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The 2nd Presidential Debate Part 2: Governor Bush and Vice President Gore

October 11, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Right. Let’s go on to Milosevic and Yugoslavia, and it falls under the area of our military power. Governor, new question: Should the fall of Milosevic be seen as a triumph for U.S. Military intervention?

GOV. BUSH: I think it’s a triumph — I thought the president made the right decision in joining NATO and bombing Serbia. I supported them when they did so. I called upon the Congress not to hamstring the administration in terms of forcing troops withdrawals on a timetable that wasn’t in necessarily our best interests or fit our nation’s strategy. And so I think it’s good public policy. I think it worked. And I’m pleased I took the — made the decision I made. I’m pleased the president made the decision he made, because freedom took hold in that part of the world. And there’s a lot of work left to be done, however.

JIM LEHRER: But you think it would not have happened — do you believe — do you think that Milosevic would not have fallen if the United States and NATO had not intervened militarily? Is this a legitimate use of our military power?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yes, I think it is. Absolutely. I don’t think he would have fallen had we not used force. And I know there’s some in my party that disagreed with that sentiment, but I supported the president. And I thought he made the right decision to do so.

I didn’t think he necessarily made the right decision to take land troops off the table right before we committed ourselves offensively. But nevertheless, it worked. The administration deserves credit for having made it work, as is important for NATO to have it work. It’s important for NATO to be strong and confident to help keep the peace in Europe. And one of the reason I felt so strongly that the United States need to participate was because of our relations with NATO And NATO’s going to be an important part of keeping the peace in the future.

Now there’s more work to do. It remains to be seen how whether or not there’s going to be a political settlement to Kosovo, and I certainly hope there is one. I’m also on record as saying at some point in time I hope our European friends become the peacekeepers in Bosnia and in the Balkans. I hope that they put the troops on the ground, so that we can withdraw our troops and focus our military on fighting and winning war.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, I’ve been kind of a hard-liner on this issue for more than eight years. When I was in the Senate, before I became vice president, I was pushing for stronger action against Milosevic. He caused the deaths of so many people. He was the last Communist Party boss there, and then he became a dictator that — by some other label, he was still essentially a Communist dictator. And unfortunately, now he is trying to reassert himself in Serbian politics. Already, just today, the members of his political party said that they were going to ignore the orders of the new president of Serbia. And that they questioned his legitimacy. And he’s still going to try to be actively involved.

He is an indicted war criminal. He should be held accountable. Now I did want to pick up on one of the statements earlier. And maybe I have heard — maybe I’ve heard the previous statements wrong, Governor. In some of the discussions we’ve had about when it’s appropriate for the U.S. to use force around the world, at times the standards that you’ve laid down have given me the impression that if it’s — if it’s something like a genocide taking place or what they called “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, that that alone would not be — that that wouldn’t be the kind of situation that would cause you to think that the U.S. ought to get involved with troops. Now, there have to be other factors involved for me to want to be involved. But by itself, that, to me, can bring into play a fundamental American strategic interest because I think it’s based on our values. Now, have I got that wrong? (Pause.)

MR. LEHRER: Governor?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Okay, yeah. I was trying to figure out who the questioner was.


GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Laughs.) If I think it’s in our nation’s strategic interest, I’ll commit troops. I thought it was in our strategic interests to keep Milosevic in check because of our relations in NATO And that’s why I took the position I took. I think it’s important for NATO to be strong and confident. I felt like an unchecked Milosevic would harm NATO And so it depends on the situation, Mr. Vice President.

JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s keep — let’s stay on the subject for a moment. New question, related to this. There have been — I figured this out. In the last 20 years, there have been eight major actions involving the introduction of U.S. ground, air or naval forces. Let me name them: Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo If you had been president, are any of those interventions — would any of those interventions not have happened?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Hmm. Can you run through the list again?

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Lebanon?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I thought that was a mistake.

JIM LEHRER: Grenada?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I supported that.


VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I supported that one.

JIM LEHRER: Persian Gulf?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yes, I voted for it, supported it.

JIM LEHRER: Somalia?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, of course in — that, again — no, I think that that was ill considered. I did support it at the time. It was in the previous administration, in the Bush-Quayle administration. And I think in retrospect, the lessons there are ones that we — that we should take very, very seriously.





JIM LEHRER: And then Kosovo


JIM LEHRER: We talked about that. Do you want me to do it with you? Go through each one?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Laughs.) No.

JIM LEHRER: Do you want to go — be Lebanon?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No, I’m fine. I just — let me make a couple of comments.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Absolutely. Sure.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Somalia Started off as a humanitarian mission and 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 — when it’s in our best interests. But in this case, it was a nation-building exercise. And the same with Haiti, I wouldn’t have supported, either.

JIM LEHRER: What about Lebanon?


JIM LEHRER: Grenada?




JIM LEHRER: Obviously the Persian —

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Some of them I’ve got a conflict of interest on — (laughs) — if you know what I mean.

JIM LEHRER: I do. I do. (Laughter.) Your — there’s the Persian Gulf, obviously —

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yeah. (Laughs.)

JIM LEHRER: — and Bosnia


JIM LEHRER: And you’ve already talked about Kosovo But the reverse side of the question, Governor, that Vice President Gore mentioned. For instance, 600,000 people died in Rwanda in 1994. There was no U.S. intervention. There was no intervention from outside world. Was that a mistake not to intervene?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I think the administration did the right thing in that case. I do. It was a horrible situation. No one liked to see it on our — on our TV screens, but it’s a case where we need to make sure we’ve got a, you know, kind of a early warning system in place in places where there could be ethnic cleansing and genocide the way we saw it there in Rwanda

And that’s a case where we need to — you know, use our influence to have countries in Africa come together and help deal with the situation. The administration — it seems like we’re having a great love fest tonight — but the administration made the right decision on training Nigerian troops for situations just such as this, in Rwanda And — and so I thought they made the right decision not to send U.S. troops into Rwanda

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any second thoughts on that, based on what you said a moment ago about genocide and —

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I’d like to come back to the question of nation-building. But let me address this question directly first.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll do that —

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Fine. We did actually send troops into Rwanda to help with the Humanitarian relief measures. My wife, Tipper, who’s here, actually went on a military plane with General Shalikashvili on one of those flights. But I think, in retrospect, we were too late getting in there. We could have saved more lives, if we had acted earlier.

But I do not think that it was an example of a conflict where we should have put our troops in to try to separate the parties for this reason, Jim. One of my — one of the criteria that I think is important in deciding when and if we should ever get involved around the world is whether or not our national security interest is involved; if we can really make the difference with military force; have we tried everything else; if we have allies.

In the Balkans we had allies — NATO — ready, willing and able to go and carry a big part of the burden. In Africa, we did not. Now, we have tried — our country has tried to create an Africa Crisis Response Team there, and we’ve met some resistance. We have had some luck with Nigeria but — in Sierra Leone, and that — now that Nigeria has become a democracy, and we hope it stays that way, then maybe we can build on that.

But because we had no allies, and because it was very unclear that we could actually accomplish what we would want to accomplish by putting military forces there, I think it was the right thing not to jump in, as heart-breaking as it was. But I think we should have come in much quicker with the Humanitarian mission.

JIM LEHRER: So what would you say, Governor, to somebody who would say: Hey, wait a minute. Why not Africa? I mean, why — why the Middle East? Why the Balkans, but not Africa, when 600,000 people’s lives are at risk?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I understand. And Africa’s important. And we’ve got to do a lot of work in Africa to promote democracy and trade. And there’s some — the vice president mentioned Nigeria It’s a fledgling democracy. We’ve got to work with Nigeria It’s an important continent.

But there’s got to be priorities, and the Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons, as is Europe. and the Far East and our own hemisphere. And those are my four top priorities should I be the president. That’s not to say we won’t be engaged, nor try — nor should we work hard to get other nations to come together to prevent atrocity. I thought the best example of a way to handle a situation was East Timor, when we provided logistical support to the Australians, support that only we can provide. I thought that was a good model.

But we can’t be all things to all people in the world, Jim. And I think that’s where maybe the vice president and I begin to have some differences. I am worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. You mentioned Haiti I wouldn’t have sent troops to Haiti I didn’t think it was a mission worthwhile. It was a nation-building mission, and it was not very successful. It cost us billions — a couple billions of dollars, and I’m not so sure democracy’s any better off in Haiti than it was before.

JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, do you agree with the governor’s views on nation-building and the use of military — our military for nation-building, as he described it and defined it?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I don’t think we agree on that. I would certainly also be judicious in evaluating any potential use of American troops overseas. I think we have to be very reticent about that.

But look, Jim, the world is changing so rapidly, the way I see it, the world’s getting much closer together. Like it or not, we are now — the United States is now the natural leader of the world. All these other countries are looking to us. Now just because we cannot be involved everywhere, and shouldn’t be, doesn’t mean that we should shy away from going in anywhere.

Now both of us are kind of, I guess, stating the other’s position in a — (laughs) — in a maximalist, extreme way, but I think there is a difference here. This idea of nation building is kind of a pejorative phrase, but think about the great conflict of the past century, World War II. During the years between World War I and World War II, a great lesson was learned by our military leaders and the people of the United States. The lesson was that in the aftermath of World War I, we kind of turned our backs and left them to their own devices, and they brewed up a lot of trouble that quickly became World War II.

And acting upon that lesson, in the aftermath of our great victory in World War II, we laid down the Marshall Plan — President Truman did — we got intimately involved in building NATO and other structures there. We still have lots of troops in Europe. And what did we do in the late ’40s and ’50s and ’60s? We were nation building. And it was economic, but it was also military. And the confidence that those countries recovering from the wounds of war had by having troops there — we had civil administrators come in to set up their ways of building their towns back.

JIM LEHRER: You said in the Boston debate, Governor, on this issue of nation building, that the United States military is overextended now. Where is it overextended?


JIM LEHRER: Where are there U.S. Military that you would bring home if you become president?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well first, let me just say one comment —


GOV. GEORGE BUSH: — about what the vice president said. I think one of the lessons in between World War I and World War II is we let our military atrophy. And we can’t do that. We’ve got to rebuild our military.

But one of the problems we have in the military is we’re in a lot of places around the world. And I mentioned one, and that’s the Balkans. I’d very much like to get our troops out of there. I recognize we can’t do it now, nor do I advocate an immediate withdrawal. That would be an abrogation of our agreement with NATO No one is suggesting that. But I think it ought to be one of our priorities to work with our European friends to convince them to put troops on the ground. And there is an example. Haiti is another example.

Now, there are some places where I think — you know, I supported the administration in Colombia. I think it’s important for us to be training Colombians in that part of the world. Our hemisphere is in our interest, to have — to have a peaceful Colombia. But — sorry —

JIM LEHRER: I was just — the use of the military. There’s been — some people are now suggesting that if you don’t want to use the military to maintain the peace, to do the civil thing, is it time to consider a civil force of some kind, that comes in after the military, that builds nations or all of that? Is that — is that on your radar screen?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well — I don’t think so. I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I’m missing something here. I mean, we’re going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war; that’s what it’s meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops.

And I’m not — I strongly believe we need to have a military presence in the Korea peninsula, not only to keep the peace on the peninsula, but to keep regional stability. And I strongly believe we need to keep a presence in NATO But I’m going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I don’t disagree with that. And I certainly don’t disagree that we ought to That’s what we did in Haiti There are no more than a handful of American military personnel in Haiti now. And the Haitians have their problems, but we gave them a chance to restore democracy. And that’s really about all we can do. But if you have a situation like that right in our backyard, with chaos about to break out and the flotillas forming to come across the water, and all kinds of violence there, right in one of our neighboring countries there, then I think that we did the right thing there.

And as for this idea of nation-building, the phrase sounds grandiose, and, you know, we can’t be — we can’t allow ourselves to get over-extended. I certainly agree with that. And that’s why I’ve supported building up our capacity. I’ve devoted, in the budget I’ve proposed, as I said last week, more than twice as much as the Governor has proposed. I think that it’s in better shape now than he generally does. We’ve had some disagreements about that. He said that two divisions would have to report not ready for duty, and that’s not what the Joint Chiefs say. But there’s no doubt that we have to continue building up readiness and military strength. And we have to also be very cautious in the way we use our military.

JIM LEHRER: In the nonmilitary area of influencing events around the world, the financial and economic area, World Bank President Wolfensohn said recently, Governor, that U.S. contributions to overseas development assistance is lower now almost than it has ever been. Is that a problem for you? Do you think — what is your idea about what the United States’ obligations are? I’m talking about financial assistance and that sort of thing to other countries, the poorer countries.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I mentioned Third World debt.


GOV. GEORGE BUSH: That’s a place where we can use our generosity to influence — in a positive way influence nations. I believe we ought to have foreign aid, but I don’t think we ought to just have Foreign aid for the sake of Foreign aid I think Foreign aid needs to be used to encourage markets and reform. I think a lot of times we just spend aid and say we feel better about it and it ends up being spent the wrong way, and there are some pretty egregious examples recently, one being Russia, where we had IMF loans that ended up in the pockets of a lot of powerful people and didn’t help the nation.

I think the IMF has got a role in the world, but I don’t want to see the IMF out there as a way to say to world bankers, “If you make a bad loan, we’ll bail you out.” It needs to be available for emergency situations. I thought the president did the right thing with Mexico and was very strongly supportive of the administration in Mexico But I don’t think the IMF and our — ought to be a stop-loss for people who ought to be able to evaluate risk themselves. So I’ll look at every place where we’re investing money. I just want to make sure the return is good.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think we’re meeting our obligations properly?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: No, I would make some changes. I think there need to be reforms in the IMF I’ve generally supported it, but I’ve seen them make some calls that I thought were highly questionable, and I think that there’s a general agreement in many parts of the world now that there ought to be changes in the IMF The World Bank, I think, is generally doing a better job.

But I think one of the big issues here that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is the issue of corruption. The governor mentioned it earlier. I’ve worked on this issue. It’s an enormous problem. And corruption in official agencies, like militaries and police departments around the world, customs officials. That’s one of the worst forms of it. And we have got to, again, lead by example and help these other countries that are trying to straighten out their situations find the tools in order to do it.

I just think, Jim, that this is an absolutely unique period in world history. The world’s coming together, as I said. They’re looking to us. And we have a fundamental choice to make: Are we going to step up to the plate as a nation the way we did after World War II, the way that generation of heroes said, “Okay, the United States is going to be the leader.” And the world benefited tremendously from the courage that they showed in those post-war years.

I think that in the aftermath of the Cold War, it’s time for us to do something very similar, to step up to the plate, to provide the leadership: leadership on the environment; leadership to make sure the world economy keeps moving in the right direction. Again, that means not running big deficits here and not squandering our surplus. It means having intelligent decisions that keep our prosperity going and shepherds that economic strength so that we can provide that leadership role.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Let me comment on that.


GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yeah, I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, “This is the way it gotta be.” We can help. And may it’s just our difference in government — the way we view government. I mean, I want to empower people. I don’t — you know, I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do. I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country, say, “We do it this way; so should you.”

I think we can help. And I know we’ve got to encourage democracy and the marketplaces. But take Russia for example. We went into Russia We said, “He’s some IMF money,” and it ended up in Viktor Chernomyrdin’s pocket and others. And yet we played like there was reform.

The only people who are going to reform Russia are Russia They’re going to have to make the decision themselves. Mr. Putin is going to have to make the decision as to whether or not he wants to adhere to rule of law and normal accounting practices so that if countries and/or entities invest capital, there’s a reasonable rate of return, a way to get the money out of the economy.

But Russia has to make the decision. We can work with them on security matters, for example, but it’s their call to make, because I’m not exactly sure where the vice president’s coming from, but I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, “We do it this way. So should you.”

Now we trust freedom. We know freedom is a powerful, powerful — a powerful force much bigger than the United States of America, as we saw in — recently in the Balkans. But maybe I misunderstand where you’re coming from, Mr. Vice President, but I think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s move on.

All right, you — no, let’s move on.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Far be it from me to suggest otherwise. (Laughter.)

Continue to Part 3