By George, Good Bye George!
In the 1980s, a one-liner on the then US Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924-November 30, 2018) was frequently cracked that “You die we fly.” It was because the vice president used to attend the state funerals as the assistant of then President Ronald Regan. Gorge H W Bush visited Moscow thrice during that period to attend the funerals of three Soviet leaders (Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, Yuri Andropov in 1984 and Konstantin Chernenko in 1985). Although those were formal visits, the vice president reportedly did his groundwork…
During his tenure as the 41st president of the US (January 20, 1989-January 20, 1993), the Berlin Wall was brought down, the enemy Soviet camp faced various troubles and ultimately collapsed, and West Asia experienced a war. Bush’s friendship with last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev played an important role in global geopolitics during this particular period. The two leaders held a meeting onboard Soviet cruise liner Maxim Gorky in December 1989 and the event is popularly known as the Malta Summit. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft had advised President Bush not to meet Gorbachev, as the former thought that it would be a ‘premature’ meeting! However, then French President François Mitterrand, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and some members of the US Congress wanted President Bush to meet the Soviet leader. They didn’t sign any accord, but Gorbachev said he and President Bush agreed that ”the characteristics of the Cold War should be abandoned”. He also said: “The arms race, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle, all those should be things of the past.” For his part, President Bush stressed: “We stand at the threshold of a brand-new era of US-Soviet relations.”
Gorbachev & Bush
Before the Malta Summit, relation between the US and the then Soviet Union was antagonistic. For Bush’s predecessor Ronald Wilson Reagan, the Soviet Union was a ‘Satan’s Empire‘. (Similarly) for the Communists, the policy towards the US was ‘Détente’ or maintaining a ‘tolerable’ relation with an ‘enemy’. As far as the Soviet-US ties were concerned, President Regan adopted the ‘rollback’ strategy – a strategy orchestrated and implemented by the US president to overwhelm the global influence of the Soviet Union in an attempt to end the Cold War. In other words, the US put the Soviet under tremendous diplomatic and political pressure. And, the policy really worked… Commenting on ‘strategic defence initiative’, Gorbachev’s (Foreign Ministry) spokesperson Gennadi Gerasimov said: “… a very successful blackmail. The Soviet Union tried to keep up pace with the US military build-up, but the Soviet economy couldn’t endure such competition.”
After his retirement, Regan had praised Gorbachev for taking necessary steps to end the Cold War. The 40th US president was well aware of the fact that Bush achieved what he had failed to achieve. Standing before Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, President Reagan had delivered his famous challenge to Soviet leader Gorbachev, saying: “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation, come here to this gate. Mr Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this (Berlin) wall!” When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 (11 months before the German reunification), President George H W Bush was leading the US at the global stage. This historical event helped President Bush secure his place in history!
President Reagan, Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, June 12, 1987
Personally, Bush Sr. didn’t deserve the credit for the fall of Soviet Union, as the Communist Party’s internal crisis triggered the fall. The Soviet authorities destroyed their economy by spending a huge amount of money in defence sector. The small Soviet states slammed Kremlin after the US’ victory in the Afghan War. Reformist Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Experts describe his tenure as the ‘period of meetings and agreements’, as Gorbachev’s policies were highly influenced by steps taken by the White House!
The Gulf War, too, became a part of history… The US sent forces to West Asia in February 1991 in order to help Kuwait after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared a war against the Arab nation situated next to the Persian Gulf. It was the first time the US sent forces to other part of the world since the Korean War! President Bush not only ignored the UN’s advice, but also went against the US Congress, as he was determined to help Kuwait overcome the crisis. However, the US forces did not dethrone Saddam. Later, his son and 43rd President of the US George Walker Bush admitted that the senior Bush made a blunder and also sent forces to Iraq in order to rectify his father’s mistake. The dad, unlike his son, was a ‘seasoned diplomat’ and that’s why he was popularly known as ‘Conservative with a small c’!
George W Bush with George H W Bush
It was President Bush Sr. who sowed the seeds of one ‘unipolar’ world. The US invasion of Panama – codenamed ‘Operation Just Cause’ – took place (1989-90) during his presidency, as Washington helped President Guillermo Endara come to power, replacing de facto Panamanian leader, general and military dictator Manuel Noriega.
In the 1990 Nicaragua Election, peoples saw the defeat of José Daniel Ortega Saavedra to US-backed Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Even after Bill Clinton won the Presidential Election, ‘lame duck’ President Bush Sr. launched ‘Operation Restore Hope’ on December 9, 1992 in Somalia, carrying out UN Security Council ‘Resolution 794’ to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in the southern half of the African nation.
Bush Sr. thought that his ‘successful’ foreign policies would help him win a second term in 1992. However, he lost the election mainly because of the economic crisis in the US (after the Gulf War triggered a rise in global crude price). Also, Bush Sr. seemingly failed to realise that foreign policy became irrelevant in national politics especially after the fall of Soviet Union and the end of Gulf War. The American leadership could not possibly focus on its then adversaries and divert the attention of its citizens from the crises within.
As far as the leadership qualities are concerned, the difference between Bush and his Republican predecessor Regan (and also his Democrat successor Clinton) is important. Regan was a visionary leader, while Bush used to say that he didn’t understand the meaning of ‘vision’. On the other hand, Clinton was a charismatic leader who used to maintain ‘close’ relation with his voters.
Clinton, Bush Sr. & Regan
The presidential years of George H W Bush may have seen the continuous implementation of ‘Reaganomics’ , which called for widespread tax cuts, decreased social spending, increased military spending and the deregulation of domestic markets. Bush was not a ‘mass leader’. Interestingly, the 41st president had a clear idea about himself. During his tenure, the US became the leader of a unipolar world and the global community started enjoying ‘peace’ after experiencing the WWII and the Cold War. Commenting on this issue, President George H W Bush – who steered the nation through a tumultuous period in world affairs – was heard stating: “I’m just not an emotional kind of guy.”
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