The Bush Team's Prospects

When President George W. Bush was governor of Texas, the hallmarks of his administration were the focus on a handful of big issues and the willingness to work with Democrats. Indeed "willingness" is too mild a word. Bush saw himself as a Texan governing on behalf of all Texans. He loved working with Democratic lieutenant governor Bob Bullock and, as Bullock's widow indicated in her speech at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the affection was returned. Reporters who have covered Texas Democrats have noted that the Democrats often comment on Bush's open-door policy, his willingness to listen to them, and his willingness to share credit with them.

The governor of all Texans is now the president of all Americans. He began his presidency by giving a victory speech in the Democratic-controlled Texas House of Representatives, before an audience including Democrats following an introduction by a Democrat, Speaker of the House James E. "Pete" Laney. In his speech he said,

Here, in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent. We had spirited disagreements and, in the end, we found constructive consensus. It is an experience I will always carry with me, and an example I will always follow.

Not only was the time and place of the victory speech unprecedented for a president-elect, it was also a shining example that Bush intends to display his leadership style from the beginning. He will please Republicans who want him to be firmly conservative but disappoint those who want him to be sharply partisan. He will consistently seek to achieve a key set of goals by including everyone except the far Left in his calculations. Unlike President Ronald Reagan, who stuck with one coalition of conservative Democrats, Bush will reach out on an issue-by-issue basis to any Democrat who offers new ideas or is willing to help.

This general tendency toward bipartisanship--or even conservative nonpartisanship--will be centrally evident in foreign policy.

The Dream Team

The personalities that will create this environment go beyond the president himself. Bush's initial appointments are remarkably well suited for establishing a national policy on foreign and defense matters. The strength of the Bush national security team guarantees a sound, cohesive approach to foreign policy rather than a partisan approach. They are inclined to approach their responsibilities in this manner by their personalities, by necessity, and by the nature of the very policies that they will follow.

Vice President Dick Cheney built strong ties with many Democrats during his ten years in the House. In addition, his service as secretary of defense during Operation Desert Storm gives him the stature and a practical set of ties with the Democratic Party that will enable him to communicate with colleagues from that party.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is a U.S. icon rather than a Republican leader. He is one of the most widely admired men in the United States, and either party would have embraced him upon his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His work with the nonpartisan volunteer organization America's Promise, in which he tirelessly crisscrossed the country on behalf of young people, has increased his stature. His best-selling memoir, My American Journey: An Autobiography, communicated a depth and patriotism that intensified support and respect for him throughout the United States. Because of these activities, he will be able to meet with Democratic leaders in a setting of good will and mutual respect. Additionally, the State Department needs such a great amount of structural reform that he will feel compelled to court Congress on a bipartisan basis to get the changes and resources that he will need to lead it effectively.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has a resume that will resonate with many Democrats. A child of segregation, she did not attend an integrated school until the tenth grade and actually knew one of the girls killed in the Birmingham church bombings. A former provost at Stanford University, she can match wits with the strongest intellectuals in the Democratic Party. Her energy and intelligence will enable her to build a personal network of friends and allies on Capitol Hill. Her experience working with Brent Scowcroft at the National Security Council during the first Bush administration and her close relationship with former secretary of state George Shultz gives her the background to understand why building bipartisan support is necessary and the knowledge of how to do it.

Finally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proved he could build a bipartisan team when he led the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (the Rumsfeld Commission). He managed to get unanimous support from the bipartisan panel on a report that stated the United States faced greater nuclear threats than the Central Intelligence Agency had reported. Rumsfeld's background gives him a working knowledge of Washington. From being the youngest member of Congress, he headed the "war on poverty" (Office of Economic Opportunity) under President Richard Nixon and became President Gerald Ford's chief of staff and then his secretary of defense. His political approach is to do his homework and win arguments based on facts. He is a practical negotiator augmented by two decades of experience in the private sector running major corporations. He will, by instinct and experience, turn immediately to building bipartisan support in Congress for the Bush defense program.

It is clear that the Bush administration will be strongly inclined to build a bipartisan program in national security and foreign policy. Candidate Bush clearly stated that he favored a more cautious, humble, and selective foreign policy than the Clinton administration followed. If he follows this formula, he is sure to create a policy that appeals to a broader spectrum of Americans as opposed to the divisive politics on foreign policy issues in the Clinton era.

Going to Extremes

Despite the news media focus on isolationists and protectionists, the vast majority of Americans want their country to occupy a leadership position internationally. They support the policies necessary and maintenance of the resources required to keep the United States strong and effective. Protectionist candidates always lose, regardless of the news media exaggerations of their influence on policy and popularity with voters. This trend is exemplified by Pat Buchanan, presidential candidate of the Reform Party, receiving less than 1 percent of the vote, and Ralph Nader, presidential nominee of the Green Party, receiving only 4 percent of the vote in 2000. Protectionist approaches may make news, but they do not resonate with voters.

Similarly, members of Congress who oppose mainstream policy create controversy to garner most of the news coverage. Meanwhile, the majority of the other members are voting with the mainstream position--and, therefore, the American people--almost in unanimity, but without the recognition from the media. As a general rule, a president can pass the necessary legislation to sustain his or her foreign policy objectives regardless of partisan politics. Although the media fuels the fire of extremist positions, when it comes time to vote, most members of Congress agree on the fundamental values of U.S. foreign and security policies.

The environment of the post-Cold War era makes it much easier for Bush to reach out to Democrats on a pragmatic, case-by-case basis because there are no longer automatic flash points for partisanship in foreign and defense policy. There is no automatic campaign against U.S. activities in Vietnam or Central America or on nuclear weapons development. To be sure, a left wing of the Democratic Party still exists that is inherently antimilitary, anti-free trade, and against U.S. dominance in the world, but it represents only about 100-110 votes in the House and about 20 votes in the Senate. An equal or slightly larger number of Democrats will be willing to work in a cooperative way with the administration on defense and foreign policy.

Moving to the Middle

Already, several issues appear ripe for cross-party coalition building. National consensus is building for somewhat greater spending on defense, a missile defense system in some form, U.S. participation in multinational institutions, and cooperation with other states through international agencies to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.

Moreover, the nature of a split electorate and split Congress will slow the leadership down and make it seek consensus. Barring a major mistake in foreign policy or an unforeseen key crisis, a broad consensus can be built to sustain the new administration on a host of initiatives.

On a series of major emerging issues, no natural right-left or Republican-Democrat split exists. These issues include helping Russia modernize its economy while minimizing corruption, negotiating a truce--if not a peace--between the Israelis and Palestinians, protecting Taiwan from attack while working with the Beijing government to modernize and liberalize China's economy, continuing negotiations within the World Trade Organization, and confronting European nations on their trade aggressiveness while maintaining the cohesion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The bitter partisanship that marked U.S. foreign policy from the Vietnam War to the end of the Cold War is now over, and there is reason to believe that the American people will overwhelmingly approve of their leaders working together on the nation's behalf in the world scene.

Perhaps the best illustration of achieving a bipartisan foreign policy is the success of the U.S. Commission on National Security in the Twenty-First Century, known as the Hart-Rudman Commission. The report outlines a series of reforms that will also have bipartisan appeal. It calls for significant changes that can occur only within a bipartisan framework. These proposals include reforming and strengthening the State Department, reducing waste and overhead while increasing resources for modernization of the Pentagon, and dealing with math and science education as a national security issue. A homeland defense system that includes a national missile defense is also proposed that would require investing significantly more resources in science and research and development and strengthening our defense industrial system as well as our space assets through reforms in procurement. The unanimous decision of this bipartisan commission--which included former senators Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), former representative Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), civil rights leader and former ambassador to the United Nations Andy Young, former ambassador to the United Kingdom Anne Armstrong, and myself--to call for these changes demonstrates the potential for such bipartisanship.

Reality Check

World realities will pressure legislative and executive leaders as well as Republicans and Democrats to work together. So many foreign leaders now visit Congress that members are constantly reminded of their responsibility for America's role in the world. Likewise, so many members of Congress now travel around the world that they have a much better sense of foreign affairs. When the prospect of conflict in Bosnia became imminent, a series of Air Force planes carried 85 members of the House to the region to visit our troops. When they returned, members displayed much less demagoguery and much more caution in policy recommendations to the Pentagon. The trips had driven home just how much our own troops watched Congress and relied on it for support through a difficult mission. The more we can encourage members of Congress to visit different parts of the world, the better it is for all Americans. Seeing another culture or situation has a greater impact than a dispatch and results in more responsible and realistic policy.

Finally, the information age is beginning to have its impact as globalization reaches middle America. The increasing number of Americans who travel overseas, have relatives overseas, or work for a multinational company creates a different tone in town hall meetings. Ask Peoria, Illinois, about the international sale of Caterpillar tractors; Omaha, Nebraska, about the international sale of wheat and corn; or Hollywood, California, about the foreign earnings of entertainment, and the collapse of isolationism will be much more apparent.

With a little care, a little luck, and a tremendous amount of work and listening, we could be entering a period of remarkable bipartisanship in national security and foreign policy. Not only because we can, but because we must. Foreign policy concerns and conditions are changing and demand immediate and intelligent response from U.S. leaders. I believe that the Bush team is more than capable of this task.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Rebuilding American defense: A speech by Governor Bobby Jindal
image Smelling liberal, thinking conservative
image Stopping Ebola before it turns into a pandemic
image All too many reasons for pessimism about Europe
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Event Registration is Closed
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Event Registration is Closed
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.