Don't turn inward, neglecting role as a world leader, Bush warns nation

December 16, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Preparing to turn over hi powers, President Bush has warned the nation against becoming so consumed by internal problems that it neglects the leadership role it must play in world affairs.

In the first of what may be a series of comprehensive policy speeches before he leaves office, Mr. Bush expressed concern that the United States might be on the brink of turning inward, seeking to ease its huge global burden so that it could attend to domestic demands.

This kind of shift, he said, could "be disastrous." For everyone, "the alternative to American leadership is not more security for our country but less . . . " he said. "A retreat from American leadership, from American involvement would be a mistake for which future generations, indeed our own children, would pay dearly."

The warning is telling from a man whose re-election bid was mortally wounded by the perception that he was inordinately engaged in foreign policy and neglected the U.S. economy and domestic affairs. In his speech yesterday at Texas A&M University, he showed no regrets for his active agenda as an international leader. "That is the cause that much of my public life has been dedicated to serving," he said.

With five weeks left in office, Mr. Bush pointed to the march of freedom that occurred during his administration -- both in Europe, where the Berlin Wall has fallen and communism has crumbled, and in the Third World. And as he prepares to end a career of public service that began 50 years ago in the flames of World War II, he urged the nation to support his former rival and successor: President-elect Bill Clinton.

"In 36 days, we will have a new president. I am very confident that he will do his level best to serve the cause I have outlined here today," the president said. "He will have my support. I'll stay out of his way; I really mean that. But it is more important that he have your support."

The speech was the only major policy address -- indeed, the first speech of any substance -- Mr. Bush has delivered since his electoral defeat. It was considered a valedictory for the 41st president, whose tight focus on foreign policy was blamed in the end for his defeat by his Democratic opponent .

A similar speech on national security issues, which would be delivered at one of the military academies, is under consideration by the president and his advisers, White House officials have said.

Addressing 7,500 people in the G. Rollie White Coliseum, Mr. Bush said, ". . . History is summoning us once again to lead. Proud of its past, America must once again look forward . . . That is the cause that much of my public life has been dedicated to serving."

Texas A&M, where Bush will build his presidential library, was chosen for the speech not only because the president's papers will be stored there, but because its largely conservative student body could be counted on to give him a friendly welcome, a White House official said.

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