Position Paper


Position Paper Essay, Research Paper

The Victorian parlor of the Texas governor’s mansion is a cavernous place, which is a good thing, for the room was full of experts and egos. With their lofty academic pedigrees and service records in GOP administrations, they had come to Austin last summer to teach, to brief and to take the measure of George W. Bush. The topic this day was defense and foreign policy. The lecture began with a flip-chart talk. Within minutes, the governor interrupted. He’d read the briefing book. He had a question. “What’s the role of an army in the new century?” There was a stunned silence. Were they witnessing “the lightweight” of enemy lore or a CEO who knew how to cut to the core? Defense expert Richard Armitage stepped in, choosing to view the question as profound. Soon the group was in an impassioned discussion that formed the basis of an insightful speech Bush gave recently on the need to reinvent the military.

Now it’s exam time at George W. Uuniversity with a distinguished faculty and a student body of one. With the pace of a bar review and the purpose of a government in waiting, the faculty of GWU has spent much of this year training and focusing the governor on the issues he must deal with as a candidate and, if he is lucky, as president. It’s an unusual operation in American politics: an almost parliamentary-style “shadow cabinet” stocked with the best and brightest of a GOP establishment that yearns to reclaim power by educating the son of a man many of them worked for.

This week the experts will be in Austin again as Dubya works out the final wording and practices defending the details of his first major speech on foreign policy. The address, scheduled for this Friday at the Reagan Library, has become a high-stakes event. After he blew a pop quiz administered by a Boston TV reporter who asked him to name the leaders of global hot spots, critics once again declared that he had neither the wattage nor knowledge to become leader of the free world.

The new shape of the GOP race adds to the pressure. Sen. John McCain, a well-traveled war hero and defense expert, has emerged as Bush’s chief rival. And while the governor is at ease discussing education or crime, he hasn’t traveled widely or focused until recently on the larger world. Misnaming nationalities and mangling geography, Bush has drifted perilously close to the Dan Quayle Twilight Zone the butt of jokes on late-night TV and in newspaper cartoons.

In the sunny garden of the mansion late last week, Bush was both relaxed and a bit defensive about the attacks on his intellect and credentials. Being a successful leader on the world stage, he said, was about “good instincts and good judgment.” Similar doubts, he said, had been raised about other governors. “I’m confident the American people will end up trusting my judgment, just like they trusted the judgment of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all of them governors.” Still, he conceded, it was important to show that he had “firm views about how to keep the peace,” and that “I’ll have a foreign-policy team that’s the best that’s ever been assembled.”

In foreign policy, as in everything else, they are likely to be drawn from the faculty of GWU. Bush began building his own personal briefing machine long before he claims to have decided to run for president. It began with a gathering in April 1998 at the Palo Alto, Calif., home of former secretary of State George Shultz, who assembled fellows from Stanford’s Hoover Institution. A few months later at his parent’s summer home in Maine, Bush met Condoleezza Rice, who had served on his father’s national-security staff. “We spent three days asking each other a lot of questions about the world,” Rice said. “I didn’t just assume he had his father’s views.”

By last December, Bush had tentatively hired a staffer to administer GWU, a young investment banker named Joshua Bolten. Bush told him that he had already selected his first three policy advisers: Rice for foreign policy, former Federal Reserve Board member Lawrence Lindsey for economics and Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith for domestic issues. By this spring, the three department chairs had organized a network of scores of experts who are on call to attend briefings and submit papers to the Bush operation in Austin. Besides briefing the governor, GWU has had another purpose: to convince “the policy community” in the nation’s leading universities and think tanks that Bush was more than a handsome face with a famous name.

The governor, accordingly, hasn’t cut class. Goldsmith put together 18 task forces on issues from health-care spending to education. Since February a stream of what Goldsmith calls “smart conservatives” about 200 of them have weighed in with papers and advice. More than 50 of them have trekked down to Austin. “No politician should have to go though what we’ve put him through,” jokes Goldsmith. But the student body is an obstreperous one. “It’s unfair to view these sessions as people tutoring the governor,” says Goldsmith. “He dominates the conversations. He interrogates the academics.”

Bush isn’t interested in ideas for their own sake. “He’s looking for outcomes,” says adviser Bob Woodson. He doesn’t want to know more than he needs to know and he doesn’t want to know it until he has to. He was unfamiliar, for example, with Israel’s sale of military technology to China, even though the details were spelled out last week on the front page of The New York Times. Bush focuses when it’s time to give a major speech. Then a smaller circle of the GWU faculty gathers to help hone the message, and prepare him to defend it in detail. “At that point,” says Bolten, “he focuses on specifics in a very systematic way. He wants to be able to answer any reasonable question out there.”

The foreign-policy speech has long been in the works. It’s based, Rice says, on Bush’s mainstream Republican belief in free trade; a strong, state-of-the-art military, and selective, muscular interventionism that recognizes “we must have friends in the world” without eroding American independence. It sounds, in other words, not unlike the vision of a certain other Bush. The governor will seek to contrast himself with Bill Clinton by stressing the need for a president who clearly defines the essentials, and doesn’t launch the country on morally uplifting but strategically murky missions such as Kosovo and Bosnia. That means focusing on dealing with Russia and China, and the European powers.

Rice will be in Austin for the final “line-by-line” editing of the speech. The rest of the team includes Paul Wolfowitz of Johns Hopkins, international lawyer Robert Zoellick, Bolten and speechwriter Mike Gerson. Among their challenges: to find a phrase—like “compassionate conservatism”—to neatly summarize Bush’s vision of America’s role and responsibility as the superpower of the 21st century. By late last week no one on the team could come up with one, and it was almost time to open the blue book.



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