David Frum Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Foreign Policy Ideas in the George W. Bush Administratioton: Conversation with David Frum, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; 1/20/04 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Looking back at your career, the opportunity you've had in these years since going to the White House, I'm curious: what are your thoughts now about why ideas matter? Because that was what you started with in your family, and you continued that both in your education and in your career. How do the things we just talked about clearly prove that ideas matter?

Well, let's consider just a couple of things. We could do a long list. But one of them is that what we've discovered that what other people think about us can influence their behavior about us; that it really does matter whether people in the Islamic world blame the United States, for example, for their problems, or whether they don't. We've also discovered that when you're thrown a new problem, you have to analyze it in the light of the best knowledge that you have; that a pure interest model of how people operate is just not adequate. What you'll discover, also, is that your interests are themselves products of your ideas. I mean, how much of our relationship with the Middle East should be governed by our need for oil? People used to have an idea that it should be nearly all of it. Well, that was tested by experience; it proved false. Now we need to rethink that and reexamine it.

If you were given the opportunity to talk to students of U.S. foreign policy, or students preparing to be part of the foreign policy process, what advice would you give them, and what do you think that the legacy of the Bush administration is going to be?

I can give a short piece of advice or a long piece of advice. The short piece of advice is to be prepared for anything, because anything can happen. Maybe the longer advice I would give is to spend less time on the question of these theoretical constructs, and more time studying how things look to people at the time with the choices that they faced.

What was the second half of the question?

The second half of the question is what will be the legacy, do you think, of the Bush administration? Of course, that may be in a second term, but if we were judging at this point in time?

I think in its very early in the days -- and I'm pretty confident there will be a second term -- but my guess is that it will be the administration that grappled with this terrorism problem, for better or for worse, and the people will judge it according how well or how badly it did that. We don't yet know the answer to that. I think on the whole, taken all in all, they've done a reasonably good job, but there's so much more to go and we need to work so hard.

Mr. Frum, thank you very much for taking time from your busy schedule and being here today.

Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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