Ge­orge H.W. Bush made great­est mark in Gulf War

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - News - BY MICHAEL GRACZYK

He was the man who sought a “kin­der, and gen­tler na­tion,” and the one who sternly in­vited Amer­i­cans to read his lips – he would not raise taxes. He was the pop­u­lar leader of a mighty coali­tion that dis­lodged Iraq from Kuwait, and was turned out of the pres­i­dency af­ter a sin­gle term. Blue-blooded and gen­teel, he was elected in one of the nas­ti­est cam­paigns in re­cent his­tory.

Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was many things, in­clud­ing only the sec­ond Amer­i­can to see his son fol­low him into the na­tion’s high­est of­fice. But more than any­thing else, he was a be­liever in govern­ment ser­vice. Few men or women have served Amer­ica in more ca­pac­i­ties than the man known as “Poppy.”

“There is no higher honor than to serve free men and women, no greater priv­i­lege than to la­bor in govern­ment be­neath the Great Seal of the United States and the Amer­i­can flag,” he told se­nior staffers in 1989, days af­ter he took of­fice.

Bush, who died late Fri­day at age 94 – nearly eight months af­ter his wife of 73 years died at their Hous­ton home – was a con­gress­man, an am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions and en­voy to China, chair­man of the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, di­rec­tor of the CIA, twoterm vice pres­i­dent and, fi­nally, pres­i­dent.

He was no ide­o­logue – he spoke dis­parag­ingly of “the vi­sion thing,” and de­rided the sup­ply-side creed of his fu­ture boss, Ron­ald Rea­gan, as “voodoo eco­nom­ics.” He is gen­er­ally given bet­ter marks by his­to­ri­ans for his for­eign pol­icy achieve- ments than for his do­mes­tic record, but as­sess­ments of his pres­i­dency tend to be tepid.

“Was Ge­orge Bush only a nice man with good con­nec­tions, who sel­dom had to wrest from life the hon­ors it fre­quently be­stowed on him?” jour­nal­ist Tom Wicker asked in his Bush bi­og­ra­phy.

Wicker’s an­swer: Per­haps. But he said Bush’s ac­tions in Kuwait “re­flect mo­ments of courage and vi­sion wor­thy of his of­fice.”

The Per­sian Gulf War – dubbed “Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm” – was his great­est mark on his­tory. In a Jan­uary 2011 in­ter­view mark­ing the war’s 20th an­niver­sary, he said the mis­sion sent a mes­sage that “the United States was will­ing to use force way across the world, even in that part of the world where those coun­tries over there thought we never would in­ter­vene.”

“I think it was a sig­na­ture his­tor­i­cal event,” he added. “And I think it will al­ways be.”

Af­ter Iraq in­vaded Kuwait in Au­gust 1990, Bush quickly be­gan build­ing an in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary coali­tion that in­cluded other Arab states. Af­ter free­ing Kuwait, he re­jected sug­ges­tions that the U.S. carry the of­fen­sive to Bagh­dad, choos­ing to end the hos­til­i­ties a mere 100 hours af­ter the start of the ground of­fen­sive.

“That wasn’t our ob­jec­tive,” he said. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of hu­man life than had been pre­dicted, and in­deed than we might have feared.”

But the de­ci­sive mil­i­tary de­feat did not lead to the regime’s down­fall, as many in the ad­min­is­tra­tion had hoped.

“I mis­cal­cu­lated,” Bush ac­knowl­edged. The Iraqi leader was even­tu­ally ousted in 2003, in the war led by Bush’s son that was fol­lowed by a long, bloody in­sur­gency.

The el­der Bush was also war hero. He joined the Navy on his 18th birth­day in 1942 over the ob­jec­tions of his fa­ther, Prescott, who wanted him to stay in school. At one point the youngest pilot in the Navy, he flew 58 mis­sions off the car­rier USS San Jac­into.

His wartime ex­ploits won him the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross for brav­ery. He was shot down on Sept. 2, 1944, while com­plet­ing a bomb­ing run against a Ja­pa­nese ra­dio tower. An Amer­i­can sub­ma­rine res­cued Bush. Even then, he was an in­vet­er­ate col­lec­tor of friends: Aboard the sub Fin­back, “I made friend­ships that have lasted a life­time,” he would write.

Ge­orge Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary

Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush greets Amer­i­can troops in Saudi Ara­bia weeks be­fore the start of the Per­sian Gulf war in 1991.

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