WASHINGTON – President Bush, whose administration has been dominated by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global battle against terrorism, helped break ground Thursday on a $185 million facility for the U.S. Institute of Peace – a government-funded think tank with the mission of preventing conflict and helping promote postwar stability operations.
The institute is planning a spectacular addition to the National Mall at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue NW, near the Lincoln and Vietnam War memorials, and its organizers invited Bush, former secretaries of state and defense, and congressional leaders to mark the occasion. While outwardly polite, the speakers hinted at the deep disagreements over Bush’s use of preventive war to head off what his administration considered a threat from Iraq.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pointedly quoted from President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 commencement address at American University to say that he would “look kindly” on the work of the institute.
“The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war,” Kennedy told the crowd, as Pelosi recounted. “We shall be prepared if others wish it. We shall be alert to try to stop it. But we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just.”
By contrast, George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said Bush will be remembered kindly for promoting the idea that wars must sometimes be launched to address potential threats before they are realized.
Bush used the occasion to discuss his administration’s efforts to “strengthen the institutions of freedom” by helping provide security to young democracies, sending civilians to help stabilize conflict-ridden countries and funding health efforts in poor countries that could otherwise be the incubators of future terrorists.
Bush and Pelosi’s presence here was a testament to the bipartisan backing for the peace institute, which secured $100 million in funding for its new building in part because of the maneuverings of then-Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. The rest of the money is being raised privately.
The president and speaker have been at odds on a variety of issues in recent months, but after putting shovels in the ground for the cameras, Bush extended his elbow to Pelosi, and the two strolled out of the ceremony arm in arm.