George Bush photo

Remarks at Maxwell Air Force Base War College in Montgomery, Alabama

April 13, 1991

Thank you all very, very much for that warm welcome. General Boyd and General McPeak, the distinguished Members of the Congress with us -- Senators Heflin, Shelby, and Bill Dickinson. Mayor Folmar -- a nonpartisan event, but I'm glad to see some friends of long standing over here -- [laughter] -- who were enormously helpful to me in getting to be President of the United States.

It is my great pleasure to look out across what essentially is a sea of blue, to meet this morning with the men and women of the Air University -- the Air War College, the Air Command and Staff School, the Squadron Officers School, and of course, the NCO Academy. And I'm glad to see democracy in action -- I see a Navy guy here or there, or maybe a coastguardsman -- [laughter] -- maybe the Marines, maybe the Army over here. And I think I recognize some friends from overseas, members of our coalition who helped us so much in achieving our objectives halfway around the world. They're more than welcome.

The history of aviation has been shaped here since the Wright brothers brought their strange new mechanical bird to Montgomery and housed it in a hangar not far from where we stand. This institution, from its early days as the Air Corps Tactical School, has defined the Nation's air strategy and tactics that have guided our operations over the fields of Europe and the seas of the Pacific, from the First World War to the 1,000 hours of Desert Storm.

It falls to all of you to derive the lessons learned from this war. Desert Storm demonstrated the true strength of joint operations: not the notion that each service must participate in equal parts in every operation in every war but that we use the proper tools at the proper time. In Desert Storm, a critical tool was certainly air power. And every one of you can take pride in that fact. Our technology and training ensured minimal losses, and our precision -- your precision -- spared the lives of innocent civilians.

But our victory also showed that technology alone is insufficient. A warrior's heart must burn with the will to fight. And if he fights but does not believe, no technology in the world can save him. We and our allies had more than superior weapons; we had the will to win.

I might say parenthetically, this will is personified by the man who leads you. I know that General Boyd often speaks about what he calls the unlimited liability of the military profession. He knows because he's put it all on the line. As a veteran of Vietnam, he flew 105 combat missions before being shot down over Hanoi. And he spent almost 7 years -- 2,500 cruel days -- in captivity. And yet he emerged brave, unbroken. He kept the faith to himself and to his nation.

And let me just say a word about this man over here on my left, General McPeak. I remember early on a meeting up at Camp David with Tony McPeak. Secretary Cheney was there; General Powell was there; Brent Scowcroft; other chiefs -- the other chiefs, I believe, were with us, Tony. And in a very laid-back way -- typical of him with his modesty -- but with total confidence, he told me exactly what he felt air power could do. And after he left -- I don't mean to show my native skepticism -- but I turned to my trusted national security adviser who's standing over here, General Brent Scowcroft, and I said, "Brent, does this guy really know what he's talking about?" [Laughter] And Lieutenant General Scowcroft -- Air Force Lieutenant General -- said, "Yes." And General McPeak did.

And to be doubly sure then -- and he'll remember this -- just before the war started, I invited General McPeak and Secretary Cheney to join me and General Scowcroft upstairs at the Residence in the White House -- quiet lunch there. And I asked Tony -- I think he'd just come back then from the theater, the other theater -- [laughter]. And I put the question to him -- I think this is exactly what I said: "Are you as certain now as you were up at Camp David?" And he said, "Even more so." And the war started just a few days later, and history will record that General McPeak was 100 percent right, right on target.

Here at Air University it's your business to read the lessons of the past with an eye on the far horizon. And that's why I wanted to speak to you today about the new world taking shape around us, about the prospects for a new world order now within our reach.

For more than four decades we've lived in a world divided East from West, a world locked in a conflict of arms and ideas called the cold war. Two systems, two superpowers separated by mistrust and unremitting hostility. For more than four decades, America's energies were focused on containing the threat to the free world from the forces of communism. That war is over. East Germany has vanished from the map as a separate entity. Today in Berlin, the wall that once divided a continent, divided a world in two, has been pulverized, turned into souvenirs. And the sections that remain standing are but museum pieces. The Warsaw Pact passed into the pages of history last week, not with a bang but with a whimper -- its demise reported in a story reported on page A16 of the Washington Post.

In the coming weeks I'll be talking in some detail about the possibility of a new world order emerging after the cold war. And in recent weeks I've been focusing not only on the Gulf but on free trade: on the North American free trade agreement, the Uruguay round trade negotiations, and the essentiality of obtaining from the United States Congress a renewal of Fast Track authority to achieve our goals. But today I want to discuss another aspect of that order: our relations with Europe and the Soviet Union.

Twice this century, a dream born on the battlefields of Europe died after the shooting stopped -- the dream of a world in which major powers worked together to ensure peace, to settle their disputes through cooperation, not confrontation. Today a transformed Europe stands closer than ever before to its free and democratic destiny. At long last, Europe is moving forward, moving toward a new world of hope.

At the same time, we and our European allies have moved beyond containment to a policy of active engagement in a world no longer driven by cold war tensions and animosities. You see, as the cold war drew to an end we saw the possibilities of a new order in which nations worked together to promote peace and prosperity.

I'm not talking here of a blueprint that will govern the conduct of nations or some supernatural structure or institution. The new world order does not mean surrendering our national sovereignty or forfeiting our interests. It really describes a responsibility imposed by our successes. It refers to new ways of working with other nations to deter aggression and to achieve stability, to achieve prosperity and, above all, to achieve peace.

It springs from hopes for a world based on a shared commitment among nations large and small to a set of principles that undergird our relations: peaceful settlements of disputes, solidarity against aggression, reduced and controlled arsenals, and just treatment of all peoples.

This order, this ability to work together, got its first real test in the Gulf war. For the first time, a regional conflict -- the aggression against Kuwait -- did not serve as a proxy for superpower confrontation. For the first time, the United Nations Security Council, free from the clash of cold war ideologies, functioned as its designers intended -- a force for conflict resolution in collective security.

In the Gulf, nations from Europe and North America, Asia and Africa and the Arab world joined together to stop aggression, and sent a signal to would-be tyrants everywhere in the world. By joining forces to defend one small nation, we showed that we can work together against aggressors in defense of principle.

We also recognized that the cold war's end didn't deliver us into an era of perpetual peace. As old threats recede, new threats emerge. The quest for the new world order is, in part, a challenge to keep the dangers of disorder at bay.

Today, thank God, Kuwait is free. But turmoil in that tormented region of the world continues. Saddam's continued savagery has placed his regime outside the international order. We will not interfere in Iraq's civil war. Iraqi people must decide their own political future.

Looking out here at you and thinking of your families, let me comment a little further. We set our objectives. These objectives, sanctioned by international law, have been achieved. I made very clear that when our objectives were obtained that our troops would be coming home. And yes, we want the suffering of those refugees to stop, and in keeping with our nation's compassion and concern, we are massively helping. But yes, I want our troops out of Iraq and back home as soon as possible.

Internal conflicts have been raging in Iraq for many years. And we're helping out, and we're going to continue to help these refugees. But I do not want one single soldier or airman shoved into a civil war in Iraq that's been going on for ages. And I'm not going to have that.

I know the coalition's historic effort destroyed Saddam's ability to undertake aggression against any neighbor. You did that job. But now the international community will further guarantee that Saddam's ability to threaten his neighbors is completely eliminated by destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

And as I just mentioned, we will continue to help the Iraqi refugees, the hundreds and thousands of victims of this man's -- Saddam Hussein's -- brutality. See food and shelter and safety and the opportunity to return unharmed to their homes. We will not tolerate any interference in this massive international relief effort. Iraq can return to the community of nations only when its leaders abandon the brutality and repression that is destroying their country. With Saddam in power, Iraq will remain a pariah nation, its people denied moral contacts with most of the outside world.

We must build on the successes of Desert Storm to give new shape and momentum to this new world order, to use force wisely and extend the hand of compassion wherever we can. Today we welcome Europe's willingness to shoulder a large share of this responsibility. This new sense of responsibility on the part of our European allies is most evident and most critical in Europe's eastern half.

The nations of Eastern Europe, for so long the other Europe, must take their place now alongside their neighbors to the west. Just as we've overcome Europe's political division, we must help to ease crossover from poverty into prosperity.

The United States will do its part -- we always have -- as we have already in reducing Poland's official debt burden to the United States by 70 percent, increasing our assistance this year to Eastern Europe by 50 percent. But the key to helping these new democracies develop is trade and investment.

The new entrepreneurs of Czechoslovakia and Poland and Hungary aren't looking to government, their own or others, to shower them with riches. They're looking for new opportunities, a new freedom for the productive genius strangled by 40 years of state control.

Yesterday, my esteemed friend, a man we all honor and salute, President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia called me up. He wanted to request advice and help from the West. He faces enormous problems. You see, Czechoslovakia wants to be democratic. This man is leading them towards perfecting their fledgling democracy. Its economy is moving from a failed socialist model to a market economy. We all must help. It's not easy to convert state owned and operated weapons plants into market-driven plants to produce consumer goods. But these new democracies can do just exactly that with the proper advice and help from the West. It is in our interest, it is in the interest of the United States of America, that Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary strengthen those fledgling democracies and strengthen their fledgling market economies.

We recognize that new roles and even new institutions are natural outgrowths of the new Europe. Whether it's the European Community or a broadened mandate for the CSCE, the U.S. supports all efforts to forge a European approach to common challenges on the Continent and in the world beyond, with the understanding that Europe's long-term security is intertwined with America's and that NATO -- NATO remains the best means to assure it.

And we look to Europe to act as a force for stability outside its own borders. In a world as interdependent as ours, no industrialized nation can maintain membership in good standing in the global community without assuming its fair share of responsibility for peace and security.

But even in the face of such welcome change, Americans will remain in Europe in support of history's most successful alliance, NATO. America's commitment is the best guarantee of a secure Europe, and a secure Europe is vital to American interests and vital to world peace. This is the essential logic of the Atlantic alliance which anchors America in Europe.

This century's history shows that America's destiny and interests cannot be separate from Europe's. Through the long years of cold war and conflict, the United States stood fast for freedom in Europe. And now, as Eastern Europe is opening up to democratic ideals, true progress becomes possible.

The Soviet Union is engaged in its own dramatic transformation. The policies of confrontation abroad, like the discredited dogma of communism from which those policies sprang, lies dormant, if not mortally wounded. Much has changed. The path of international cooperation fostered by President Gorbachev and manifested most clearly in the Persian Gulf marks a radical change in Soviet behavior. And yet, the course of change within the Soviet Union is far less clear.

Economic and political reform there is under severe challenge. Soviet citizens, facing the collapse of the old order while the new still struggles to be born, confront desperate economic conditions -- their hard-won freedoms in peril. Ancient ethnic enmities, conflict between Republics and between Republics and the central Government add to these monumental challenges that they face.

America's policy toward the Soviet Union in these troubled times is, first and foremost, to continue our efforts to build the cooperative relationship that has allowed our nations and so many others to strengthen international peace and stability. At the same time, we will continue to support a reform process within the Soviet Union aimed at political and economic freedom -- a process we believe must be built on peaceful dialog and negotiation. This is a policy that we will advocate steadfastly, both in our discussions with the central Soviet Government and with all elements active in Soviet political life.

Let there be no misunderstanding, the path ahead for the Soviet Union will be difficult and, at times, extraordinarily painful. History weighs heavily on all the peoples of the U.S.S.R. -- liberation from 70 years of communism, from 1,000 years of autocracy. It's going to be slow. There will be setbacks. But this process of reform, this transformation from within, must proceed. If external cooperation and our progress toward true international peace is to endure, it must succeed. Only when this transformation is complete will we be able to take full measure of the opportunities presented by this new and evolving world order.

The new world order really is a tool for addressing a new world of possibilities. This order gains its mission and shape not just from shared interests but from shared ideals. And the ideals that have spawned new freedoms throughout the world have received their boldest and clearest expression in our great country, the United States. Never before has the world looked more to the American example. Never before have so many millions drawn hope from the American idea. And the reason is simple: Unlike any other nation in the world, as Americans we enjoy profound and mysterious bonds of affection and idealism. We feel our deep connections to community, to families, to our faiths.

But what defines this nation? What makes us America is not our ties to a piece of territory or bonds of blood; what makes us American is our allegiance to an idea that all people everywhere must be free. This idea is as old and enduring as this nation itself -- as deeply rooted, and what we are as a promise implicit to all the world in the words of our own Declaration of Independence.

The new world facing us -- and I wish I were your age -- it's a wonderful world of discovery, a world devoted to unlocking the promise of freedom. It's no more structured than a dream, no more regimented than an innovator's burst of inspiration. If we trust ourselves and our values, if we retain the pioneer's enthusiasm for exploring the world beyond our shores, if we strive to engage in the world that beckons us, then and only then will America be true to all that is best in us.

May God bless our great nation, the United States of America. And thank you all for what you have done for freedom and for our fundamental values. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:16 a.m. in the Fuel Cell Hangar at the base. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Charles G. Boyd, Air University Commander at Maxwell Air Force Base; Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force Chief of Staff; Senators Howell Heflin and Richard C. Shelby; Representative Bill Dickinson; Emory M. Folmar, mayor of Montgomery; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia; and President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union.

George Bush, Remarks at Maxwell Air Force Base War College in Montgomery, Alabama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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