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Sat, Aug. 24

Bush foreign policy only sounds like Reagan's

When then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush gave his first major foreign policy address as a presidential candidate, he could have spoken at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.

He didn't. He spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. Ever since, he's worked so hard to style himself as the reincarnation of the Gipper that when he leaves office, I half expect him to enroll at Notre Dame.

The efforts have paid off. Lately, whenever Bush opens his mouth on the subject of foreign policy, commentators draw on all their analytical skills and historical perspective and conclude, "Why, that man sounds just like Ronald Reagan!"

After a speech on his recent trip to London, The Wall Street Journal said Bush "echoed Ronald Reagan's exposition of America's Cold War principles during his famous speech to Parliament in 1982." When he invoked Reagan in an earlier speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, The Washington Post said "the philosophy was pure Reagan."

But any resemblance between the two presidents on foreign affairs is strictly rhetorical. Yes, Reagan tirelessly preached the virtues of freedom for all the world, but Bush is hardly the first president to follow that example. ("America's ideals – liberty, democracy and peace – are, more and more, the ideals of humanity." – Bill Clinton, Nov. 27, 1995) In the realm of actual policy, Bush has about as much in common with Reagan as Crawford has with Hollywood.

Overlooked in all this is a huge irony: The Iraqi dictator Bush recently deposed is the same Iraqi dictator that Reagan chose to help during the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein was fighting a war with Iran. Nor did Reagan agitate for democracy in that part of the world. When Bush accuses Western nations of "excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East" for the last 60 years, he might mention that his most recent Republican predecessors were as guilty as anyone.

This may sound like a minor inconsistency. In fact, it goes to the heart of Reagan's approach to foreign policy. However stirring his rhetoric, Reagan was a model of hard-headed prudence when it came to putting American lives and resources at risk. He didn't liberate Eastern Europe by attacking the Soviet Union; he simply built up our military power to discourage Soviet expansion. That's exactly the opposite of Bush's approach to Iraq.

Reagan saw democracy as the wave of the future, but he wasn't inclined to go to war for it. As a president, he had plenty of faults. But in the realm of foreign policy, what Bush rejects are Reagan's virtues.

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