George H. W. Bush, 1924 - 2018

Former US president a skilled, resilient diplomat

He helped end Cold War and arms race with Soviet Union as well as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991

NEW YORK • Former president George H. W. Bush, who steered the United States through a tumultuous period in world affairs but was denied a second term after support for his presidency collapsed under an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs, died last Friday at his home in Houston. He was 94.

The death of the 41st president of the US and the father of the 43rd came less than eight months after that of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush.

Mr Bush had a form of Parkinson's disease that forced him to use a wheelchair or motorised scooter in recent years, and he had been in and out of hospitals during that time as his health declined.

In April, a day after attending his wife's funeral, he was treated for an infection that had spread to his blood. In 2013, he was in dire enough shape with bronchitis that former president George W. Bush, his son, solicited ideas for a eulogy.

But he proved resilient each time, just as he had in his career. A Republican, he was a transitional figure in the White House, where he served from 1989 to 1993, capping a career of over 40 years in public service.

A decorated Navy pilot who was shot down in the Pacific in 1944, he was the last of the World War II generation to occupy the Oval Office.

He was a skilled bureaucratic and diplomatic player who, as president, helped end four decades of Cold War and the threat of nuclear engagement with a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In January 1991, he assembled a global coalition to eject Iraqi invaders from Kuwait, sending hundreds of thousands of troops in a triumphant military campaign that to many Americans helped purge the ghosts of Vietnam.

 

But the victory also brought years of American preoccupation with Iraq. It led to the decision by his son, Mr Bush Jr, in 2003 to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in a war that pushed an aggressive and ultimately self-destructive use of force around the world.

In this file photo taken on March 5, 1992, then US President George H.W. Bush acknowledges the crowd gathered at Columbia Metropolitan Airport with a thumbs-up as he boards Air Force One. He served a term in the White House from 1989 to 1993.
In this file photo taken on March 5, 1992, then US President George H.W. Bush acknowledges the crowd gathered at Columbia Metropolitan Airport with a thumbs-up as he boards Air Force One. He served a term in the White House from 1989 to 1993. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

For all his success in the international arena, Mr Bush's presidency faltered as voters seemed to perceive him as detached from their everyday lives. In an election that turned on the economy, they repudiated Mr Bush in 1992 and chose the little-known Democratic governor from Arkansas, Mr Bill Clinton.

AN INSPIRATION

Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

GIFT OF FRIENDSHIP

I am profoundly grateful for every minute I spent with President Bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life's greatest gifts.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON, who defeated Mr Bush in the 1992 election

'A TRUE PARTNER'

We had the chance to work together during the time of enormous changes. And this was a dramatic time which called for huge responsibility from everyone. The result was the end of the Cold War and the arms race... He was a true partner.

FORMER SOVIET LEADER MIKHAIL GORBACHEV

'A TRUE FRIEND'

Germany will always remember with deep gratitude his unwavering support for German reunification. Germany is mourning a true friend.

GERMAN PRESIDENT FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER

"George H. W. Bush was the best one-term president the country has ever had, and one of the most underrated presidents of all time," Mr James Baker, the former secretary of state and Mr Bush's closest adviser, said in an interview in 2013.

Tributes poured in from around the world yesterday.

Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, hailed Mr Bush's role in helping to end the Cold War and an arms race between the US and the Soviet Union. "He was a true partner," Mr Gorbachev, 87, was cited as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said: "We have lost a great American... he taught all of us about leadership, sacrifice and decency."

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Massachusetts. His father Prescott was a two-term senator and banker. His mother Dorothy was the person who schooled George in good manners and graciousness of privilege and civic responsibility.

Mr Bush entered the White House with one of the most impressive resumes of any president. A graduate of Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Yale, he had been an oil millionaire, two-term congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, US envoy to China, director of the CIA, and vice-president to president Ronald Reagan.

But his critics saw him as out of touch with ordinary Americans, pointing to what they portrayed as his amazed reaction during a demonstration of a supermarket scanner when he visited a grocers' convention while he was president.

In a debate during the 1992 presidential campaign, he became flustered when a woman asked him how he could respond to the economic distress "of the common people" if he had "no experience with what's ailing them".

Yet many Americans came to appreciate the restrained, seasoned leadership the 41st president had displayed; in an opinion poll in 2012, 59 per cent expressed approval.

Mr Bush is survived by five children as well as 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

"George H. W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for," Mr George W. Bush said in a statement released on Twitter by a family spokesman.

The 41st president may have best summed up his talents and ambitions in a diary entry on the last day of 1989, as the first year of his presidency drew to a close.

"I'm certainly not seen as visionary," Mr Bush wrote. "But I hope I'm seen as steady and prudent and able."

NYTIMES, REUTERS


Highlights of Bush Sr's presidency

FOREIGN

End of Cold War: Amid upheaval in Eastern Europe and the crumbling of the Soviet Union, Mr George H. W. Bush chose a collaborative approach, working with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to allow for the reunification of Germany in 1990, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the end of the Cold War.

War in Iraq: After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Mr Bush arranged the coalition of dozens of countries that came to Kuwait's defence. Following weeks of bombardment that began in January 1991, coalition troops routed Iraq's army in 100 hours.

But US involvement in the Gulf War was seen by some as a violation of Arab sovereignty, and led militant groups like Al-Qaeda to turn their focus towards fighting US influence.

In the wake of Al-Qaeda's attacks on the US on Sept 11, 2001, Mr Bush's son, President George W. Bush, launched a war in 2003 that led to prolonged military engagements in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The effort had the unintended consequence of further destabilising the Muslim world, leading to the growth of new terrorist movements.

Israel-Palestine pact: Mr Bush sent his secretary of state, Mr James Baker, to the Middle East to set in motion a process that led to the signing of a peace pact between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1993.

DOMESTIC

Tax hike: In the 1990 budget deal, Mr Bush sought to address deepening deficits by raising taxes on the wealthy. It broke the famous campaign pledge he had made in the 1988 presidential race: "Read my lips: No new taxes."

He lost the 1992 election to Mr Bill Clinton, and remains a cautionary tale for Republicans.

Disabilities Act: A major accomplishment of Mr Bush's presidency can be seen every day across America - from the cut-away curbs on street intersections to the ramps outside buildings that allow access to those confined to wheelchairs.

They were mandated by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the law Mr Bush signed that barred discrimination against the disabled.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 02, 2018, with the headline 'Former US president a skilled, resilient diplomat'. Print Edition | Subscribe