By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008
President Bush, whose administration has been dominated by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global battle against terrorism, helped break ground yesterday on a $185 million facility for the U.S. Institute of Peace -- a government-funded think tank with the mission of preventing conflict and helping promote postwar stability operations.
The institute is planning a spectacular addition to the National Mall at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue NW, near the Lincoln and Vietnam Veterans memorials, and its organizers invited Bush, former secretaries of state and defense, and congressional leaders to mark the occasion. While outwardly polite, the speakers hinted at the deep disagreements over Bush's use of preventive war to head off what his administration considered a threat from Iraq.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointedly quoted from President John F. Kennedy's 1963 commencement address at American University to say that he would "look kindly" on the work of the institute.
"The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war," Kennedy told the crowd, as Pelosi recounted. "We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just."
By contrast, George P. Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said Bush will be remembered kindly for promoting the idea that wars must sometimes be launched to address potential threats before they are realized. Shultz recalled the history of terrorist attacks from the 1980s and 1990s -- including the attacks on the Marine barracks in Lebanon and on the USS Cole in Yemen -- that he said elicited "not much" U.S. reaction.
With Bush standing by his side, Shultz said of preventive war, "In your time, I think this is one important idea that has real legs and staying power."
The U.S. Institute of Peace has played a prominent role in the debate over the Iraq war. It co-sponsored the 2006 report of the Iraq Study Group, which issued a blistering critique of conditions in the country and urged changes in the Bush administration's strategy.
Bush used the occasion to discuss his administration's efforts to "strengthen the institutions of freedom" by helping provide security to young democracies, sending civilians to help stabilize conflict-ridden countries, and funding health efforts in poor countries that could otherwise be the incubators of future terrorists. When he goes to the Group of Eight summit of industrialized countries next month, Bush said, he plans to challenge other countries to live up to the commitments they made to provide funding for anti-AIDS and anti-malaria initiatives.
"The work of democratic development is the great cause of our time, and we shouldn't shy away from it," Bush said. "And we must be confident in our ability to help others realize the blessings of freedom. My big concern is that the United States becomes isolationist and nervous -- we don't support those values that have stood the test of time."
The presence of Bush and Pelosi was a testament to the bipartisan backing for the peace institute, which secured $100 million in funding for its new building in part because of the maneuverings of then-Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The rest of the money is being raised privately.
The president and speaker have been at odds on a variety of issues in recent months, but after putting shovels in the ground for the cameras, Bush extended his elbow to Pelosi, and the two strolled out of the ceremony arm in arm.