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Remarks at the Richard Nixon Library Dinner

March 11, 1992

Mr. President, thank you, sir, for that wonderfully warm introduction. I, like I think everybody across our country, was once again so impressed when we saw what you did today in outlining foreign policy objectives of this country. And it's a wonderful privilege for me to be introduced by you.

If you will excuse me a little reminiscence, why, in '64, I ran with a spectacular lack of success for the United States Senate. In 1966, I started off to run for the Congress in Houston, Harris County. And it was then Richard Nixon, former Vice President, President-to-be, who came down there to kick off my little campaign. And I thought I was right on top of the world. And what he did in endorsing and supporting me and many others like me that year resulted in our picking up some 49 seats, I think it was, in the Congress and propelling me into a life that has been full and fascinating, sometimes frustrating but always rewarding. And I am very, very grateful to him then; I was grateful to him when I served while he was President, while I was head of the Republican National Committee. And I value his advice today. I get it. I appreciate it. And I'm very grateful to him for his continued leadership in this area that is so vital to the United States of America. So, Mr. President, my sincere thanks. And it's a great privilege to be here tonight.

And of course, I want to thank our friend, all of our friend, Jim Schlesinger, for his leadership on this; and Walter and Lee Annenberg for their fantastic support; of course, Julie and David Eisenhower over there. I agree with everything Jim Schlesinger said about Julie, first-class and wonderful. To Gavin and Ninetta Herbert and our friend George Argyros from California; John Taylor; Brian, over here; distinguished guests all; ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here among friends and to renew old ties.

A writer once said of Richard Nixon, his life "somehow was central to the experience of being an American in the second half of this century." I am proud tonight to salute a President who made a difference, not because he wished it but because he willed it.

As our 37th President, he placed crime and drugs on the national agenda; he created a pioneering cancer initiative; he ended the draft; and he created the EPA. And we've been fighting over the spotted owl ever since he created the EPA. But nevertheless -- [laughter].

As I said when his library opened, Richard Nixon will be remembered for another reason: dedicating his life to the noblest cause offered any President, the cause of peace among nations. A cause told in his books, now nine of them, each written out in longhand on those famous yellow pages, yellow legal pads.

So, I could not be more pleased, and I know I speak for Barbara on this, both of us, to be here this evening. And I'm pleased to be able to speak before this gathering devoted to exploring "America's Role in the Emerging World." The subject could not be more timely. The auspices couldn't be more appropriate. The Richard Nixon Library, and I was privileged to be there at the opening, stands as a monument to a President and to an administration devoted to an active, thoughtful, and above all, realistic approach to the world.

The challenge faced by President Nixon could hardly have been more daunting: How to maintain domestic support for a foreign policy mandated by a growing Soviet threat at a time that an overburdened America was fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam. What emerged, the policies of detente and the doctrine that bears the name of the 37th President, provided a balance between confrontation and cooperation. President Nixon managed this and more, extricating us from a war, negotiating the first comprehensive U.S.-Soviet arms control agreement, opening up relations with China, mediating disengagement pacts in the Middle East, all while preserving a consensus at home favoring continued engagement in world affairs.

To be sure, today's challenge is fundamentally different. Yet I think we'd all agree it does bear some resemblance. Once again we've got to find a way to square the responsibilities of world leadership with the requirements of domestic renewal. What we must do is find a way to maintain popular support for an active foreign policy and a strong defense in the absence of an overriding single external threat to our Nation's security and in the face of severe budgetary problems. In this post-cold-war world, ours is the wonderful, yet no less real or difficult challenge, really, of coping with success.

This challenge is by no means unprecedented. Think back to the era after World War I or the years in the immediate wake of World War II. In both instances, the American people were anxious to bring their victorious troops home, to focus their energies on making the American dream a reality.

Perhaps more instructive, though, are the differences between our reactions following this century's two great wars. After World War I, the United States retreated behind its oceans. We refused to support the League of Nations. We allowed our military forces to shrink and grow obsolete. We helped international trade plummet, the victim of beggar-thy-neighbor protectionism. And we stood by and watched as Germany's struggling democracy, the Weimar Republic, failed under the weight of reparations, protectionism, and depression and gave way to the horror that we all know as the Third Reich.

Likewise, our initial reaction to victory in World War II showed little learning. But galvanized by an emerging Communist threat spearheaded by an imperialist Soviet Union, the United States acted. NATO, the IMF, the World Bank, the Marshall plan, these and other institutions prove that Americans grasped the nature of the challenge and the need to respond. Our military was modernized, free trade nourished, U.S. support for former adversaries Germany and Japan made generous. It was fitting that Dean Acheson titled his memoirs "Present at the Creation" for these years were truly creative.

The result, as they say, is history. We kept the peace. We won the cold war. Democracy is on the march. Now, for the third time this century, we've emerged on the winning side of a war, the cold war, involving the great powers. And so, the question before us is the same: We have won the war, but are we prepared to secure the peace?

That is the challenge that we must face. Yet already, there are voices across the political spectrum calling, in some cases shouting, for America to "come home, gut defense, spend the peace dividend, shut out foreign goods, slash foreign aid."

You all know the slogans. You all know the so-called solutions, protectionism, isolationism. But now we have the obligation, the responsibility to our children to reject the false answers of isolation and protection, to heed history's lessons. Turning our back on the world is simply no answer; I don't care how difficult our economic problems are at home. To the contrary, the futures of the United States and the world are inextricably linked.

Just why this is so could not be more clear. Yesterday we saw conflict, and today, yes, the world is a safer place. Yes, the Soviet Union -- aggressive, looking outward -- that we feared is no longer. But the successor Republics are still struggling to establish themselves as democracies, still struggling to make the transition to capitalism. We invested so much to win the cold war. We must invest what is necessary to win the peace. If we fail, we will create new and profound problems for our security and that of Europe and Asia. If we succeed, we strengthen democracy, we build new market economies, and in the process we create huge new markets for America. We must support reform, not only in Russia but throughout the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

As a former President, Richard Nixon is a prolific author. As President, he wrote a chapter that previewed the new world order. Today we are building on RN's roots planted in Tel Aviv and Cairo and Moscow and Beijing. Look at the lands of the former Soviet Union, reaching out toward Western ways. Look at the fledgling democracies here in our own hemisphere. You talk about an exciting story, look what's happening south of the Rio Grande, all moving towards democracy except one. Look at Cambodia and its neighbors in Southeast Asia, yearning for an end to decades of violence, or at the historic peace process in the Middle East, one that holds out the hope of reconciling Israel and her Arab neighbors. Long way to go, but they're talking. Look at a U.N. that may at long last be in a position to fulfill the vision of its founders. Look at Africa, the changes in South Africa. Look at the exciting changes in Angola or what happened in Zambia. The success of each depends on U.S. support and leadership.

Look, too, at the threats that know no boundaries, these insidious threats like drugs and terrorism and disease and pollution and above all, the one that concerns me perhaps the most, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. They, too, will yield only to an America that is vigilant and that is strong.

In the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda -- I hope all of you have seen it; if you haven't, you ought to do that -- there's a world leaders room, a room of giants who provided such leadership, Churchill and Chou En-Lai and Charles de Gaulle. President Nixon not only knew the greatest statesmen of the 20th century, he became one of them; like them, judged by disasters averted and dreams achieved.

A former aide once told of how President Nixon asked about a foreign policy speech. The aide shook his head. "Frankly," he said, "it's not going to set the world on fire." President Nixon shook his head. "That's the whole object of our foreign policy," he said almost to himself, "not to set the world on fire." [Laughter]

Yes, carrying out a leadership role in determining the course of the emerging world is going to cost money. But like any insurance policy, the premium is modest compared to the potential cost of living in a warring and hostile world. Many in Congress today, perhaps for understandable reasons, domestic policy considerations, are calling for a peace dividend. They would have us slash defense spending far below the reduced levels that we have calculated would be prudent. This must be resisted. The United States must remain ready and able to keep the peace; a well-trained, well-equipped military cannot simply be created overnight if and when the need arises. Anyone who has ever gone to war knows that peace is its own dividend.

Those who would have us do less ignore the intimate interrelationship between overseas developments and those here at home. If we had not resisted aggression in the Gulf a year ago, if we had not liberated Kuwait and defeated Iraq's invading army, we would now be facing the economic consequences not of a mild recession but of a deep depression brought on by Saddam Hussein's control over the majority of the world's oil. And I am absolutely certain -- I expect we could get a good lively debate in this room of enormously intellectual people -- but I am absolutely certain in my mind that if we had not moved against Saddam, he would be in Saudi Arabia today. The coalition would have fallen apart. He would be in Saudi Arabia, and we would be facing agony like we've never faced before in the history of our country.

It is a pipedream to believe that we can somehow insulate our society or our economy or our lives from the world beyond our borders. This is not meant to suggest that we should not do more here at home. Of course we should. But foreign policy, too, is a powerful determinant of the quality of life here at home.

Isolationism is not the only temptation we need to avoid. Protectionism is another siren song which will be difficult to resist. There are, indeed, many examples of unfair trade practices where U.S. firms get shut out of foreign government markets owing to trade barriers of one sort or another or owing to foreign government subsidies. But the way to bring down barriers abroad is not to raise them at home. In trade wars there are no winners, only losers.

Export growth is a proven economic engine. We estimate every billion dollars in manufactured exports creates 20,000 jobs for Americans. And we should have no doubts about the ability of our workers and farmers to thrive in a competitive world. Our goal must be to increase, not restrict, trade. Opting out, be it under the banner of protection or isolation, is nothing more than a recipe for weakness and, ultimately, for disaster. And that's why I am so determined to do all I can to successfully conclude the Uruguay round, GATT, and to get a fair trade agreement with Mexico, the North American free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. It is important to us; it creates jobs in the United States.

Now, if I can choose a theme for you to take away from what I have to say tonight, it is this: There is no distinction between how we fare abroad and how we live at home. Foreign and domestic policy are but two sides of the same coin. True, we will not be able to lead abroad if we are not united and strong at home. But it is no less true that we will be unable to build the society we seek here at home in a world where military and economic warfare is the norm.

Ladies and gentlemen, the responsibility for supporting an active foreign policy is one for every American. But this task, in some ways, falls especially upon those in this room tonight. We are entering a world that promises to be more rather than less complicated. I thought when we were facing an imperial Soviet communism that that was the most complicated of times. I don't see it that way; more rather than less difficult to lead in this world. And again you have a special responsibility to help show the way, all of you.

Mr. President, there have been literally millions of words written about you. As President Reagan said, some even have been true. But let me close with words that you used 33 years ago in the kitchen in Moscow in that famous meeting with Khrushchev, former Premier Khrushchev.

You describe the scene memorably in your last book, "Seize the Moment." When Khrushchev bragged that "Your grandchildren will live under communism," you responded that his grandchildren would live in freedom. He was wrong, but at the time you weren't sure you were right. Today, we know you were, just as you were right in helping build a safer, more peaceful world.

As we look toward the future, the only thing that is certain is that it will bring a new world. Our task, our opportunity is to make it orderly, to build a new world order of peace, democracy, and prosperity. Let's dedicate ourselves to making the most of this precious opportunity, of this privilege.

Thank you all very much. Mr. President, thank you, sir. It's a joy being with you. And may God bless the United States.

Note: The President spoke at 9:35 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to James Schlesinger, chairman of the conference on "America's Role in the Emerging World" sponsored by the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace; Walter H. Annenberg, Gavin Herbert, and George Argyros, members of the library's board of directors; Mr. Annenberg's wife, Lee; Mr. Herbert's wife, Ninetta; John H. Taylor, director of the library; and Brian Crozier, British biographer of Charles de Gaulle. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George Bush, Remarks at the Richard Nixon Library Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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