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March 6 2001 3:00 AM


George W. Bush retracts his foreign policy campaign pledges.


During the campaign, George W. Bush accused President Bill Clinton of overextending the armed forces with namby-pamby, nation-building deployments, and of starving it of the resources it needed to do its job. "Our military is low on parts, pay, and morale," candidate Bush warned in his acceptance speech. "If called on by the commander in chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, ‘Not ready for duty, sir.' " But once ensconced in the White House, Bush climbed down, declaring that Clinton's military budget was sufficient after all.


To cover his retreat, Bush assigned Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to assess the military's needs and only then determine if additional billions were needed. But isn't it a tad peculiar to shoot your mouth off about U.S. military readiness first, and then assign fact-finders to verify?

Then last month, Bush climbed down again from his campaign sanctimony. You may recall that during the campaign Bush charged that Clinton had failed the test of leadership in letting the Gulf War coalition disintegrate, and that once elected president he'd bring back the good old days when our Arab allies obediently lined up against Saddam Hussein. But instead of getting tougher on Saddam, the Bush administration wants to "reinvigorate" the sanctions against Iraq. What "reinvigoration" means is that the administration wants to eliminate most or all sanctions except for those specifically on military supplies. Reinvigoration would even allow the transfer of many "dual use" technologies that have both civilian and military applications.

So why has the press given Bush so little heat for saying one thing and doing another? 1) He's playing against type: Most members of the press—who don't follow military matters that closely anyway—can't bring themselves to believe that Gulf War hands like Colin Powell and Dick Cheney are letting Saddam off easy. 2) Many commentators thought Bush's foreign and defense policy proposals were ill-considered and outlandish in the first place. They're happy to ignore his promise-breaking as long as he reigns in his previous "wacky" agenda. Of course, had Clinton relaxed sanctions, Republicans would have damned him for committing Chamberlain-like appeasement.

At some point, Bush is going to make some foreign policy move—like keeping Americans in the Balkans—that shows he's decided that Clinton's defense and foreign policy were right after all.

Oh, sorry. He's already done that.

Joshua Micah Marshall writes the Talking Points Memo.


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