Bush traces Reagan's path toward arms talks
A President who has become fully committed to easing tensions with the Soviets and reducing arms: This is the way Vice-President George Bush depicts President Reagan.
''I really believe that the longer he is in this job the more driven he is by the concept that we need the kind of agreements that he proposed,'' Mr. Bush said in a lengthy interview with the Monitor in his White House office.
''And he (the President) is determined,'' Bush says, ''to do diplomatically what is necessary to try to bring a more peaceful environment to this world.'' Mr. Reagan ''is defining very clearly what he wants to do. And I think he will do whatever it takes to achieve that.''
Bush does not rule out the possibility that the President might hold a summit meeting with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev in the near future. But he says it would have to be ''carefully planned,'' and President Reagan would have to be certain in advance that the summit would advance efforts toward peace.
On other subjects the vice-president had this to say:
* On negotiations with the Soviets and mainland China: ''The Chinese have expressed themselves as not thinking much will come of US negotiations (with the Soviets). But this administration is not going to be playing a card - trying to play a Soviet card or play a China card. We don't believe in that. We think that's bad diplomacy. We think that relationships should be built on something more solid than playing somebody off against another.''
* He says he is in no way disillusioned by the limits to his own job. ''I understood early on what this job isn't - as well as what it is,'' he says. He says he is very content to be able to play a strong advisory role.
Edited excerpts from the interview follow.
How much hope do we have that Reagan's new peace offensive will pay off?
I don't know. It's hard to quantify that. But if I ever saw a single event, and in this instance a speech, receive almost instant, universal support and enthusiastic support, it was the President's speech.
You've seen the Soviet reaction. And that's predictable. But let's look for something positive in it. Let's try to move it forward.
Is the President enjoying this role as peacemaker?
I think he was very, very pleased by the worldwide response to the initiative. I really believe that the longer he is in this job the more driven he is by the concept that we need the kind of agreements that he proposed. The longer you deal with knowledge of weapons and analyses you are bound to feel that way - I guess the President more than anyone else because he has that kind of awesome, buck-stops-here responsibility.
I think he was pleased with the response. And he is determined to do diplomatically what is necessary to try to bring to fruition these ideas. He's really committed to trying to bring a more peaceful environment to this world.
Some now say they have seen two Reagans, first the one who is a very hard-liner on communism and the communists and now the one who is talking in a conciliatory way with the Soviets. Which one is the real Reagan?
A congressman was telling me today that the Republican platform, which the President had a hand in shaping, is very compatable with what he is trying to do: strengthen the defenses so you are not dealing from weakness, yet a willingness to discuss verifiable reduction.
The President's willingness to negotiate is a very important side of the man.
Then you don't rule out the possibility of a summit between Reagan and Brezhnev?
No. But I think it would be carefully planned, carefully thought out. There's no great rushing on his part toward a summit. He's not thinking that he is going to reinvent the wheel and do something without proper preparation that others have failed to do. But he is defining very clearly what he wants to do. And I think he will do whatever it takes to achieve that. . . .
Does the President's move toward negotiations with the Soviet leaders on arms - does this give us real problems with the Chinese leaders?
The Chinese have expressed themselves as not thinking much will come of negotiations. But this administration is not going to be playing a card - trying to play a Soviet card or play a China card. We don't believe in that. We think that's bad diplomacy.
We think that relationships should be built on something more solid than playing somebody off against another. Historically, the Chinese have very serious reservations about Soviet intentions. And we do in some areas.
How would you describe our relations now with Peking?
Good. And we want to have them better. And we are working to improve relations. And relations have been moving along pretty well. There are problems out there.
What is the main sticking point?
The main sticking point in 1981 is the main sticking point that existed in 1971. And that's the question of how you balance out your relations with the People's Republic of China and what do you do unofficially and yet in compliance with the law with regard to Taiwan.
But there are some interestings things happening. And I happen to believe that the Chinese know we want good relations. I believe we have a good enough team working on these problems to assure that we will continue to have good relations. But it would be wrong to say we don't have problems.
If the recession drags on next year, beyond spring and into the fall, won't the Republicans be in trouble in next year's elections?
Well, there's the adage that the party in power loses seats in the off year. You go back to Eisenhower, who won a big victory in 1952 and he lost some seats in 1954. . . .
But it is much too early to say. . . . If economic conditions are bad, it makes it tougher on the President and the party. If economic conditions are good , you could argue the other way.
How long will the public be patient? How long will Americans be willing to wait to see some positive effect on the economy stemming from the Reagan program?I don't know that there is an exact time. But there are widespread predictions from the economists that the economy will turn up in the spring. If that time frame is there, that will be very good news indeed.
As long as there are people out of work this President is going to hurt. We are going to be concerned. But it is also fair to look at the figures today (Nov. 24), on the very day we are doing this interview. The consumer price index was pretty darned good. And interest rates were coming down - dramatically, if you think back to August and what they were then.
So there are some ameliatoring signs as well as signs of concern. . . .
I think that people can endure things not being perfect, particularly if no one else has a better answer. And I haven't heard any better answers out of some of our severest critics. In fact, I haven't heard any answers at all. . . .
I interviewed you shortly after you took office last January, and I asked you , ''Tell me about this President.'' Now again, 10 months later I ask, ''Tell me about this President.'' How well have you gotten to know him? What are his strengths? And what is his style?
I've gotten to know him quite well. Our relationship is two-sided; so to get the other side, you must ask him. . . .
I think it's clear that he's unthreatened by people, by events. He's willing to think anew. He's willing to fine-tune. He's willing to listen. . . . But more than anything else he's unthreatened by insecurities and he doesn't have any hangups.
He isn't inclined to depart from principles he believes in for short-term gain. And I say that because if you go back and look at the course corrections on the economy and on other things by his various predecessors it is a pretty good point. . . .
And the other point I would like to make - and the American people got a good glimpse of this when the President was shot - is this manner of his, devoid of recrimination.
Someone after one of these votes said, ''Well we got them. We showed them,'' and the President said, ''Wait a minute. There's no winners or losers.'' He's not looking to be able to say, ''Hey, we got this guy this time. Now he'll learn.'' He's devoid of a hit-list mentality. He's got no siege mentality.
Now that does not mean he's oblivious to problems. But it's not a recriminatory view he holds. Oh, he gets mad. He sees things he doesn't like in the papers. But I'm talking about the overall makeup of the man. And I get back to what I said: He is unthreatened. He is not insecure in his job. And that isn't to say that he thinks he knows it all.
. . . A criticism one hears - that he has to lean very heavily on his advisers, that he really can't make decisions on his own. Is that a bad rap?
No, I don't think that's a bad rap. And I think that is part of his style of leadership. . . .He formulates opinions by listening to debate. People sit in there with him and give diametrically different views. He encourages them. He doesn't signal his view so as to silence a person who may feel differently. He will form an opinion by listening to a lively debate between aides in Cabinet meetings and staff meetings. But the key point is that he makes the decision. And it sticks. And people respect it.
Does this President rely heavily on aides? Yes, he does. Do good executives, the best executives in America, delegate authority? Yes, they do. But he doesn't sign away his responsibilities as President. He does delegate. And he does put trust in top people. If that's what they are saying, then that's a fair observation. If they are saying it in a bad sense - I don' think so. . . .
Was the President's veto (of a continuing budget resolution Nov. 23) a good decision?
A: Well, I think so. The President was faced with a bottom-line thing that was so much less than what he had proposed and then so much less than what he had offered by compromise that he had no choice. . . .
Are there any presidential risks involved in this veto decision - in terms of his relationship with Congress?. . .
The risks here are calculable. The risks for the kind of president I have tried to describe to you are much less than for a president who might be causing people on the Hill to say, ''We're going to get him. We're going to go after him.'' Oh, I know there is some polarization. But we can handle that. We aren't looking for confrontation. The President simply doesn't think that way.
Is this a White House that is filled with internal disputes and sharp elbows?
One of the reasons that people think there are is that the people in the White House discuss it. And I'm not one who discusses it. So therefore that's all I have to say on the subject.
Oh? (Both laugh).We have got to discipline ourselves in this White House. And if we don't, we complicate the life of the President. These off-the-record, private sources, unsourced stories in the papers from very responsible reporters who, I know, wouldn't be writing it if they didn't have those unnamed sources.
There are 10, 15 different unnamed sources - in the White House, or in defense, or in state, or in some other department. Why not have a guy sit down and put his name next to it? If he wants to criticize Joe Jones, working next to him, let him say, ''I don't like Jones. I think he is fouling it up.'' Or ''Smith is doing a poor job.''