Bush’s note to Clin­ton an ar­ti­fact of ci­vil­ity.

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JARED GILMOUR AND STEVE THOMMA jil­[email protected]­clatchy.com

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush – who buried his wife, Bar­bara, ear­lier this year – died Fri­day at 94.

Serv­ing for a sin­gle term, Bush oc­cu­pied the Oval Of­fice from 1989 to 1993. Dur­ing that time, Bush led the United States to vic­tory in a 1991 ef­fort to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

Bush lost his bid for re-elec­tion to Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, but saw his son, Ge­orge W. Bush, elected pres­i­dent eight years later. That es­tab­lished his fam­ily as a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty along­side the Adams and Kennedy fam­i­lies.

Be­fore be­com­ing pres­i­dent, Bush was elected to Con­gress and served as the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency and vice pres­i­dent un­der Ron­ald Rea­gan.

Bush had suf­fered from res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems in re­cent years, and about a year ago he was hos­pi­tal­ized for two weeks to treat pneu­mo­nia and chronic bron­chi­tis. Ear­lier in 2017 Bush spent 16 days in the hos­pi­tal for a sep­a­rate case of pneu­mo­nia.

Bush also suf­fered from vas­cu­lar parkin­son­ism, a rare con­di­tion whose symp­toms are sim­i­lar to Parkin­son’s Dis­ease. For the last sev­eral years, he had re­lied on a wheel­chair.

The elder Bush was the last pres­i­dent from the gen­er­a­tion that en­dured the Great De­pres­sion of the 1930s, won World War II, built a pros­per­ous and pow­er­ful post­war Amer­ica and won the Cold War against Soviet com­mu­nism.

Born June 12, 1924, to wealth and priv­i­lege, Bush chose a life of duty and ser­vice that spanned five decades, from his ser­vice as the Navy’s youngest pi­lot in World War II to stints in Con­gress, as am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Party, li­ai­son to China, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, vice pres­i­dent and fi­nally to his elec­tion as the coun­try’s 41st pres­i­dent.

“It has been a won­der­ful jour­ney,” he wrote as he looked for­ward to his 80th birth­day on June 12, 2004.

In the first rush of his­tory, an­a­lysts rate Bush an av­er­age pres­i­dent, tri­umphant in war and for­eign pol­icy but sad­dled at home with a re­ces­sion.

“He’s prob­a­bly ranked in the mid­dle of the pres­i­dents,” said Bill Le­vantrosser, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity in New York. “As time goes on, though, I think he’s go­ing to rise in peo­ple’s es­ti­mates.”

Her­bert Parmet, au­thor of the first de­fin­i­tive bi­og­ra­phy, “Ge­orge Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yan­kee,” said Bush would be remembered for his lead­er­ship in for­eign af­fairs but also for run­ning an ad­min­is­tra­tion com­par­a­tively free of scan­dal.

With a uniquely per­sonal style of lead­er­ship and di­plo­macy, Bush will be remembered as the pres­i­dent who as­sem­bled an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion against Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein af­ter Sad­dam’s army in­vaded neigh­bor­ing Kuwait and threat­ened oil-rich Saudi Ara­bia.

Bush res­o­lutely drew what he called a “line in the sand” and de­clared that the in­va­sion would not stand.

Fac­ing re­luc­tance at home and abroad, Bush first con­vinced the Amer­i­can peo­ple that it was in their in­ter­est to push Iraq back. Then, in a stream of per­sonal phone calls to world lead­ers, he mar­shaled an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion the likes of which had not been seen since World War II.

On the eve of war, Bush wrote to his own five chil­dren about the choices he faced.

“When the ques­tion is asked, ‘How many lives are you will­ing to sac­ri­fice?’ it tears at my heart,” he wrote. “The an­swer, of course, is none, none at all.”

He shared a con­cern that he might face im­peach­ment if a war proved long and un­suc­cess­ful, but added that he viewed the con­fronta­tion with Iraq and Sad­dam as one of good vs. evil, akin to the war against Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

“Some­times in life, you have to act as you think best. You can’t com­pro­mise, you can’t give in, even if your crit­ics are loud and nu­mer­ous.”

Just weeks later, in Jan­uary 1991, a U.S.-led jug­ger­naut slaugh­tered Iraq’s forces and lib­er­ated Kuwait. Agree­ing with his mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers, Bush or­dered an end to the as­sault with Iraq’s forces in re­treat, a move that left Sad­dam in power.

Bush later said he had thought the Iraqi peo­ple would over­throw Sad­dam them­selves. Yet he did noth­ing to aid Iraqi Kurds and Shi­ite Mus­lims when they chal­lenged Sad­dam, only to see their re­bel­lions crushed.

A venge­ful Sad­dam later plot­ted to have Bush as­sas­si­nated af­ter he’d left of­fice. In re­tal­i­a­tion, Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton bombed the Iraqi na­tional in­tel­li­gence head­quar­ters.

Sad­dam re­mained in power un­til he was top­pled in 2003 by an in­va­sion led by Bush’s son.

Bush, a pa­tri­cian and wealthy man who spent his sum­mers at a sprawl­ing ocean­front re­treat in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine, was of­ten ac­cused of fail­ing to em­pathize with his less priv­i­leged coun­try­men. In one of the most amaz­ing falls from grace in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal his­tory, he was turned out of of­fice just 18 months af­ter the war, de­feated by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clin­ton.

Bush spent the first of his re­tire­ment years ac­tively, golf­ing, fish­ing, play­ing horse­shoes, parachut­ing with mem­bers of the mil­i­tary Golden Knights para­chute team. He raised money for char­i­ties and fel­low Repub­li­cans, fore­most his two po­lit­i­cal sons. Near­ing 80, he had to give up some of the more stren­u­ous ac­tiv­i­ties such as ten­nis and con­fessed that he some­times found his mind growing “a lit­tle lazy” as he strug­gled to re­mem­ber some things.

“I still feel like charg­ing ahead and liv­ing life to the hilt,” he wrote in Forbes FYI mag­a­zine. “But my body lags be­hind. My mind is out there on the play­ing field or on the cam­paign trail or cir­cling the globe but my skele­tal struc­ture cries out sug­gest­ing I give it a break.”

Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, to Dorothy and Prescott Bush. His mother came from wealth – her fam­ily owned the now-fa­mous Walker’s Point land on the Maine coast – and his fa­ther was a banker who later served as a Repub­li­can se­na­tor from Con­necti­cut.

His par­ents in­stilled in him two val­ues he car­ried through­out his life: self­less­ness and ser­vice.

As a prep school stu­dent in 1942, Bush heard a vis­it­ing Sec­re­tary of War Henry Stim­son urge Amer­ica’s young men fac­ing war to “be brave with­out be­ing bru­tal, self-con­fi­dent with­out boast­ing, part of an ir­re­sistible might but with­out los­ing faith in in­di­vid­ual lib­erty.”

Soon af­ter Ja­pan at­tacked Pearl Har­bor, Bush vol­un­teered for the Navy, be­com­ing an 18year-old tor­pedo bomber pi­lot, the youngest in that branch of the ser­vice.

Head­ing into a bomb­ing run dur­ing an at­tack on the Ja­panese is­land of Chichi Jima on Sept. 2, 1944, Bush ran into Ja­panese anti-air­craft fire.

“The flak was the heav­i­est I’d ever flown into,” he wrote in his 1987 cam­paign bi­og­ra­phy, “Look­ing For­ward.” “The Ja­panese were ready and wait­ing.”

“Sud­denly there was a jolt, as if a mas­sive fist had crunched into the belly of the plane. Smoke poured into the cock­pit, and I could see flames rip­pling across the crease of the wing, edg­ing to­ward the fuel tanks. I stayed with the dive, homed in (on) the tar­get, un­loaded our four 500-pound bombs, and pulled away head­ing for the sea.”

His two crew­mates were killed, but Bush was res­cued by the U.S. sub­ma­rine Fin­back. Awarded the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross, he re­turned home and went to Yale, where he cap­tained the base­ball team.

For the son of a pros­per­ous banker, “a nor­mal pro­gres­sion would have been Yale, then Wall Street,” said Le­vantrosser, the po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity in New York. “But he had a more ad­ven­tur­ous streak, and he went to Texas to go into the oil busi­ness.”

With wife Bar­bara and son Ge­orge in tow, Bush moved to West Texas.

“There wasn’t any­thing sub­tle or com­pli­cated about it,” Bush wrote. “We all just wanted to make a lot of money quick.”

Bush failed to com­mu­ni­cate that he felt com­pas­sion for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from the re­ces­sion or that he had plans to al­le­vi­ate it. Though it was in­ac­cu­rately re­ported at the time, Bush at one point was por­trayed as mar­veling at a gro­cery store price scan­ner, leav­ing the im­pres­sion that he was out of touch with av­er­age Amer­i­cans’ lives. And he fum­bled about when asked dur­ing a pres­i­den­tial de­bate how the na­tional debt per­son­ally af­fected him.

“He did not demon­strate suf­fi­ciently that he cared,” said Parmet. “His least ef­fec­tive area was com­mu­ni­ca­tion, es­pe­cially fol­low­ing Rea­gan.”

The econ­omy started to re­bound in 1992, but peo­ple did not yet feel it. And while Clin­ton ef­fec­tively ham­mered away with his prom­ise to im­prove the econ­omy, Bush failed to con­vince peo­ple that things were al­ready get­ting bet­ter.

“I de­serve blame for not mak­ing clear to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that the econ­omy had re­cov­ered,” Bush said later. “It was growing at a ro­bust rate when I left the pres­i­dency. The econ­omy had re­cov­ered . … I couldn’t get through to the peo­ple, and that was my own fault.”

To Bush, the idea of pro­mot­ing him­self seemed like a lesser part of the job, some­thing he brushed off as “the cos­met­ics of the job.” But to an­a­lysts and his­to­ri­ans, com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills are an in­te­gral part of the pres­i­dency in the mod­ern age, and the lack of that skill hurt Bush.

Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, he re­fused to write his mem­oirs, say­ing he would leave it to oth­ers to in­ter­pret his life and as­sure his legacy.

At­tend­ing the ded­i­ca­tion of the World War II Memo­rial in Wash­ing­ton in June 2004, he said he was no dif­fer­ent from any other mem­ber of his gen­er­a­tion.

“I don’t think any­one in the coun­try now or in the fu­ture will be think­ing Ge­orge Bush was the last World War II vet­eran to serve as pres­i­dent of the United States. It would be fine with me if they did. But it’s time to move for­ward,” he said.

“We did our duty, saluted the flag and said the Pledge of Al­le­giance. None of us thought of our­selves as su­per pa­tri­ots or any­thing. But in a time of trou­ble, my gen­er­a­tion, you might say, stepped up and hon­ored the United States by our ser­vice. And that’s what it was all about. And it’s still about that.”

MATT SAYLES AP file

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush ar­rives at the 2007 Ron­ald Rea­gan Free­dom Award gala din­ner held in his honor in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia. Bush died shortly af­ter 10 p.m. Fri­day about eight months af­ter the death of his wife, Bar­bara Bush.

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