I looked at Blair 1999 on Saturday, so I thought I'd look at Bush 1999 today.
Did everyone see the "G.I. Woe" article in The Washington Monthly this past March? Nicholas Confessore noted that
"the military is more overstretched now than it was when Bush took office. During the first three months of this year, the United States had more than twice as many troops on overseas missions at any given time as it did in 2000. It's getting harder to recruit new soldiers, and, on the whole, harder to keep the ones we have. The Army is so short of some specialties that it has imposed stop-loss on about 50,000 troops--that is, refused to let them retire or resign--while in January, the Marine Corps imposed a 12-month stop-loss order on the entire service. Large swathes of the U.S. military thus no longer meet the definition of a volunteer force. Nor, increasingly, do the reserves."
And this was prior to the war against Iraq. 130,000 US troops remain in Iraq.
The Army announced today that National Guard and Reservists in Iraq will have to serve one full year -- and that time served mobilizing in the USA won't count.
So the troops are going to be there awhile.
Why is this important? Well, when George W. Bush was a mere candidate for the nation's highest office, he thought the military was over-extended and blamed low morale on extended deployments from the Clinton era.
Specifically, on September 23, 1999, Bush gave a major foreign policy address at The Citadel in South Carolina.
The following excerpt from the meat of the speech should remind everyone of the kinds of military policies Bush was promising before the 2000 election:
"As president, I will order an immediate review of our overseas deployments -- in dozens of countries. The longstanding commitments we have made to our allies are the strong foundation of our current peace. I will keep these pledges to defend friends from aggression. The problem comes with open-ended deployments and unclear military missions. In these cases we will ask, 'What is our goal, can it be met, and when do we leave?' As I've said before, I will work hard to find political solutions that allow an orderly and timely withdrawal from places like Kosovo and Bosnia. We will encourage our allies to take a broader role. We will not be hasty. But we will not be permanent peacekeepers, dividing warring parties. This is not our strength or our calling."
Now, one might be tempted to ignore all this. After all, 9/11 changed everything, right?
Well, Bush claimed in 1999 to have already recognized the priority of these new threats. The Citadel speech emphasized future threats from missile and WMD proliferation, terrorist car bombers, plutonium merchants and rogue dictators (mentioning Iraq and North Korea specifically). In short, he warned about "all the unconventional and invisible threats of new technologies and old hatreds."
"For most of our history, America felt safe behind two great oceans. But with the spread of technology, distance no longer means security. North Korea is proving that even a poor and backward country, in the hands of a tyrant, can reach across oceans to threaten us. It has developed missiles capable of hitting Hawaii and Alaska. Iran has made rapid strides in its missile program, and Iraq persists in a race to do the same...Add to this the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear terrorism -- barbarism emboldened by technology. These weapons can be delivered, not just by ballistic missiles, but by everything from airplanes to cruise missiles, from shipping containers to suitcases."
Thus, in 1999, while aware of the threats posed by the bin Laden's and Hussein's of the world, as well as their potential WMD, Bush criticized the problem of military over-commitment. Bush warned that the Clinton administration was too "freely" using the military, somewhat preposterously claiming that the US was involved in an "average of one [military] deployment every nine weeks in the last few years."
As a result, "Resources are over-stretched. Frustration is up, as families are separated and strained. Morale is down."
He continued: "But our military requires more than good treatment. It needs the rallying point of a defining mission. And that mission is to deter wars -- and win wars when deterrence fails. Sending our military on vague, aimless and endless deployments is the swift solvent of morale."
In the Wake Forest debate with Al Gore, Bush added this when discussing Somalia and other Clinton-era deployments:
Somalia "Started off as a humanitarian mission then changed into a nation-building mission, and that's where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building.
I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow a dictator that's in our -- and it's in our -- when it's in our best interests.
But in this case, it was a nation-building exercise. And same with Haiti, I wouldn't have supported either."
I'm not sure if Bush will suffer additional domestic consequences for the enormous reversal in his position.
But this certainly bears watching.
Indeed, a new ABC News polls found that 48% of Americans now believe the war in Iraq increased the risks from terror. Only 40% said it decreased them.
The story also quotes a survey taken by PIPA at Maryland:
"A survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland also found that, by a 2-to-1 margin, more Americans say the U.S. military presence in the Mideast increases the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Three-fourths of those polled said current foreign policy creates a climate that makes it easier for terrorist to recruit new members and raise money."
There is better news for the President in that story, but it now doesn't seem certain that Bush can uniquely assure US security.