George Dubya and “American Leadership”

One shouldn’t read too much into deviations from prepared texts, and in fact the prepared text of Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s remarks distributed to newsies during his California fundraising swing this week carried a warning right at the top "[Note: Governor Bush frequently deviates from prepared text]." He did so fairly often in minor ways without moving notably off-message or missing applause lines. But one deviation during the $500,000 fundraising luncheon in Irvine struck me as at least potentially significant.

The prepared text, after a promise to rebuild our military power "because a dangerous world still requires a sharpened sword," was as follows: "I will move quickly to defend our people and our allies against missiles and blackmail." But Gov. Bush delivered it as follows:
"I will move quickly to defend our allies against missiles and blackmail."

Does that mean that Gov. Bush simply skipped a couple of words or that somewhere in his consciousness he knows that "our people"-presumably the American people he repeatedly professed to love as unconditionally as he says George and Barbara loved him–face no particular threat from missiles or blackmail unless our leaders go out of their way to invite threats? That it’s mainly our purported allies although why we should insist on referring to nations with whom we have generally friendly relations as allies in the absence of a declared war (unless we’re in a state of permanent war) is a mystery to me but apparently to few others who are likely to need or desire would-be President George W.’s quick defense? That American military might now exists quite explicitly not for the defense of the United States but for the defense of its allies of the week?

I don’t know. As I said, he made numerous minor changes in the prepared text, perhaps only because he got bored delivering exactly the same words time after time and wanted to experiment with slightly different ways of saying pretty much the same thing. But it might well have been a barely conscious acknowledgment of the fact that the U.S. government now sees its role in the world as much more capacious than the mere defense of a country that still even in the era of ballistic missiles has natural defensive advantages that would make a tolerably reliable missile defense system and a bare-bones military quite sufficient to counter the peril of outright foreign invasion.

The only other insight I have into George Ws approach to foreign policy beyond the applause line "America must lead. Because our greatest export to the world is, and always will be, freedom" comes from a conversation I had with his top foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, during the week I spent as a media fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Ms. Rice’s conception of America’s proper role in the world is more expansive than mine, but perhaps not as ill-conceived or opportunistic as the Clinton administration’s.

Condoleezza Rice did say that some kind of military action in Kosovo was justifiable because of the scale of ethnic cleansing American intelligence believed Milosevic was about to undertake right in NATO’s back yard and in what she conceives as the United States’ natural security zone, which she sees as embracing most of Europe and the Middle East. But she believes the Clinton policy as it was carried out was a combination of intrusive aggressiveness and ineffectiveness that will lead to a longer-term commitment than was needed. She thinks it is a mistake to flail around the world calling ourselves the "indispensable nation" and hopes that we don’t let the idea of strategic air power and especially the cruise missile become a drug. She thinks that Gov. Bush will be more cautious in using rhetoric redolent of a grand world-saving mission because he understands that exercising power is not risk-free.

That’s not all that remarkable, of course. Even war hawks at the Weekly Standard and National Review are questioning the Clinton administration’s tactics and wondering what, if anything, was won during 78 days of bombing. But I also found Ms. Rice at least polite and attentive when I outlined my much more fundamental criticisms of the war (yes, I interview people to get their views, but I seldom resist the opportunity to convey mine in the process) and opined that a foreign policy consisting of reduced barriers to trade and immigration combined with a widely trumpeted policy decision that we would resist the temptation to intervene politically and militarily in the affairs of other countries would give the United States a better opportunity to lead by example and really export freedom.

The fact that Condoleezza Rice listened politely doesn’t mean she was persuaded or that she will instantly convey this notion to Gov. Bush as the next hot policy idea. She made it clear that she is an adviser and that the governor will make his own policy decisions. And the safest assumption is that George W. Bush is his father’s son and shares most of his father’s internationalist proclivities.

It is also true, however, that George W. if he becomes president will come to the job not after having been Ambassador to China, Ambassador to the UN. and head of the CIA, but having been Governor of Texas. Growing up in the Bush family he has surely moved in New World Order circles, but he might not have the same level of emotional commitment to foreign affairs and international organizations his father had. If he concentrates mainly on domestic policy and restoring dignity to the office of the presidency, he might be more cautious about jumping into foreign adventures than some others might be.

What all this really means, of course, is that those of us who do not relish a series of wars to expand and monitor the American Empire need to work harder to create an intellectually coherent and politically effective anti-imperialist movement that George W. or any future president will have to take into account when deciding about future interventions. Not that it will be easy.

Author: Alan Bock

Get Alan Bock's Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana (Seven Locks Press, 2000). Alan Bock is senior essayist at the Orange County Register. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995).