Bush praised for his abilities, decency.
To Germans, the 41st president of the United States, George Bush, was the man who helped ensure the peaceful reunification of their country. To Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, he exemplified great kindness. To many Kuwaitis, he was a hero, lauded for the 100-hour ground war that routed Iraqi forces from their country.
On Saturday, as former and current leaders around the globe learned of Bush’s death at 94 on Friday night, their condolences were steeped in praise for the depth of his abilities as a statesman and his refusal to grandstand — a point that commentators noted was in sharp contrast to the tone of the current administration.
“Germany owes a lot to George H.W. Bush,” Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a telegram to President Trump. “It was a stroke of luck in German history that he was at the head of the United States of America when the Cold War came to an end and Germany’s reunification became possible.
Bush, often criticized at home for his measured response to the fall of the Iron Curtain, was praised for that very quality abroad. His calm, controlled response to the end of communism in Europe earned him respect on the Continent as a senior statesman, despite his decisions to send U.S. troops into Panama and to launch the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, underscored Bush’s skillful negotiation among the former adversaries of the Cold War. “We had a chance to work together during the years of tremendous changes,” he told the Interfax news agency. “The result was an end to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.”
Gorbachev said Bush “was a true partner” at the diplomatic table, but above all one who showed kindness to him and to his wife, Raisa.
Historians have noted that while Ronald Reagan gets the credit for urging Gorbachev to “tear down that wall,” it was Bush who later succeeded in persuading the Russian leader, as well as President François Mitterrand of France and deeply skeptical Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, to allow the two German nations to reunite.
“I will never forget the role he played in making Europe a safer and more united place following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.
John Major, who succeeded Thatcher as prime minister of Britain in 1990, summed up the core of what many appreciated about Bush: He “saw America’s obligation to the world and honored it,” Major said.
“I feel privileged to have worked with him, and even more privileged that he became a lifelong friend,” Major told the Associated Press. “He was, quite simply, one of the most deep-down decent people I have ever known.”
Melissa Eddy is a New York Times writer.
Former President George H.W. Bush (left) joins then President-elect Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter in 2009.