Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Phillip D. Brady

I served in both the Reagan and the Bush administrations in different capacities. But relevant to this discussion, I served on Vice President Bush’s staff before he became president and assisted him with the responsibilities he had as vice president in the drug war, and then also served in the Bush presidential administration as general counsel in the U.S. Department of Transportation, and testified before Congress and otherwise participated in that department’s efforts in the drug war.

But before I talk about that subject—and I will concentrate my comments on the drug war—I’m tempted beyond my strength to comment on the just-mentioned bar code reading system story because this is something that I think has particularly frustrated individuals such as myself, who were involved in the Bush administration. Actually, the anecdote comes from an Andy Rosenthal story in the New York Times, which Marlin Fitzwater addresses at length in his book Call the Briefing. And the specific instance was actually a futuristic technology display in Florida where Andy Rosenthal didn’t even attend the particular event, but he wrote about it, and it was the president doing no more than expressing appreciation for being shown futuristic technology. I appreciate the point the previous speaker wished to make, but in terms of that specific instance, it’s an inaccuracy that has achieved a life of its own and it’s something we all find very frustrating.

Returning to the issue that I thought I would address briefly, since I had personal involvement in the area, and that’s the vice president’s, and then president’s, participation in the drug war, I guess the primary message I want to leave here is that his interest was long-standing, and his voice was a very authentic one. His direct involvement began in 1982, when President Reagan, as you may recall, asked Vice President Bush to head up an organization called the South Florida Task Force to address the very serious problem in South Florida at that time, where some 70 percent of the drugs entering the country were estimated to come in through that corridor. And the violence associated with the drug trafficking in that area was such that it was being described in many media accounts as being akin to Dodge City. And Vice President Bush, as a constitutional officer, was thought to be the right person to come into the area to forge the necessary compromises to get the cooperation from all the agencies involved, to identify and bring to bear the additional resources that were necessary, and to involve the Department of Defense to the extent possible in the interdiction effort. I think it was generally viewed as a successful effort, in the sense that while it’s not a problem susceptible to a 100-percent solution, nevertheless important improvements were made.

And, as a result, in ’83, President Reagan asked then-Vice President Bush to oversee a nationwide extension of the South Florida Task Force called NNBIS—the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System—with its mission being to use the same techniques nationwide, bringing to bear more DOD assets,

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