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Monday, December 3, 2018

Bush 41

President Bush the senior has died. There are many tributes to him and examinations of his life and legacy out there by people who write much better than I, so I will keep my observations short and, hopefully, not too shallow.

It is easy to be conflicted in an analysis of the achievements of George H. W. Bush. Let me start by saying that I consider him to have been a patriot and a decent person. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, at the age of 18, despite being from a privileged family, he enlisted in the Navy, and become one of it youngest aviators. He flew 58 combat missions, was shot down on one of them, returned to action after being rescued by a submarine, and subsequently received the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other awards for his war-time actions. He became a successful businessman, Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, head of the CIA, Vice President and then President. Not too shabby. Quite a life.

I met him briefly once back in the mid-1980s when he was VP and I was a lowly State Department Pakistan desk officer. I had been tasked with writing some talking points for the Vice President for a meeting with the Pakistani Foreign Minister re our displeasure over Pakistan's continued covert efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. For what it was worth, Bush hit the FM hard and showed he could deliver a tough message face-to-face. The Pakistanis, however, kept working on the bomb, knowing that we needed them to make life hell for the Soviets in Afghanistan.

I know from my time working with Maureen Reagan, President Reagan's daughter, while Reagan and Bush got along well enough on a personal level, there was no love lost between the Reagan people and the Bush people. Reagan had "taken" the Presidency from the man most had considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, Bush. When Bush won the presidency in the 1988 elections against the absurd and execrable Michael Dukakis, his people wasted no time in flushing most of the Reagan staff out of the government. In fact, a little Diplomad aside, I was called by an outraged and tearful Maureen, who had been unceremoniously thrown out of her office at the RNC within a few days of Bush's inauguration. She had been the Co-Chair of the party and went to her office only to find locks changed and her stuff in the hallway. I was already in Guatemala, and could not fly up to DC to help Maureen move her stuff out. When a year later or so she came to visit my wife and me in Guatemala, she refused to meet the Ambassador, who had been a close friend of Bush at Yale. It was awkward.

Bush had a tumultuous four-year term on the foreign scene: The overthrow of the thuggish Noriega in Panama; the first Gulf War; the death of the USSR; NAFTA; invasion of Somalia. Bush showed that he was not reluctant to pull the trigger and use American power. He, however, did not show that he fully understood the consequences of the use of that power, and we saw a half-finished war in Iraq and the set up for a disaster in Somalia. In Bush's defense re Somalia, however, he did use overwhelming power for limited objectives unlike his successor who flipped that formula and gave us "Blackhawk Down." Re the USSR, neither he nor his successor ever developed a cogent policy for handling Russia and the instability that followed the collapse of the Soviet empire. He showed himself as a tone deaf elitist on NAFTA and allowed Ross Perot to cost him the 1992 elections. He was unable to fathom the revolt that was beginning to brew in the American hinterland. Neither he nor his sons ever understood the Trump phenomenon and found themselves on the wrong side of history on that one.

Anyhow, President Bush, rest in peace.

18 comments:

  1. The Bushes were certainly not alone in missing the foundations of Trump's appeal.
    To GWB's credit, he put in a lot of effort calling senators over the Kavanaugh appointment, even though he'd long staked out a vehement anti-Trump position.

    But other than that, they all missed the concepts Trump was seeing, worst of all Jeb and his many deer-in-headlights moments in the face of a sharp-hitting Trump team.

    It's really not that surprising... there have been a lot of sacred cows put in place in our political discourse without any questioning whatsoever. Then Trump comes in as the bull-in-china-shop and people wonder why their sacred cows didn't protect them and their political interests.

    - reader #1482

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  2. Not too shabby at all.

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  3. I wondered how your career at State went during that time. Being that you had previously talked of your affiliation to Maureen Reagan. I don't feel that he really was good as President. He certainly was capable with the reigns of power, but like you stated, lacked the ability to see outside of his social circle. In a little what if play, I imagined what the President Trump would had done when faced with the invasion of Kuwait. I am pretty sure that ultimate noose for Saddam would have come much sooner.

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    1. That well-deserved noose probably would not have been administered by the 1990-91 Donald Trump either.

      It was a different world back then and G.H.W Bush could look to the way his previous boss sent a very blunt and very direct message to Qaddafi in 1986, just four years prior to Kuwait. It was one-and-done with Reagan, so Bush might have hoped that his message, delivered by Schwartzkopf, was clear to Saddam but the latter refused to learn his lesson.

      In the years that passed after Desert Storm, Clinton's America did nothing to demonstrate to enemies that it would respond decisively when attacked - think of Khobar Towers, Mogadishu, US embassy bombings, and the USS Cole. Think of the repeated violations of the no-fly zones.

      It was a different world when G.W. Bush handed Saddam to his countrymen to swing from a rope. Although he had minded himself since 1986 and even seemed to get the idea that he could benefit by cooperating with the West, Qaddafi got the point in 2011 that the world has changed.

      Any chance of it ever being a kinder and gentler world is long lost and we now have, by necessity, a Trump that seems to recognize that. While it utterly amazes me that so many Americans still don't get that we have been in the fight of our lives ever since 2001, I don't think the 1990 NYC real estate mogul is really the same guy today. Thankfully.

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    2. True, Donald Trump in 1990 was a different person. Perhaps a better comparison would have been what a Ronald Reagan would have done if faced with the invasion of Kuwait. Would he had tiptoed like President Bush did when things really started to go bad for Saddam.

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    3. Salvorhardin,

      Yes, I agree in as much as Reagan would probably have been less concerned about the preservation of the Desert Shield / Storm coalition and could have been more inclined to take Saddam down for good because I doubt very much that he would have concerned himself with "What would Syria and Egypt think?" or "What about the Iranians when Iraq collapses?".

      As an aside, I have to add that I think we - our betters in government and the media - have a problem with overrating "nuance" in a part of the world where the concept of subtlety probably only goes as far as the difference between throat-cutting and decapitation.

      Returning to my "different world" meme, I remember how Ronald Reagan was so roundly portrayed in his own country as a cowboy - a reckless one - that internationally it was probably assumed that he might just take action, so a guy like Saddam Hussein might not be that eager to test him. Enter a "kinder, gentler" President Bush...followed by a miscalculating Saddam...and the latter fails his own test but is allowed to survive it.

      Characteristically, the US ends up restoring peace by winning on the battlefield but ends up losing the peace by being feckless about holding it to terms. Don't even get me started on my Kurds and Hmong analogy.

      So in the end, I say Saddam would have been less likely to test Reagan but the feckless Bill Clinton / William Christopher / Madeleine Albright Trio took Reagan and Bush accomplishments to the dump and left us with conditions that have Putin pushing against an expanded, toothless NATO and a permanent ground force presence with troops in contact across much of CENTCOM's AOR.

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  4. Good write up Diplomad. Bush 41 for all his short comings represented-along with Bob Dole- a different and better generation of Americans.

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  5. War heroes tend to advance to the presidency ahead of others ... although I am not sure they are prepared for the bottom-op backbiting that occurs then, Washington and Eisenhower being exceptions.

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    1. I think that in both cases that was because they were forced to personally deal with politics that couldn't be solved by "I am your superior officer, shut up and soldier."

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  6. A British former soldier writes:-

    http://www.cityunslicker.co.uk/2018/12/george-bush-snr-departing-of-wise.html

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    1. Thanks. It was a good article.

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    2. It was a terrible article! GWHB was a lukewarm "patriot" or why else would he have signed the disastrous NAFTA treaty which almost destroyed the American middle class in favor of the multi-national globalists and the Red Chinese?

      As for the so-called "Greatest Generation," why were they dumb enough to continue to re-elect the anti-Constitutional FDR who managed to win WW II for the benefit of the Soviet Russians; using American soldiers and equipment to accomplish Soviet war aims? And taking sides with Stalin who had already by 1932, killed far more people than Hitler ever managed to. Don't forget, Stalin was a co-starter of WW II, invading Poland from the East as Germany did from the West. Although my father served proudly in WW II and I'm proud of service; his generation bought the Communist line sold by FDR, lock, stock and barrel! Maybe the "Dumbest Generation" is a more correct name?

      FDR couldn't fix the "Great Depression" (remember the US suffered almost as great a depression after WW I, which Harding overcame to create the "Roaring Twenties," doing the exact OPPOSITE of what FDR later attempted! Harding is reviled by liberal historians because his solutions to his great depression actually worked; whereas FDR's "Keynesian solutions" were miserable failures.)

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  7. I did not realize the Bush vs. Reagan follower issue - wow.

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  8. Sorry, can't agree with the premises of your article; Bush was a New World Order diktat who did so much to shift middle-class Americans' wealth overseas, in obeisance to the multi-national globalists! NAFTA almost killed the US MC and gave China a huge leg-up over the US, in trade and political advantage! Won't even mention the damage caused by the insufferable Souter nomination! GHWB = RIH!

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  9. @ Unknown 12/5/18 11:02 AM

    You're right on the money.

    Not to mention how he seeded US sovereignty to a foreign governing body known as the UN, a comunist/muslim dictators club when he signed the USA onto UN Agenda 21 during the 1992 earth summit meeting in Rio De Janeiro. As a nation we still continue to suffer greatly as this agenda continues to be forced on us under the guise of sustainable development and the green agenda. Think common core in the public education indoctrination program as UN agenda 21 is the global agenda for the 21st century. A21 has many different faccets. The cultural marxists believe him to be a great leader as well.

    Y'all have been watching wayyyy too much TV.

    GHWB a patriot my red, white, and blue a$$. He was no patriot. Patriots don't sell their own countries or people out to foreigners.

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    1. It's fascinating, just how much you know that isn't so.

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