I could have sworn I had posted this before on my site… but I can’t seem to find it. Back in 1999, as Bush was gearing up for his presidential run, he laid out a pretty thoughtful discussion of foreign affairs and national military strategy.
As president, I will order an immediate review of our overseas deployments – in dozens of countries. The longstanding commitments we have made to our allies are the strong foundation of our current peace. I will keep these pledges to defend friends from aggression. The problem comes with open-ended deployments and unclear military missions. In these cases we will ask, “What is our goal, can it be met, and when do we leave?” As I’ve said before, I will work hard to find political solutions that allow an orderly and timely withdrawal from places like Kosovo and Bosnia. We will encourage our allies to take a broader role. We will not be hasty. But we will not be permanent peacekeepers, dividing warring parties. This is not our strength or our calling.
America will not retreat from the world. On the contrary, I will replace diffuse commitments with focused ones. I will replace uncertain missions with well-defined objectives. This will preserve the resources of American power and public will. The presence of American forces overseas is one of the most profound symbols of our commitment to allies and friends. And our allies know that if America is committed everywhere, our commitments are everywhere suspect. We must be selective in the use of our military, precisely because America has other great responsibilities that cannot be slighted or compromised. And this review of our deployments will also reduce the tension on an overstretched military. Nothing would be better for morale than clarity and focus from the commander-in-chief.
I particularly the lines where he says, “And our allies know that if America is committed everywhere, our commitments are everywhere suspect” and “The problem comes with open-ended deployments and unclear military missions.”
I think that is exactly right. He made these arguments AFTER bin Laden had declared “war” on the United States. AFTER the 1998 embassy bombings. By then, there was already a bin Laden task force at the CIA, etc. Terrorism was already a problem, and we were already reacting to it.
So the question is, I guess, how sure are we that the actions of 19 thugs on the morning of September 11, 2001 changed all the thinking in this speech?
Bush got it right in September 1999, unfortunately, he — and many of us — overreacted on September 11, 2001. It is amazing to me that now, in 2010, we still can’t recognize the greater wisdom in the earlier Bush.