As the 41st President of the United States, George Bush (senior) had ended the Cold War. His epitaph could be as stark as that. His tenure in the White House (1989-93) was a watershed phase in world history ~ a period that witnessed the collapse of Communism, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the reunification of Germany.
Bush steered the US through it all, while the Cold War ~ the dominant theme of the 20th-century ~ was inching towards an eclipse. He had organised a robust international response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, in marked contrast to his son’s invasion of Iraq (March 2003), which was essentially an Anglo-American misadventure.
This is not to forget the earlier misadventure in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 ~ the abortive endeavour to “smoke out” Osama bin Laden from the caves of Afghanistan (October 2001). The Iraq war spells the difference between the statecraft of Bush (senior) and the dire recklessness of his son.
By any reckoning, he was the among the most successful US Presidents in terms of foreign policy, though not remarkably effective when it came to economic and domestic issues. It is quite another story that diplomacy in Donald Trump’s America is floundering in search of its moorings.
George Bush had to deal with leaders who had varying perceptions of world affairs, pre-eminently Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and Francois Mitterrand. Well and truly did he steer the US into a position of unprecedented global dominance, a President who made his mark with the collapse of Communism and the liberation of Kuwait.
It bears recall that the latter’s existence as a sovereign nation was in doubt for a while as Iraqi tanks rumbled into the country. Considering what has been acclaimed as his “masterly management” of the first Iraq war, it might have been assumed that his re-election, for a second four-year term from 1993, would be assured. Far from it. His popularity had plummeted, from more than 90 per cent to below 40 per cent.
Which explains his successor, Bill Clinton’s tongue-in-cheek prognosis ~ “It’s the economy, stupid!” One could argue that as the US President during the crafting of history in the Soviet Union and East Europe, foreign policy was accorded uppermost priority by the George Bush administration. Hence the riveting obsession with world affairs.
Domestic issues were accorded a relatively minor rating, and this neglect might well have alienated a large segment of the in-house constituency. Yet the fact remains that few modern Presidents were better prepared for the White House.
He had served as chairman of the Republican national committee, as ambassador to China, as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and as Ronald Reagan’s Vice- President. He did not belong to the rightwing movement that propelled Reagan to the White House, and was often viewed with suspicion by the ideologues of the new right. He was less than enthusiastic about the rightwing orientation of his son’s presidency. In a sense, the senior Bush was a reluctant Republican.