3 December 2018
Cogito Ergo Non Serviam
On Friday, George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, died at his home in Texas. With him died a link to a time when America's political class was devoted to the nation rather than to a party. While a conservative partisan, he put what he believed to be good governance ahead of partisan gain or ideology. He was the last safe pair of Republican hands in the White House.
Since his death, commentators have praised him for a great many things, most of them fair comment. At the same time, one cannot omit his numerous failings as a political leader. He failed to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in an attempt to assuage the demands of the evangelical right, and he failed to prevent that faction's rise within the Republican Party. He failed to pick a decent vice president; Dan Quayle was a punchline before he was Veep. He failed to pick a decent Supreme Court Justice; Clarence Thomas remains a not-funny punchline. His pardons for the Iran-Contra Six represented a cover-up of a serious set of crimes.
He had trouble getting elected. He lost when he ran for the US Senate from Texas. He did serve as a congressman. However, he gave up that seat in another unsuccessful Senate campaign. President Nixon made him Ambassador to the UN, and it was there and later as Ambassador to China and as CIA Director that his governing skills shone. It is a fatal flaw in American democracy that those good at winning election are not necessarily good at governing, and those who would excel at governing have trouble getting elected.
The two foreign policy victories he had were vital to global peace. In reverse chronological order, he arranged a grand coalition of nations to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The Kuwaiti regime was hardly democratic, and frankly, had a democratic nation occupied it, one would have called it a liberation. However, Saddam Hussein was a nasty fellow even by Middle Eastern standards. For one member of the UN to invade another and claim its conquest was a violation of post-war norms. By reversing that, Mr. Bush upheld a world system in which nations were not supposed to go to war for territorial gain.
Many had opined that he ended the ground war too quickly, that he should have pushed onto Baghdad and toppled the Saddamite regime. Another President Bush did just that, and the US is still trying to extricate itself from that quagmire. By stopping when he did, he underscored that the war was not about regime change but about recognized borders, a principle even dictators can appreciate when they play defense.
The main triumph of Mr. Bush, however, was his management of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan received laurels from the right for winning the Cold War. In truth, it was Mr. Bush who secured a peaceful end to the Cold War. Had America and NATO been more triumphalist about the Berlin Wall coming down, about glasnost and perestroika, about the dissolution of the USSR, it would have taken very little for the Red Army and NATO to face off in Germany, Poland, Hungary, etc.
When Mr. Bush left office on January 20, 1993, Mr. Putin was a relatively minor official working in the municipal government of St. Petersburg. The Chekist rise in the Russian Federation took place long after Mr. Bush went off into the sunset (or as he put it, he went into the grandkid business). He can not be blamed for Russia's fall back into tyranny.
When Newt Gingrich became leader of the House GOP, Mr. Bush invited him and his campaign chief Vin Weber to the White House to talk. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Weber asked him what worried him about the new GOP leadership. Mr. Bush said his concern was that their idealism would interfere with his desire for good governance. A better description of the American right in 2018 does not exist.
Mr. Bush's presidency ended after one term. It was not a failed presidency, however. It was a completed one. There was no point to a second term. He had completed the mission.
;© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.