The Historical Ranking of George Herbert Walker Bush
By Doug Wead, December, 2010
This week I leave for a speaking tour of Russia that will take me from Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean to Krasnodar near the Black Sea, with a dozen spots in between. The crowds will vary from 15,000 in Khabarovsk to 5,000 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. And off stage, with my hosts and in the restaurants, once again, I will hear the retelling of “the collapse” or what we call the end of the Cold War and once again they will talk with relish and detail about the role played by George H. W. Bush, it is a story you seldom hear in the United States.
Yes, they acknowledge that President Ronald Reagan was the catalyst for events but they have a healthy opinion of the role that Bush played in 1989-90, when a counter revolution was possible but American restraint ruled it out. In some countries, such as Poland, Hungary and Slovenia, Bush, Sr. is widely admired for his role as much as Ronald Reagan and in Russia and parts of Eastern Ukraine, he is bitterly credited for playing a key part in what happened. Understand, most of the older population still has mixed emotions about the end of the Soviet era and almost all are embarrassed by the loss of their empire.
This experience always amazes me and I learn new things each time, for that famous Berlin Wall kept us out as much as it kept them in. By the way, no matter what Ronald Reagan said in his speech, the Wall came down under George H. W. Bush. What is certain is that the role Bush 41 played in this story is seen very differently in the former Soviet Union than it is in the United States where the stock market rises and falls on an anticipated future and has little respect for what is happening today. By the time George H. W. Bush moved into the White House, the Cold War was over in American minds, or at least it would be soon. But in fact, it was still a dangerous time. The Lithuanian lobby was working furiously in the United States, demanding Bush to confront the Soviets, a chance of a lifetime, they insisted. But Bush would not be distracted. You don’t go into anguish over the loss of a pawn when the King and Checkmate, itself, is only a few moves away.
In the end, Lithuania and almost all of the Soviet Republics and nations under Soviet domination got their independence, in no small measure because of the wisdom and diplomatic skills of an extraordinary president. It was the defining moment in modern world history.
Likewise, George H. W. Bush’s decisive action in Panama has to be contrasted to the Reagan-Carter-Ford years when Americans complained about drugs and what it was doing to the country but limited their war to arresting addicted dealers on the streets, beefing up the borders or well meaning slogans, “Just Say No,” while taking no effective, strategic, international action. We now forget the danger but pundits and historians were comparing the American experience to the Chinese, a whole nation that went to sleep for a hundred years on opium.
When George H. W. Bush went to war in the Gulf, he went with the whole world at his back. Never before had such a coalition existed. The United Nations, at its idealistic birth, never had such unanimity. Metternich and Talleyrand could only dream of such a moment. Never before and never since. And only a man of George H. W. Bush’s temperament, experience and competence could have pulled it off. By the way, those who fault him for not “finishing the job” now have a historical comparison, which makes him only look better to many.
Oh yes, I know. It’s about the economy stupid. But a sluggish economy was generously helped by an animated, biased media. Nothing historically new in that but nevertheless a reality. The stock market, for example, was on 38% climb from the bottom when Clinton beat Bush “because of the economy.” In fact, it was not the economy, nor Bill Clinton, nor the media which cost him his re-election. It was the third party challenge of fellow Texan and multi-millionaire, Ross Perot.
Oops, a big disclaimer is overdue here. I once worked for George Herbert Walker Bush so I may be a tad prejudice. But I may also have a tad bit of insight.
History has a way of catching up with these things. And what I write now and what others write now will make little difference. But I submit that the blurry images we are seeing reveal a presidency far more talented and complicated than the elitist clique of Sienna polled historians have already arrogantly carved in stone. Whether I live to see it or not, I strongly suspect that George Herbert Walker Bush will be rediscovered with relish some day. The people in the former Soviet Empire are already there. By the millions they have lived the reality of those years and they know the critical, historic role that he played.
see: Historical ranking of George W. Bush