Bush promises active international leadership; offers tearful sympathy to accident victims
November 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:50 p.m. EST (1750 GMT)
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- In a preview of his first major foreign policy speech, scheduled for Friday, Texas Gov. George W. Bush told CNN's Candy Crowley on Thursday that he will argue the United States must "lead the world of peace" and reject isolationism.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush
During a wide-ranging exclusive interview broadcast live Thursday morning on CNN, Bush also wiped away a tear as he said "my heart goes out to the families" of victims of an accident early Thursday at Texas A&M University. At least four students were killed and some 25 were injured when a 40-foot-tall log pyramid -- constructed for a homecoming bonfire -- collapsed.
Bush provided vital hints as to how his foreign policy platform would unfurl Friday.
"A president must set priorities, and I'm going to set four priorities -- the goal is peace -- the priorities are going to be: Our own neighborhood, peace in the Middle East ... China and the Far East, and Russia and Europe," the GOP presidential front-runner said in the interview.
Specifically, Bush took an firm stand on Russia's military action against the republic of Chechnya.
"The bombing of women and children in Chechnya is unacceptable, and the United States government should not be giving aid to the Russian government so long as ... they continue bombing," Bush said of the conflict between the Russian military and Islamic guerrillas, who Russian claims are responsible for a series of deadly bombings in Russian cities over the summer.
When pressed on whether he would cut off all money to Russia, including funds to stop nuclear proliferation, Bush hedged, saying money for specific programs such as student exchanges and nuclear weapons disposal should continue.
Political correspondent Candy Crowley interviews Governor George W. Bush.
At the beginning of the interview, Bush emotionally addressed the tragic accident at Texas A&M.
"It's sad, it's tough," Bush said of the collapse of a 40-foot stack of logs being assembled for a football pep rally bonfire.
With a tear gathering in his eye, Bush said: "My heart goes out to the families, I just can't imagine what that means to have that happen to them."
But he predicted the school will "rally and recover."
Bush, who was recently stumped by one reporter's "pop quiz" of international leaders and hotspots, rejected criticism that he is unqualified to be president because of his lack of international policy experience.
"Of the last four presidents, three were governors and every one of the candidates has had to answer the same questions about foreign experience because governors generally don't conduct foreign policy," Bush told Crowley. "But what governors do is know how to lead."
When asked if he is ready to lead the country, considering that he has spent less than two terms in the Texas governor's office, Bush said: "You bet I'm ready. No question in my mind."
CNN's Candy Crowley interview Bush from West Des Moines, Iowa Thursday morning.
On domestic policy, when Crowley asked Bush about his plan to help provide health insurance to the nearly 11 million uninsured children in the U.S., the Texas governor said he supports extending the federal government's Children's Health Insurance Program.
"We need to make sure that there is affordable insurance ... I think what the federal government needs to do is to work with private carriers in the states to develop barebones basic insurance policies and then help supplement the premiums for poor workers, either through credits or deductions," Bush said.
Both of the Democrats in the race for the White House, Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley, have made health insurance a key element of their agenda. Bradley has proposed a $65 billion plan for universal health care.
Bush declined to explicitly identify differences between himself and Gore, the Democratic front-runner, saying there will be time to address the substantial differences if they both win their respective nominations.
Bush was hardly more forthcoming on the differences between himself and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who some polls show as challenging Bush in the New Hampshire primary.
Bush said McCain is a "good fellow" who has a "compelling story," adding that he always felt the primary season would be competitive.
The interview, which covered topics from Social Security reform to the North American Free Trade Agreement and racial harmony, coincided with the release of Bush's autobiography, "A Charge to Keep."
The book, Bush said, is a "chance to see where I've come from and who I am -- how I make decisions."
Written by Janine Yagielski