The world Ge­orge H.W. Bush made

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By Richard N. Haass, ex­clu­sive to the Sun­day Times in Sri Lanka

CAM­BRIDGE – I have worked for four US pres­i­dents, Democrats and Repub­li­cans alike, and per­haps the most im­por­tant thing I have learned along the way is that lit­tle of what we call his­tory is in­evitable. What hap­pens in this world is the re­sult of what peo­ple choose to do and choose not to do when pre­sented with chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Ge­orge H. W. Bush, the 41st pres­i­dent of the United States, was pre­sented with more than his share of chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties, and the record is clear: he left the coun­try and the world con­sid­er­ably bet­ter off than he found them.

I worked for and often with Bush for all four years of his pres­i­dency. I was the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­ber re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the de­vel­op­ment and ex­e­cu­tion of pol­icy to­ward the Mid­dle East, the Per­sian Gulf, and Afghanistan, In­dia, and Pak­istan. I was also brought into a good many other pol­icy de­lib­er­a­tions.

Bush was kind, de­cent, fair, open-minded, con­sid­er­ate, lack­ing in prej­u­dice, mod­est, prin­ci­pled, and loyal. He val­ued pub­lic ser­vice and saw him­self as sim­ply the lat­est in the long line of US pres­i­dents, an­other tem­po­rary oc­cu­pant of the Oval Of­fice and cus­to­dian of Amer­i­can democ­racy.

His for­eign pol­icy achieve­ments were many and sig­nif­i­cant, start­ing with the end­ing of the Cold War. To be sure, that it ended when it did had a great deal to do with four decades of con­certed Western ef­fort in ev­ery re­gion of the world, the de­feat of the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan, the deep-seated flaws within the Soviet sys­tem, and the words and deeds of Mikhail Gor­bachev. But none of this meant that the Cold War was pre­or­dained to end quickly or peace­fully.

It did, in part, be­cause Bush was sen­si­tive to Gor­bachev’s and later Boris Yeltsin’s predica­ment and avoided mak­ing a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion hu­mil­i­at­ing. He was care­ful not to gloat or to in­dulge in the rhetoric of tri­umphal­ism. He was widely crit­i­cized for this re­straint, but he man­aged not to trig­ger just the sort of na­tion­al­ist re­ac­tion that we are now see­ing in Rus­sia.

He also got what he wanted. No one should con­fuse Bush’s cau­tion with timid­ity. He over­came the re­luc­tance, and at times ob­jec­tions, of many of his Euro­pean coun­ter­parts and fos­tered Ger­many’s uni­fi­ca­tion – and brought it about within NATO. This was state­craft at its finest.

Bush’s other great for­eign pol­icy achieve­ment was the Gulf War. He viewed Sad­dam Hus­sein’s in­va­sion and con­quest of Kuwait as a threat not just to the re­gion’s crit­i­cal oil sup­plies, but also to the emerg­ing postCold War world. Bush feared that if this act of war went unan­swered, it would en­cour­age fur­ther may­hem.

Days into the cri­sis, Bush de­clared that Sad­dam’s ag­gres­sion would not stand. He then mar­shaled an un­prece­dented in­ter­na­tional coali­tion that backed sanc­tions and the threat of force, sent a half- mil­lion US troops half­way around the world to join hun­dreds of thou­sands from other coun­tries, and, when diplo­macy failed to bring about a com­plete and un­condi- tional Iraqi with­drawal, lib­er­ated Kuwait in a mat­ter of weeks with re­mark­ably few US and coali­tion ca­su­al­ties. It was a text­book case of how mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism could work.

Two other points are worth not­ing here. First, Congress was re­luc­tant to act on Sad­dam’s ag­gres­sion. The vote in the Se­nate autho­riz­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion nearly failed. Bush, how­ever, was pre­pared to or­der what be­came Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm even without con­gres­sional ap­proval, given that he al­ready had in­ter­na­tional law and the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil on his side. He was that de­ter­mined and that prin­ci­pled.

Sec­ond, Bush re­fused to al­low him­self to get caught up in events. The mis­sion was to lib­er­ate Kuwait, not Iraq. Fully aware of what hap­pened some four decades ear­lier when the US and UN forces ex­panded their strate­gic ob­jec­tive in Ko­rea and tried to unify the penin­sula by force, Bush re­sisted pres­sures to ex­pand the war’s aims. He wor­ried about los­ing the trust of world lead­ers he had brought along and the loss of life that would likely re­sult. He also wanted to keep Arab gov­ern­ments on his side to im­prove prospects for the Mid­dle East peace ef­fort that was to be­gin in Madrid less than a year later. Again, he was strong enough to stand up to the mood of the mo­ment.

None of this is to say that Bush al­ways got it right. The end of the Gulf War was messy, as Sad­dam man­aged to hang onto power in Iraq with a bru­tal crack­down on Kurds in the north and Shi’a in the south. A year later, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was slow to re­spond to vi­o­lence in the Balkans. It might have done more to help Rus­sia in its early post-Soviet days. Over­all, how­ever, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s for­eign pol­icy record com­pares fa­vor­ably with that of any other modern US pres­i­dent or, for that mat­ter, any other con­tem­po­rary world leader.

One last thing. Bush as­sem­bled what was ar­guably the best na­tional se­cu­rity team the US has ever had. Brent Scowcroft was the gold stan­dard in na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers. James Baker was ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful sec­re­tary of state since Henry Kissinger. And with them were Colin Pow­ell, Dick Cheney, Robert Gates, Larry Ea­gle­burger, Wil­liam Web­ster, and oth­ers of stand­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence.

All of which brings us back to Ge­orge H.W. Bush. He chose the peo­ple. He set the tone and the ex­pec­ta­tions. He lis­tened. He in­sisted on a for­mal process. And he led.

If, as the say­ing goes, a fish rots from the head, it also flour­ishes be­cause of the head. The US flour­ished as a re­sult of the many con­tri­bu­tions of its 41st pres­i­dent. Many peo­ple around the world ben­e­fited as well. We owe him our col­lec­tive thanks. May his well-de­served rest be peace­ful.

(Richard N. Haass is Pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. His most re­cent book is A World in Dis­ar­ray: Amer­i­can For­eign Pol­icy and the Cri­sis of the Old Or­der. )

Ge­orge H.W.Bush

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