George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, has died at the age of 94.
He was one of the most qualified and experienced individuals ever to hold the office, having served as a decorated Navy pilot in World War II, a U.S. Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, envoy to China, director of the CIA, and Vice President under Ronald Reagan.
President Bush presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union and the repudiation of communism in Eastern Europe. He helped to hold the West together in those tumultuous times, contributing to the reunification of East and West Germany.
When Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, President Bush organized an international coalition to take part in a military operation that drove out the invaders in only 100 days. The way was clear to Baghdad, but he stopped the operation once Kuwait was freed. President Bush has been criticized, in hindsight, for not invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam, which would have kept his son, George W. Bush, the 43rd president, from taking on that project in a long and futile-seeming war. But the first President Bush believed in avoiding open-ended conflicts, when possible, insisting on setting limited and attainable objectives, then stopping combat when those objectives are attained. (That philosophy would have prevented the long-drawn-out nation-building of the second Iraq War.)
President Bush faced economic problems at home, including having to bail out the nation’s Savings & Loan industry. Wanting to avoid massive deficit spending, President Bush raised taxes. Earlier, though, he had pledged, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Violating that pledge cost him politically, alienating in particular conservative Republicans.
Despite his manifest accomplishments, President Bush was only a one-term president. He was defeated for re-election by Bill Clinton.President Bush, who famously called for a “kinder, gentler nation,” seems like the polar opposite to President Trump, who came to office with no military record, no governmental experience, and no diplomatic skill and who comes across as neither kind nor gentle. But “establishment” figures like the Bush family are no longer in favor, either on the right or the left. President Bush was never as conservative as conservatives thought he should be, though he served President Reagan well and won his support for the presidency, and with his patrician ways, he lacked the populist touch of both Presidents Reagan and Trump. Sometimes populism is what the country wants and even needs.
Despite his feuds with the Bush family and the Republican establishment that it represents, President Trump, to his credit, is being lavish with praise of his predecessor. And to the late President Bush’s credit, before he died he indicated that he wanted to let bygones be bygones and to invite President Trump to his funeral. Kinder and gentler enhances everyone’s reputation.
UPDATE: See this piece in the Washington Post about Bush’s faith. It also says how Bush moved the Republican establishment to a pro-life position and how he opened the party up to evangelical Christians.
UPDATE: What Bush did to keep the peace during the collapse of Communism and to successfully conduct a war against Iraq.
Photo credit: “Former President Bush Visits Airmen,” U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jason Tudor. Public Domain