WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush rejected isolationism and said he “wholeheartedly” agrees with the words of Winston Churchill about the U.S. being unable to escape its “world responsibility.”
“America is indispensable for the world and the dangers of isolation loom. The price of greatness is responsibilities. One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes,” Bush said, quoting the prime minister, after accepting the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished International Leadership Award in Washington on Thursday evening. “If this had been proved in the past as it had been, it will become indisputable in the future. People in the United States cannot escape world responsibility. I wholeheartedly agree.”
Indirectly referring to President Trump’s “America First” presidential campaign theme, Bush said, “As we saw in 9/11, how people live overseas can affect us here at home. When we confront suffering, when we save lives, we breathe hope into the devastated populations, strengthen and stabilize society, and make our country and the world safer.”
Bush signed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in May 2003. It supports life-saving anti-retroviral treatment for more than 13 million people, including a million children. Bush called on the White House and Congress to continue funding the program.
“I have come tonight to draw attention to this great and compassionate act. Some Americans may ask, is this really in our national interest? Why are we spending money abroad when we’ve got big problems here at home? Those are legitimate questions. Here is my answer: I believe that spending less than two-tenths of 1 percent of our federal budget to save millions of lives is the moral, the practical and in the national security interests of the United States,” he said.
“People say we shouldn’t spend money on programs that don’t work at home or abroad. I completely agree, but we should invest in programs that are efficient, effective and results-oriented. PEPFAR is a program ‒ such a program. It works. And it’s going to have positive implications for our country for decades to come and we have got to continue to support it,” he added.
Stephen Hadley, former assistant to the president for national security affairs, introduced Bush at the award ceremony. When he took the stage, Bush joked about one of his father’s famous lines from his speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
“When Hadley invited me here, he didn’t tell me it was black tie. He finally confessed and he said, look, this is an important crowd in Washington. I don’t want you wearing that old ratty tux you used to wear to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I looked at Hadley and said: ‘Hadley, read my lips. No new tuxes,’” Bush said to laugher.
The Atlantic Council also honored NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz and Grammy award-winning singer Gloria Estefan.
Bush left before the conclusion of the program and did not take questions from reporters.