President Bush, patriarch of a political dynasty, dies at 94
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 has 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.
The elder Bush also oversaw the West’s victory over Soviet communism after 50 years of Cold
War. The victory had been won over the decades, but Bush got credit for his even-handed response when the Soviet Union finally collapsed.
“Some wanted an overreaction,” Parmet said. “But Bush said we don’t have to dance on the Berlin Wall. Steering the end of the Cold War without having the Russians or the Soviet Union collapse in a way that would have redounded to our disadvantage, without pushing them into the arms of hard-line extremists, that was extraordinarily important to the legacy in a way most Americans do not appreciate.”
Two weeks after the war against Iraq ended, 91 percent of the American people said they liked
Bush and approved of the job he was doing. Yet just beneath the euphoria of victory was economic anxiety — simmering anger at a president who’d raised taxes in violation of his “read my lips” campaign pledge not to do so and growing angst over the toll a broad recession had taken on wages and personal financial security.
Former President George H.W. Bush, and his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, in 2012.