In defence of George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush is among a small group of American presidents who helped change the face of the world.
Friday 07/12/2018
A 1989 file picture shows the then US President George H.W. Bush standing on his car in Tiananman Square in Beijing. (AP)
In praise of character. A 1989 file picture shows the then US President George H.W. Bush standing on his car in Tiananman Square in Beijing. (AP)

It was during US President George H.W. Bush’s term that the Soviet Union officially came to an end.

The official announcement of its collapse was in early 1992. In October 1991, Bush was with USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev co-sponsoring the Madrid Conference, one of the few serious attempts to find a settlement in the Middle East and a fine move by the US president to show Russia respect.

Bush was a truly distinguished American president. Before he took office in early 1989, he had accumulated extensive experience in foreign affairs and had an excellent knowledge of the world. He had served as US ambassador to the United Nations, chief of the liaison office to China and director of the CIA before becoming vice-president from 1981-89 under President Ronald Reagan.

Bush was president of the United States for just one term. He was unable to win a second term for several reasons, the most important of which was the decline of the US economy in the last year of his tenure.

Bush’s greatest achievement was the liberation of Kuwait in February 1991 and his refusal to order the US military and coalition forces to go to Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.

George H.W. Bush is among a small group of American presidents who helped change the face of the world. He was of the same calibre as Dwight Eisenhower, who forced Britain, France and Israel to withdraw from Egyptian territory following the Suez crisis in 1956.

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Bush showed leadership, wisdom and an unprecedented American understanding of the Middle East, in particular, and in the world in general. He insisted that Kuwait be liberated by an international coalition with UN cover and committed himself to strictly upholding international law by rejecting any adventure.

Bush knew the mission of the international coalition should stop at the borders of Kuwait after returning that country to its people. He knew that going after Saddam in Baghdad, despite the atrocities perpetrated by the latter’s regime, would amount to a collapse of Iraq and of the balance of power in the region, making Iran the only beneficiary of such a situation.

Iran had to wait 12 years before someone gave it Iraq on a silver platter. In 2001, US President George W. Bush won the race to the White House and, two years later, unleashed a nightmare on Iraq before simply gifting it to Iran. The region is still suffering from the consequences of that disaster.

Unlike his father, George W. Bush had no strategic vision of the world. After finishing with Afghanistan, he made a ludicrous link between Saddam and Osama bin Laden, then went after Iraq.

What the world needs today more than ever is the likes of George H.W. Bush and his White House team, particularly his Secretary of State James Baker and his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. We should not forget that George H.W. Bush and his team prevented Israel from intervening in the war to liberate Kuwait, even after Saddam foolishly fired rockets into the West Bank.

Before and during the war of liberation of Kuwait, the Bush administration forced Israel to accept positioning batteries of Patriot missiles manned by US crews on its territory. That by itself was a momentous achievement, since the Israelis have always rejected the presence and participation of any foreign military force in their defence.

Bush also dragged Israel to the Madrid Peace Conference for negotiations based on UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the principle of land for peace. It is probable that his action cost him a second presidential term.

Bush’s administration was the last American administration to act from a purely American point of view. With subsequent administrations and until the coming of Donald Trump’s administration, US foreign policy entered a phase of grey positions.

It is true that no comparison is possible between Bush’s expertise in world affairs and that of a businessman named Donald Trump. On the other hand, it is also true that Trump did not hesitate to define a clear policy towards Iran and the threat posed by its expansionist project.

Will Trump fix, before the end of his first term, the disaster created in Iraq by George W. Bush? The son did not have his father’s wisdom or his moral standards.

In explaining why he refused to pursue Saddam and his army into Iraqi territory after the liberation of Kuwait, George H.W. Bush said that the United States had taken it upon itself to liberate Kuwait but would refuse to stab a withdrawing army from behind.