Po­lit­i­cal pa­tri­arch made great­est mark in Gulf War

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - 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, two-term 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 achieve­ments 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.

Un­like his son, who joined the Texas Air Na­tional Guard dur­ing the Viet­nam era but served only in the U.S., the elder Bush was a 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. Eight oth­ers who were shot down in that mis­sion were cap­tured and ex­e­cuted, and sev­eral were eaten by their cap­tors. But 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.

This was a man who hand wrote thou­sands of thank you notes – each one per­son­al­ized, each one quickly dis­patched. Even his po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries would ac­knowl­edge his exquisite man­ners. Ad­mon­ished by his mother to put oth­ers first, he rarely used the per­sonal pro­noun “I,” a quirk ex­ploited by co­me­dian Dana Car­vey in his “Satur­day Night Live” im­pres­sions of the pres­i­dent.

Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Mil­ton, Mas­sachusetts. His fa­ther, the son of an Ohio steel mag­nate, had moved east to make his for­tune as an in­vest­ment banker with Brown Broth­ers, Har­ri­man, and later served 10 years as a se­na­tor from Con­necti­cut. His mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was the daugh­ter of a sports­man who gave golf its Walker Cup.

Com­pet­i­tive ath­let­ics were a pas­sion for the Bushes, whether at home in Green­wich, Con­necti­cut, or dur­ing long sum­mers spent at Walker’s Point, the fam­ily’s ocean­front re­treat in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine. Bush, along with his three broth­ers and one sis­ter, had lives of priv­i­lege seem­ingly un­touched by the Great De­pres­sion.

Young Bush at­tended Green­wich Coun­try Day School and later Phillips Academy at An­dover, Mas­sachusetts, where he was se­nior class pres­i­dent and cap­tain of the base­ball and soc­cer teams. It was there, at a dance, that he met Bar­bara Pierce, daugh­ter of the pub­lisher of McCall’s mag­a­zine. Ge­orge and Bar would marry when he left the Navy in Jan­uary 1945. They were to­gether for more than seven decades, be­com­ing the longest­mar­ried pres­i­den­tial cou­ple in U.S. his­tory. She died on April 17, 2018.

Out of the ser­vice, Bush re­sumed his ed­u­ca­tion at Yale. Lean and 6-foot-2, he distin­guished him­self as first base­man and cap­tain of the base­ball team, which went to the Col­lege World Se­ries twice . He took just 21⁄2 years to grad­u­ate Phi Beta Kappa.

But rather than join­ing his fa­ther on Wall Street, in 1948 he loaded his wife and young son Ge­orge W. into the fam­ily Stude­baker and drove to the hot, dusty Texas oil patch to take a job as an equip­ment clerk for the In­ter­na­tional Der­rick and Equip­ment Co.

By 1955, they would own a house in Mid­land, and Bush would be coowner of the Za­p­ata Petroleum Corp. By the turn of the decade, the fam­ily – and Bush’s busi­ness – had moved to Houston. There, he got his start in pol­i­tics, the tra­di­tional Bush fam­ily busi­ness.

A hand­some and well­spo­ken war hero, he was sought as a can­di­date by both par­ties. He chose the Repub­li­cans.

Bush lost his first race, a 1964 chal­lenge to Sen. Ralph Yar­bor­ough, but won a seat in the House in 1966. In 1970, he tried for the Se­nate again. Yar­bor­ough was up­set in the Demo­cratic pri­mary by Lloyd Bentsen, and Bentsen de­feated Bush in the gen­eral elec­tion.

Bush re­turned to pri­vate life when the Repub­li­cans lost the pres­i­dency in 1976, but he quickly be­gan plan­ning his own run for the White House.

He won the first con­test of 1980, the Iowa cau­cuses, and boasted that he had the “big mo,” his slang for mo­men­tum. But Rea­gan, who had led the con­ser­va­tive move­ment for more than a decade, won the New Hamp­shire pri­mary and the nom­i­na­tion. His choice of Bush as his run­ning mate was a near thing. Rea­gan – still smart­ing from Bush’s ridicule of “voodoo eco­nom­ics,” first wanted to pick Ger­ald Ford, and asked Bush only af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions broke down. They went on to de­feat Jimmy Carter and Wal­ter Mon­dale.

In 1988, Bush won the pres­i­dency by a land­slide, with 40 states and a nearly 7 mil­lion vote plu­ral­ity, be­com­ing the first sit­ting vice pres­i­dent to do so since Martin Van Buren in 1836.

Bush pledged to make the United States a “kinder, gen­tler” na­tion and called on Amer­i­cans to vol­un­teer their time for good causes – an ef­fort he said would cre­ate “a thou­sand points of light.”

Bar­bara and Ge­orge Bush had four sons and an­other daugh­ter: John, known as Jeb, the for­mer Florida gov­er­nor who sought the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2016; Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy; and Ge­orge, pres­i­dent 43 to his fa­ther’s 41.

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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