposed. He may have even hoped it would fall apart so he could be "right". Bush believed that you have to be where the enemy is not wait for him to come to you. Trump is now backing off his Iraq hating by saying both Bush and Obama had bad advice. He wants to use Clinton's vote for the war against her when it was made in good faith,probably one of the few things she ever did for a good reason.Trump even praised Obama tonight for his comic ability, probably hoping to start soliciting Black and Dem votes and even women. Obama screwed up Iraq as his own Sec Def has stated but he won't be blamed for it by Trump or any one for at least a generation. The left hates a winner from the right more than anything in the political universe. The recent attacks on Reagan are in the same vein .