Bush Steals Clinton's Applause in Albania
In Albania this weekend, President Bush learned that there is at least one place on earth where he is still welcome. Massive crowds and adoring throngs in the primarily Muslim nation came out to greet the President in Tirana to thank Bush for his support of independence for their ethnic brethren in Kosovo. But in this as in so many other areas, George W. Bush is only to happy to accept applause intended for Bill Clinton.
Sadly, back in 1999 then Governor Bush dragged his feet in supporting President Clinton's air war against Slobodan Milosevic's campaign of genocide in Kosovo. As he explained to Talk Magazine in 1999, Bush's first problem was not strategic but geographic: "Nobody needs to tell me what I believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is." As the Houston Chronicle reported in April, 1999, national media took Bush to task for faint-heartedness when it came to Kosovo.
Newsweek said of Bush: "GOP front-runner equivocates over bombing. Make up your mind, Nacho Man!" And the conservative Wall Street Journal called Bush's original stance on Kosovo "so vague and tepid as to be almost Clintonian." Numerous other pundits have chimed in with similar remarks.
Facing growing political pressure to match GOP White House rival John McCain's vocal support for Clinton's Kosovo policy, Bush eventually offered some of his trademark tough talk after the fact. It was only after two weeks into the bombing campaign that the future "decider" found his spine:
"I'm concerned that a thug like Milosevic, if left unchecked, would set a bad example for other 'ethnic cleansers' or other people willing to commit ethnic genocide."
The politics of necessity may have required Bush to come around and back Bill Clinton's war to save Kosovo, but the Texas governor maintained his opposition to so-called nation-building. In the 2000 presidential debates will Al Gore, Bush listed Kosovo as among the places where he supported Clinton's use of force. But in the October 11th debate, Bush restated his unchanging position on using American military power for nation-building:
"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."
Unchanging, that is, until the war in Iraq. As ThinkProgress noted two years ago, candidate George W. Bush pressed for an exit strategy and a timetable for withdrawal from Kosovo:
"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is." (April 9, 1999)
"I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn." (June 5, 1999)
But when it comes to Iraq, not so much. Only too happy to compromise the safety of the Kosovo Albanians in 1999, Bush refused to apply the same yardstick to his calamity in Iraq:
"It doesn't make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you're - you're conceding too much to the enemy." (June 24, 2005)
Fast forward to 2007. Even as President Bush basks in the warm embrace of Albanians grateful for American support of Kosovo independence and Albanian membership in NATO, he still struggles to understand the policy he claims to advocate. Bush told the Albanians, "At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say, 'Enough is enough - Kosovo is independent.'" On Saturday, President Bush said he supported bringing the UN Security Council talks Kosovo independence to an end, "In terms of a deadline, there needs to be one. It needs to happen." But as the New York Times reports, within 24 hours Bush backed off his tough talk, lest he once again rum afoul of Russian opposition at the UN.
But on Sunday, Mr. Bush tried to backtrack when asked when that deadline might be. "First of all, I don't think I called for a deadline," Mr. Bush said, during a press appearance with Mr. Berisha in the courtyard of a government ministry building. He was reminded that he had.
"I did?" he asked, sounding surprised. "What exactly did I say? I said deadline? O.K., yes, then I meant what I said." The reporters laughed.
But for President Bush, none of his contradictions and ignorance over Kosovo policy past or present matter now. Scorned at home and despised in Europe, George W. Bush was thrilled to accept the adulation of the Albanian people. Adulation, that is, for Bill Clinton.