A 19th century observer, Edwin Percy Whipple, once said, “A
politician weakly and amiably in the right, is no match for a politician
tenaciously and pugnaciously in the wrong.” After several years of Bill
Clinton as president, Republicans undoubtedly agree with Whipple.
But after George W. Bush’s speech last Thursday, which has been
hailed by some as a masterpiece, it is clear that the Republican Party
is not putting forth a weak and amiable politician. If Al Gore and the
Democrats see George W. as a smiling booby, they’ve forgotten that
“booby” is the first word in “booby-trap.”
George W.’s amiability is dangerous. And if he is an empty suit (as
some would claim), it doesn’t matter. Because empty or not, it is
politically dangerous to assault an amiable booby-trap. In the case of
former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who lost her job to Bush in 1994, a
condescending tone and a few nasty barbs were of no help. The
condescension and nastiness merely redounded on Richards, and destroyed
If recent polls are accurate, Bush is a strong candidate. He also has
intelligent people supporting him. For example, we saw his foreign
policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who gave a remarkable speech.
Contradicting Bush’s “New World Order” image, Rice said that America’s
armed forces “are
not a global 911,” adding that George W. did not think “victory” was a
By arranging the speeches with cunning, the convention stage-managers
repeatedly touched on this theme of victory. The subtext was almost
subliminal. On three successive nights last week, a key player in the
elder Bush’s Gulf War victory delivered a speech. On Monday night Gen.
Powell spoke about education and race; on Tuesday night Gen. Norman
Schwartzkopf spoke from the deck of a battleship; and on Wednesday we
heard from former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (as Bush’s running
It is hard to imagine that this lineup was not calculated. And it was
not all shallow puffery. At the very least, it was deep puffery. For
those who were paying attention, Bush’s speech evidenced a strategic
design. Perhaps it is an illusion of the moment, but have we seen
anything this shrewd from either major party in recent memory?
The real question, though, is whether this apparent shrewdness will
be applied by Bush to the Russia and China problem? Will the same keen
attention to strategy and tactics, to nuance and detail, be used to stop
the Chinese in the Western Pacific? Will President George W. Bush –
assuming he wins in November — take back the Panama Canal, defeat the
Marxist guerrillas in Colombia, build a national missile defense, and
navigate safely through the midst of a Middle East crackup?
Arguably, that depends on whether Bush is a political strategist in
his own right, who can lead in foreign policy the way he leads in the
polls. Some might say that Bush owes his political success to Karl Rove,
who has sometimes been referred to as “Bush’s brain.” But is this really
It is known that Bush is no deep student of foreign or military
affairs. Last September he told Tucker Carlson of Talk magazine that he
doesn’t like to read long and serious works. But this aversion to
reading does not automatically disqualify Bush as a thinker in his own
right. History offers many examples of unschooled leaders with uncanny
Molly Ivins and Lou Debose wrote a critical book about the Texas
governor, entitled “Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George
W. Bush.” But even these hostile writers admit that Bush “has real
political skills” which are not to be despised.
There was also a fascinating piece on Bush written by David Brooks in
The Weekly Standard of Dec. 13. Brooks chronicled Bush’s involvement
with the Texas Rangers baseball team, where he served as managing
general partner from March 1989 to November 1994. According to Brooks,
Rangers’ team president Tom Schieffer admitted that Bush was not much on
details. But he
added that Bush “likes to participate in strategic decisions, and … to
recruit people to his staff.” Former Rangers’ manager Bobby Valentine
also made an interesting comment, saying that Bush got people to think
“outside the box.”
Nothing is more urgently needed than thinking outside the box
regarding American national security policy, especially when it comes to
Russia. But can Bush deliver in this area?
The accepted speculation of the moment holds that Colin Powell will
be Bush’s secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice will be his national
security adviser. In this context, it is important to note what Powell
and Rice think of Russia and China.
In Powell’s Monday night speech he said that we “defeated communism”
and he noted that “the sick nations will soon find themselves left
behind.” He added that “they are of the past and we are of the future.”
Seconding this worldview, on Tuesday night, Condoleezza Rice mentioned
“lifting our nuclear nightmare.”
But this way of talking is pointless. If Russia feels itself being
“left behind” as Powell says, there are yet thousands of nuclear
warheads that can put us behind too. And, as Nikita Khrushchev once
explained to Averell Harriman, this is one of Russia’s options.
What does it mean to say that “we are the future” if we cannot
prevent the world’s madmen from unleashing another world war?
It has been said that history is prologue to the future. If this is
true, we cannot avoid war forever. Some day it will come, whether we
want it or not. And on that day the words of Powell and Rice will be
remembered. But they will not be remembered as words of wisdom.
George W. Bush said in his speech that it was time for his generation
to grow up. But until Bush and his advisers realize that we hang by a
thread over a nuclear abyss, that we cannot safely negotiate any further
reduction in our nuclear arsenal, then no growing up is in evidence.
The Chinese and Russian leaders must have been reassured by the
speeches of Powell and Rice, who did not talk of cutting back trade with
the butchers of Tiananmen Square. At the same time, no mention was made
of danger from Russia’s strategic partnership with China.
Powell and Rice are two very bright people, very inspiring people,
who do not understand that the reforms in Russia have been used to gain
supercomputers and cash for a further military buildup. Despite being a
Sovietologist, Rice has failed to absorb the message repeated in one
Soviet text after another — and meticulously followed for nine long
years by the post-Soviet Russian leadership.
As P.A. Chuvikov once explained in “Marxism-Leninism on War and
Army,” Moscow seeks a concentration “of the main forces of the
revolution at the decisive moment at the most vulnerable point for the
enemy.” The leadership in Russia is therefore called upon to select “the
moment for the decisive strike,” which requires “unswerving conduct of
the course already selected in spite of difficulties and complications
on the way to the goal.”
Andrei Navrozov, a Russian-born author who once lived in America,
attempted to warn America in 1991. But he was mocked and criticized for
his trouble. Navrozov wrote of the coming “pan-Eurasian NEP when
totalitarianism puts on a capitalist face.” I talked with Navrozov in
1993 and 1995, and on both occasions he noted that American
conservatives were “the worst” when it came to this new Russian
deception. In fact, they were so intent on claiming victory in the Cold
War, they were beyond redemption, he said.
It must be recalled that President George Bush and the Republicans
were the ones who led the way in accepting the collapse of the Soviet
Union as genuine. They were the ones who announced the “peace dividend.”
When you believe in capitalism, it is hard not to believe in the victory
of capitalism. And this desire to proclaim victory blanked out their
minds and crippled their judgment. And so it was George Bush and Dick
Cheney who oversaw the first moves toward the elimination of U.S. Army
and Navy tactical nuclear weapons. Of course, the disarmament under
Clinton was drastic, but the Republicans led the way. And lest we
forget, it was Newt Gingrich who dared to call himself “a hawk.” But he
added, “I am a cheap hawk.”
What we saw last week at the Republican National Convention was a
brilliant political show. But its focus and its genius was domestic.
What we saw was an appreciation of unique problems and opportunities
here at home, within our own country. While it is possible that George
W. Bush is a
brilliant politician who will strengthen the military, it is unlikely he
will stem the tide of subversion while correctly estimating the threat
from China and Russia. By all accounts the man does not care much for
the details of foreign affairs. And his advisers, however intelligent
and well intentioned, are on the wrong track.