Chancellor of the Alexander Order
One of a thousand points of light-a new book by George Bush-mother of governors is doing well-an unabashed optimist-10th anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall-trip to Berlin and Prague in November-history will be kind to Gorbatchew-leadership and courage-need to rebuild bridge between Russia and United States-character does make a difference-public service is noble: try it, you'll like it!
'I think I married the most popular woman in America,' joked President Bush at the Alumni Arena at the University of Buffalo, after being introduced by its president William Greiner. He came to start this year's Distinguished Speakers Series, on invitation of the student association.
'I am not here to lecture, I will just share some thoughts with you about what I have learnt in 75 years on this globe, and I am still learning. I don't believe you can be too old to learn. For instance, I know the students with us were admitted free. This, experience teaches us, is both good news and bad news. The good news is, you save $ 50, the bad news is, you get what you paid for!
And another thing you learn when you get to be 75 years old, is that time really flies by. I can hardly believe that this January 10th it is ten years since I was sworn president of the United States, and also six years since I was sworn out, receiving what Winston Churchill called "The Order of the Boot."
I miss the people in the White House, the wonderful White House staff. Fortunately for Barb and me, life continues to be full. We spend time with family and friends, lot of travel, speechmaking. We also try to do what we can to help in our communities. I am going to be the chairman of the great Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston, Barb is faithful attendee of the Mayo Clinic, she is very active with her Family and Literary Foundation, doing a great job with that, and we are both active with Americares. And I am on the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowship, and I am working with our Library and our School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University. We are trying to be, what I called when I was President, "one of a thousand points of light," because you see, I honestly believe that there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.
And I am told that campus life here includes a lot of community organizations. It does not matter if you are a former president or a student, it is important to get involved, and give something back and that really is the spirit of being one of a thousand points of light!
In addition, I have done a little writing. I am not writing a memoir, I cannot remember all those things that happened, what I told on this or that occasion to my friend Helmut Kohl in Bonn, and so on. But we recently finished a book of letters, which will be out next week, published by Scribners. I am sure the book will not be a bestseller, but it is my substitute for a memoir, starting when I was 18 years old writing to my mother, with some very naïve views, I might add.
Barbara wrote this great bestseller memoir, it is called Barbara Bush Memoir, and it was wonderful, it was on the New York Times bestseller list. And then, she also helped Millie, our dog, to write a book called Millie's Book. It made $ 1,200,000 to help to fight against illiteracy, and it didn't seem fair, because Millie was totally illiterate. And here I am, writing a book called The World Transformed with General Scowcroft, and it never sold anything like that. It is the definitive view, however, of our foreign policy efforts when I was President of the United States.
As for Barb, I am happy to report that the mother of governors is doing quite well. A friend is Washington said, "we don't see Barbara here much any more, she went back to Texas to breed governors" but that's not what she's doing tonight!'
'But I was asked to talk tonight about our world and where it is headed going into the next millenium.
And for starters, let me just say to the young people here, I wish I were a student, I wish I were 20 instead of 75. I wish I were just starting, because I am an unabashed optimist about the kind of world that you all will be living in as we move into the next millenium. There are some problems out there, and I will discuss them briefly, but I am an optimist about the kind of world you are inheriting and which you will live in.
And how can I be so sure? Well, I guess every historian here, every teacher of history will tell his students, you can't learn about the future without understanding the past. And one reason I am optimistic, it that I saw this change happening day after day during the four years that I was privileged to serve as President. Not only in this country, as we knocked down the barriers to civil rights, and we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, we got the Clean Air revisions, and all that, but also we saw the historic change that was unprecedented, in the four year period.
We saw the Berlin Wall come down, we saw Germany unified, finally overcoming the barrier placed on it after World War II, we saw the Soviet Union that was our enemy for years in the Cold War, virtually implode, literally come apart at the seams. And if I had told you 15 years ago that there would be no Soviet Union, you would have me sent to a psychiatric ward for analysis! And it happened that fast
And then we saw the Central and Eastern Europe become free, we saw the three Baltic states become free, and we saw the Warsaw Pact, which was an enemy of NATO, come apart. And all this in this very short period.
On November 8th I am going to Berlin to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the most dramatic highlights of my presidency. And then, one week later, I will be in Prague with Vaclav Havel, the great poet, now president of Czech Republic, as we celebrate together the 10th anniversary of the 'Velvet Revolution."
Havel, incidentally, is one of the most down-to-earth, modest, private leaders that I have ever met. He was a poet, thrown into prison, and ultimately he became the symbol of freedom, the symbol of democracy for his fellow countrymen, indeed, for much of Europe and the rest of the world.
As president, I will never forget as I went to Prague to celebrate the first anniversary of freedom and democracy. The crowd was estimated to be 750,000 to 1,000,000 people. I arrived at the St. Wenceslas Square, and it was full of people, as far as you could see, in the middle of Prague, simply to express their gratitude for freedom, their gratitude for democracy. And this was a profound lesson to me, and I have tutored and studies about democracy, but I felt it there and saw the strong impact that it made.
And one of the reasons I am optimistic about your future, students' future, is that I don't believe that anyone can turn back the clock and set it back to totalitarianism or rigid fascism or whatever you want to call it.
The power of freedom is great, and that is the reason why I believe that I have a right to be optimistic about the future. So, I fully expect both of these return visits to be very emotional visits, and I know that I will never forget the emotions that I felt inside at the time, as piece by piece the Berlin Wall came down, that obscene barrier that divided brother from brother, family from family, for many, many years. And it was an indescribably joyous occasion, but a somebering one, too, because we did not know how the Soviets would react.
One of the reporters in my Oval Office asked me, "Why are you not openly rejoicing? Why haven't you expressed the emotion that we, American people feel? You are not willing to stand on top of the Berlin Wall and dance with students?"
Well, let me tell you something about leadership. Leadership is not always something that will jack you up a couple of points in the polls. Leadership is sometimes to curb action, or lack of action, and had I gone to Berlin at that moment, and stuck my finger into Michail Gorbatchew's eyes, only to please the press who knows? We did not know how the Soviet military and their legions in Poland, their legions in Hungary, and their legions in East Germany would react. We did not know if the Soviet military might say, 'Hey, Mr. Gorbatchew, enough is enough, and we are not going to stand for this, and we are going to do something.' And it would have been a catastrophe if we had overplayed our hand.
United States committed vast resources to winning this ideological struggle, and communism ultimately collapsed under its own weight. I remember my predecessor Ronald Reagan being ridiculed in the many editorials in the press when he said, 'Mr. Gorbatchew, tear down the Wall!' And that he called the Soviet Union the 'Evil Empire.'
But what happened at that time, military spending increased, he was criticized for that, but the Russians concluded, but not just Gorbatchew, but some of his predecessors, that they would not be able to win the arms race against the United States, and that led them to Gorbatchew moving forward with glasnost, perestroika, openness, reform, and brought about significant changes. And incidentally, I think that history will be very, very kind to Michail Gorbatchew.
You know, he was considered a hard-liner at first, his wife was considered an ideologue, she taught Marxism at one of their great universities in Russia, but I noticed that she was buried in a Christian cemetery the other day, and his daughter was wearing a cross. I noticed that they were saying prayers to God as she was being laid to rest.
I talked to Gorbatchew the day his wife died in Berlin, and he was broken up as any husband would be, and I think he was sustained by a certain faith, that might not have been possible in a rigid communist monolithic domination.'
Then the President Bush talked about the need for free trade, for keeping the international markets open. The United States should work toward removing barriers to free trade existing in other countries, and also we should not set up barriers to imports to America. Free trade benefits all countries, and we should continue this policy. Then he continued:
'Even more of an imperative, in my judgment, is conceiving and implementing a forward-looking foreign policy.
When I was President, the national security of our country was my first concern. What is the toughest decision that a President makes? I can tell you, the most difficult decision a President makes, is when you have to send somebody else's son, or daughter into combat, into harm's way. That is the most difficult decision. And we have to do it at times, and of course the present foreign policy doesn't stir the passions of anyone, but that does not diminish the need to look out for our long-term interests. And the world is safer, and is a more peaceful place than it was at the start of the century, and yet there is danger there, there is instability there, and we need to work hard to secure a safer future for my grandkids and your kids
We are going nearly decade into this new era, and we don't seem to have a fair enough footing yet, we don't seem to be sure of our direction at times, we seem to be a superpower adrift, just look at Kosovo.
It was the first major intervention for NATO in the post Cold War era. All Americans were deeply offended by the horrors visited on the Kosovar Albanians by the Serbs. Good intentions aside, it is not clear to me, what the operation achieved. One essential reason for action was to prevent the displacement of the Kosovar Albanians. But NATO actions seem to have had the exact opposite effect. Before intervention, 230,000 Kosovar Albanians were displaced by the Serbs. Three months later, nearly 1,500,000 have lost their homes.
And of course, the air war was a success in the sense that our pilots performed beautifully, our technology was good, we didn't lose one single airman, and everyone should be thankful for that. But I hope that we didn't raise the nation's expectation that freedom comes cheaply, or easily. I hope that people do not lose sight of that. Securing the peace in the new era will involve sacrifice and sustained effort.
The situation in Kosovo provides ample evidence, that although this Soviet bear, the Soviet Empire is now extinct, new threats emerge to take its place. Faceless threats, in the form of incorrigible dictators, religious and ideological extremists, people killing each other in the name of God, terrorists at home and abroad, international narco-traffickers, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and more.
A brief survey of the global landscape reveals situations crying out to be addressed. For example, one of the great threats to the social and political order of the developing world is that 1.5 billion people are forced to live on less that $ 1 a day. And furthermore, it is reported that next month there will be 6 billion people in the world, and in the next 25 years, we will have another 2 billion people to feed.
And that alone should explain why we need to do our part, and help our partners and neighbors who bear an impossible burden to meet their overwhelming needs of their people. As an American, it seems clear to me, that we need to help those leaders and countries, who with our active encouragement have made the leap to freedom and free markets.
We cannot turn our backs during their awkward and sometimes difficult period of adjustment, when the going gets tough. We cannot fail to recognize the political courage of the forward-looking people who charted a new and more hopeful course for their people.
Indeed, more that 1/3 of humanity is now engaged in privatizing what were largely socialist command economies until a few short years ago. And just in the last decade, we have come so far: privatization, less regulation, all around countries that used to be socialist economies you cannot but be optimistic about what lies ahead. The process of reform has got to continue, it is not easy, I admit, but I think it will continue, and that's why I am optimistic.
In Russia, the situation, bleak as it is, is getting better. There are some bright spots in the economy, oil prices are up and that helps a bit, exports are rebounding, tax receipts are up, a tight budget has been set by the Duma. But the political turmoil remains, as is shown by the succession of men who have rotated in and out of the Prime Minister's slot to the point that they could put a revolving door in the Kremlin. They are coming and going almost every day, and that instability doesn't help Russia as it reaches out to interact with its trading partners around the world.
We got our work cut out for us, to rebuild the bridge between Russia and the United States, we got to stay involved, we can't give up, we can't gloat over victory in the Cold War. We have to treat Russia with respect, and when we criticize, we ought to be constructive critics.
When the Wall fell, I did not gloat. When the Baltics became free, I was determined that we work with Gorbatchew to see that transition to freedom was peaceful, and that we did nothing to provoke Soviet anger so that they would set back the freeing of the Baltic states. These foreign powers that are changing, they need to be interacted with, and they need to be treated with respect.
I believe it is absolutely imperative that as the post Cold War world takes shape, we get our act together and start sending clear signals to the world that we intend to lead, and lead with consistency. And we need to make clear that we seek to foster no one's weakness, and that we want so see the process of reform to continue.
In the end, whether you are talking business or global politics, it takes leadership and courage to make positive, forward-looking change happen. It takes leadership and courage to conceive a vision, and then make it reality. Leadership and courage. Who says, 'Character doesn't count?' It matters in all of these matters, and I believe it.
I know many people here are down on the political process, too much money for some, too many special interests for others, but despite its warts, and there are many, I still believe that public service is a noble calling.
We've got this little school, George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University, and the Library, and I love working with those kids, trying to inculcate them with a sense of public service being helpful, be it at the local level, or community work, that public service is noble. And although we live in an era illuminated by peace and prosperity that mankind has never known before, we still need to get decent people get involved, get off the sidelines, to roll up their sleeves and give something back to this country which has given us so much.
And again, judging by the active volunteer organizations right here, that's exactly what so many here at the University of Buffalo do every day, and I would encourage you to keep up the good work. Believe me, it does make a big difference in the lives of others, but perhaps the biggest difference it makes is in your own life. You'll feel wonderful. You'll have the sense of serving others. For 35 challenging, exciting years, I've had my chance.
We got some things right in my administration. I was blessed with wonderful people, wonderful, honest people around me. And I know I could have done some things a lot better. But my time to serve is since passed, and I hope it is not out of bounds in this marvelously non-partisan forum for me to note, how proud Barbara and me are to see our two sons, George W. and Jeb, doing their part in giving their all &endash; one of them governor in the second biggest state in the nation, the other governor in the fourth biggest state in the nation.
And believe me, what greater reward can a father and a mother have, than two sons who are willing to live Theodore Roosevelt's "strenuous life!" Yes, they will make mistakes, they will get hurt along the way, but they are in there trying, they are in there willing to serve.
I will simply say to the young people here: give it a shot, try it. You'll like it!
Buffalo, New York
October 4, 1999
May we recommend some books?
All the Best, Beorge Bush, by George Bush
Ronald Reagan: An American Story
Reagan on Leadership, by James M. Strock
A World Transformed, by George Bush
Primer for Those Who Would Govern, by Hermann Oberth
Arno Breker: The Divine Beauty in Art, by B. John Zavrel
Alexander the Great, by Robin Lane Fox