“The dangers of isolation loom,” said former president George W. Bush in remarks Thursday night at the Atlantic Council. “The price of greatness is responsibilities. One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes. People in the United States cannot escape world responsibility.”
In receiving the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished International Leadership Award for his work fight HIV/AIDS through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative in Africa, he explained, “In 2003, we decided that the greatest, wealthiest nation ever had a moral responsibility to intervene. . . . We recognized, too, that the United States had a national security imperative to act. Societies mired in disease breed hopelessness and despair, leaving those forgotten by wealthy nations susceptible to recruitment by radical extremists.”
Notice what words did not appear in Bush’s remarks: “winning,” “losing,” “me,” “ripped off.” Bush, like every other modern president save the current one, understood the aim to use America’s resource to make the world safer and freer, which in turn will accrue to our benefit. (PEPFAR, Bush explained, “It’s the best kind of diplomacy there is. It’s soft power at its most beautiful.”)
We cannot help but note that his remarks came on the same day the first Ebola death since the 2017 outbreak was recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was also the day that the administration lost its most senior official charged with addressing international pandemic diseases. The Post reports:
The top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic has left the administration, and the global health security team he oversaw has been disbanded under a reorganization by national security adviser John Bolton.
The abrupt departure of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council means no senior administration official is now focused solely on global health security. Ziemer’s departure, along with the breakup of his team, comes at a time when many experts say the country is already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.
You see, for Trump foreign policy is about not being taken advantage of and about undoing multilateral strictures. It’s about demanding, in often obnoxious language, our allies pay up. On Thursday, we also saw the Iranians embarrass the administration by releasing a letter in which Trump (incorrectly) claimed we had spent $7 trillion in the Middle East and demanded these countries do more in return. All presidents ask U.S. allies to step up, but none has done it as petulantly as Trump has.
Trump operates on threats and bluster and is motivated by personal acclaim. “No one has done as much. . . .,” he says about things many presidents in fact have done just as well, if not better. “No one expected. . . ,” he declares about things many of us expected. It wasn’t too long ago that we had presidents who talked not about what the United States was entitled to, but who told their fellow citizens, as Bush did, “of those to whom much is given, much is required.”
We are not being bled dry by the rest of the world, as Trump would have us believe. Bush said, simply, “I believe that spending less than two-tenths of 1 percent of our federal budget to save millions of lives is the moral, the practical [thing to do], and in the national security interests of the United States.” Bush’s tone — and I don’t mean to damn with faint praise — was so much more presidential than Trump’s one has to remember that this is how presidents are supposed to sound, and generally did, until the American people elevated a crass grifter to the presidency.