George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-) served as America's 41st President from 1989 to 1993. Coming from a very affluent family dedicated to political service, it seemed to be Bush's destiny to claim a life of political and economic success. Though he eventually did become the President, he was one of the least popular Presidents in American history. Though he led the United States through the Gulf War, he was criticized for leaving Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in power. Many other foreign policy decisions of his were also unpopular. Despite his claim to create no new taxes, Bush increased taxes during his administration and the national budget deficit still increased.

Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1924, to parents Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush. He was named after his maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker. His father was a very wealthy man who had made his fortune in investment banking and also served as a United States Senator. Bush's early life was very easy. He attended none but the finest private schools. When World War II reared its ugly head, Bush decided to enter the Navy instead of heading straight to Yale. His family objected and tried to persuade him to get an education and serve his country as a politician instead, but young George was adamant.

Bush completed flight training and was sent to be an aviator in the Pacific Theater. Having completed his training at such a young age, he was the youngest aviator in the Navy's ranks at that time. He promised Barbara Pierce, a young woman who he had met and fallen in love with, that he would return and marry her. Bush flew in a total of 58 missions during his term of service. On a mission on September 2, 1944, Bush's plane was shot down over the Bonin Islands of Japan. After receiving fire, the three-man crew completed their mission objectives and parachuted from their aircraft into the water below. Bush was the only man from this aircraft to survive. Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor on this day. By the time he had resigned, Bush had been awarded the Flying Cross, three Air Medals, a Presidential Unit Citation (awarded to the crew of the aircraft carrier on which he served), and promotion to the rank of Lieutenant.

Bush returned home as a war hero. He married Barbara and enrolled at Yale. He continued to distinguish himself as a scholar during his time at Yale, and joined the secret society of Skull and Bones. He graduated with his degree in economics, and considered taking a job with his father's investment banking firm. Bush felt that it was necessary to make his own fortune, and left to take part in the oil business in Texas. Though he took advantage of connections he had made through his father, Bush truly became a self-made man. He started at the bottom, working menial jobs, but eventually rose to speculation and the selling of oil drilling equipment. Having made a name for himself in the business world, Bush decided to conquer politics next.

Bush's early political career was shaky. As a moderate Republican, he found it hard to break the Democratic tradition present in Texas. He first tried to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Senator. He ran in 1964 against a man named Ralph Yarborough and lost. Unfazed, he won terms to the House of Representatives in 1966 and 1968. Trying again to break into the Senate in 1970, he was defeated by Lloyd Bentsen, a man whose name Bush would see again years later when he became the running mate of Michael Dukakis.

Though he was not terribly successful in his early political career, Bush gained a lot of attention from some very important people. Richard Nixon appreciated Bush's support, and more importantly, his funding. When Nixon became President, he made Bush the ambassador to the United Nations. This position served as a springboard for Bush to other appointed positions. Gerald Ford made Bush the ambassador to China in 1974. A year later, Bush would accept the appointment as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Bush climbed rapidly up the American political ladder. He decided that he would make a run for the Presidency in 1980. Ronald Reagan ended up winning the Republican nomination. Bush had run a negative campaign against Reagan, giving his economic policy the unflattering name "voodoo economics". Upon receiving the nomination, Reagan chose Bush as his running mate. Bush accepted and seemingly changed his opinion on several of Reagan's policies. Up until this point in his political career, Bush had played his cards right. But this 180 degree turn in thinking caused some of his critics to label him a yes-man and a spineless wimp. This would haunt him in his later campaigns, but it had no effect on him immediately. Reagan and Bush easily defeated the incumbent Democrat, Jimmy Carter.

Bush's vice presidency was spent in Reagan's shadow. He forsook the beliefs he had held earlier and supported Reagan in everything he did. Bush was involved in the handling of the aftermath of the Iran-Contra affair. Though he originally said that he was not involved with any of the scandalous dealings surrounding the affair, it was later revealed that this was not the case. Other than this, Bush kept very quiet during his tenure as Vice President.

When it came time for Bush to run for President himself, the American public did not know what to make of him. Though he tried to portray himself in a popular light like Reagan did, it did not work as well for him. Thanks to his gigantic amount of funding and his status as Vice President, he did not face much opposition for the Republican Party nomination. Though Bush was not a strong candidate, the Democratic Party did not have a clear champion either. They chose Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts, as their candidate. Lloyd Bentsen was his running mate.

George Bush ran an intensively negative campaign against Dukakis. Bush won support with the promise, "Read my lips: no new taxes", which he ended up breaking. Dukakis and Bentsen were more than holding their own in debates against Bush and his running mate, the infamous Dan Quayle. Bush's incredible financial resources came to his rescue, however, and Bush ended up winning the election by a comfortable margin.

Bush faced many problems and saw many major world events during his four years in office. In 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed, Germany was reunited, and all of the former Soviet countries became independent. The Cold War had ended. Bush and new President of Russia Boris Yeltsin negotiated the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Bush cut defense spending dramatically, which may have been a mistake. During Bush's term, the American economy was in a big recession. Bush and his administration thought it was sufficient to let the market sort itself out naturally. This plan did not immediately work and the economy did not turn up until Bill Clinton's administration. This may very well have been a result of the actions of Bush's administration, reflected later because of economic lag.

Bush enjoyed moderate success in portraying himself as a strong-willed war hero. When push came to shove, he did not act in foreign affairs, which weakened his image. He accepted Chinese action in Tiananmen Square without protest. His administration also had no active role in the stabilizing of the old Soviet nations, while war raged in the areas of the former Yugoslavia. Bush's advisors realized that these timid actions were bad for his image, and convinced him to be more aggressive in his foreign dealings. When Saddam Hussein invaded the nation of Kuwait, Bush took a more aggressive stance. He saw Hussein as a threat to Saudi Arabia, a nation which was friendly to America and very influential with regard to oil supply. He obtained the support of the United Nations and began Operation Desert Shield, a defensive operation for the benefit of Saudi Arabia. Later, Operation Desert Storm was started. This op was offensive in nature and helped Kuwait regain its independence. Following the intense success of this operation, Bush's popularity soared. Bush made the decision to pull troops out of the area after Kuwait regained its independence, which was an unpopular decision. The American public thought it would be a good idea to kill Saddam Hussein to prevent further actions. Once again, Bush was seen as a weak leader. This decision, combined with a further sinking economy, made Bush's popularity plummet.

When it came time for re-election, Bush didn't have a very strong image. He had broken his promise not to raise taxes and the economy was still hurting. The nation had been through a war, but the dictator of Iraq remained in power. The energetic governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, came with promises of a balanced budget and social reform. Bush fought back with attacks as he did four years earlier, claiming that Clinton was unfaithful to his wife and a draft dodger. Mudslinging tactics did not work for Bush this time. Clinton defeated the incumbent Bush.

Having been defeated, Bush faded away from the political scene. His sons have launched successful political careers. George W. Bush, his oldest son, was elected President in 2000. Jeb Bush holds the office of Governor of Florida. George himself has written memoirs and an autobiography, which have not been published.

(You might be looking for George W. Bush. This is his father.)

The following exchange took place at the Chicago airport between Robert I. Sherman of American Atheist Press and George Bush, on August 27, 1987. Sherman is a fully accredited reporter, and was present by invitation as a member of the press corps. The Republican presidential nominee was there to announce federal disaster relief for Illinois. The discussion turned to the presidential primary:
RS: "What will you do to win the votes of Americans who are atheists?"
GB: "I guess I'm pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me."
RS: "Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?"
GB: "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
RS: "Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?"
GB: "Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists."

UPI reported on May 8, 1989, that various atheist organizations were still angry over the remarks.

The exchange appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera on Monday February 27, 1989. It can also be found in "Free Inquiry" magazine, Fall 1988 issue, Volume 8, Number 4, page 16.

On October 29, 1988, Mr. Sherman had a confrontation with Ed Murnane, co-chairman of the Bush-Quayle '88 Illinois campaign. This concerned a lawsuit Mr. Sherman had filed to stop the Community Consolidated School District 21 (Chicago, Illinois) from forcing his first-grade atheist son to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States as "one nation under God" (Bush's phrase). The following conversation took place:
RS: "American Atheists filed the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit yesterday. Does the Bush campaign have an official response to this filing?"
EM: "It's bullshit."
RS: "What is bullshit?"
EM: "Everything that American Atheists does, Rob, is bullshit."
RS: "Thank you for telling me what the official position of the Bush campaign is on this issue."
EM: "You're welcome."

After Bush's election, American Atheists wrote to Bush asking him to retract his statement. On February 21, 1989, C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President, replied on White House stationery that Bush substantively stood by his original statement, and wrote:
"As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government."

(Taken from

He has six kids, including president and former Texas governor George W. Bush and Florida governor Jeb Bush.

The foreign policy of two Bushes

The foreign policy of the current president's father, George H. W. Bush, has become an object of nostalgia for many conservative intellectuals who oppose the influence of the neoconservatives on the administration of George W. Bush. Proponents of the senior Bush's more "realistic" brand of foreign policy have languished in the political wilderness ever since 9/11, there to nurture memories of an administration that seemed to accumulate victories overseas effortlessly, but tellingly failed to convert them into an electoral victory at home in 1992. Their future influence over political discourse depends largely on the ultimate outcome of the Iraq War, the undertaking launched to complete what the first Bush administration explicitly refused to do during the Gulf War - unseat Saddam Hussein.

We got a hint of what partisans of the senior Bush's administration thought of the policies of his son in 2006, when the Iraq Study Group was convened to suggest "the way forward" in Iraq. It counted among its members two former secretaries of state who had served under Bush senior, one of whom - James Baker - was co-chair. The group's recommendations amounted to a negotiated retreat - a timetable for withdrawal and diplomatic engagement with Syria and Iran to attempt to mitigate the consequences, although quite what these latter had to gain from helping the United States to manage its withdrawal was unclear. The message the ISG was sending was that Iraq was unwinnable and even the considerable cost of retreat was better than staying longer and trying to win; a harsh judgement indeed when it comes from luminaries of the Republican foreign policy establishment rather than liberal Democrats.

The first Bush's foreign policy, which these elder statesmen dearly wished his son would emulate, was indeed impressive. It was a triumph of matching the available means to well-defined ends - apart from talk of a "New World Order" - which is precisely what these right-wing critics of the younger Bush's foreign policy thought he was incapable of doing. The senior Bush displayed impressive diplomacy and restraint in managing the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany; prosecuted a limited war that achieved its goals, and even managed to orchestrate broad support for it and get other countries to foot a large part of the bill; kept his two other interventions, in Somalia and Panama, limited; and scaled back foreign commitments after the Cold War.

End of the Cold War

It is not surprising that a certain mythology has come to surround Bush's foreign policy, given that he oversaw the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Europe's division. That this occurred without greater violence appears in retrospect to be little less than a miracle. The reunification of Germany owed a lot to American diplomacy, especially because many Europeans opposed it and worried about a repetition of the world wars. No-one can credit Bush senior's administration with ending the Cold War, as this was the fruit of fifty years of successful American strategy. But his team dealt with the immediate aftermath expertly, even if grave questions still remain about the sustainability of peace between Russia and the U.S.

Bush showed that assertive diplomacy could be a powerful tool for influencing events that were already in flux, but it is dangerous to ignore the fact that it was not his own assertive diplomacy alone that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The effortless way that the United States seemed to accrue success during these years helped to form the pernicious myth of the "end of history", wherein the whole world was accepting liberal democracy of its own accord and without the United States needing to do much about it. This misunderstanding undergirded U.S. foreign policy for over a decade and a half afterwards, at least until everyone realized that Russia's transformation had in fact not been as profound or salubrious as everyone initially hoped.


If the collapse of the Soviet Union was a one off event that did not necessarily hold many lessons for the future simply because it was unlikely to be repeated, then Bush's use of armed intervention could at least be seen as precedent-setting. One of the dirty secrets of America's post-Cold War foreign policy is that armed intervention became much more routine than it was during the Cold War, which was in part a function of the chaos that engulfed parts of the world when the superpowers withdrew their support for their clients. And, just as Iraq would come to define his son, it was Bush senior's intervention in Iraq that is best-remembered.

The story of the Gulf War is well-known - Saddam Hussein apparently failed to understand that the U.S. would not understand one country to dominate the Middle East and set out to conquer Kuwait and then turn his eyes to Saudi Arabia. Bush first sent troops to defend Saudi Arabia, and then to drive the Iraqis from Kuwait. Bush put together a coalition of dozens of countries, many of whom contributed money which significantly reduced the cost of the war for the United States, and he was able to do this because a United Nations Security Council resolution had been passed authorizing force to expel Iraq from Kuwait. The U.S. encouraged but later ignored an Iraqi rebellion against Saddam Hussein, and refused to drive to Baghdad itself out of a refusal to contemplate nation-building.

Leaving Saddam Hussein in power was anathema to neoconservatives, whereas in the abandonment of the Shi'a and Kurds who rebelled they saw echoes of the United States' betrayal of South Vietnam. But the quick victory in this limited war became a textbook case of how to manage intervention to the "realist" camp, and was much-cited when Bush junior invaded Iraq in 2003.

But what this pleasing narrative misses out is that the aftermath was not just messy for Iraqis, but also for the U.S. After the Gulf War, American troops moved into Saudi Arabia to enforce no-fly zones and a sanctions regime against Iraq; not only did the presence of U.S. troops in the Muslim holy land incite Osama bin Laden to wage war against the United States, but it also left a gigantic loose end in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was still in power, wiggling his way out of the sanctions regime and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction until at least 1998, and U.S. planes were bombing Iraq monthly from the end of the Gulf War right up until the actual invasion in 2003; as one of our own noders pointed out when the latter war was under discussion, "the United States is already at war with Iraq".

This ongoing situation was a major reason for the war in 2003 and partially explains the apparent obsession of many neoconservatives with Iraq right throughout the 1990s. Bush senior's "limited" war could by its nature only accomplish "limited" ends, which did not necessitate another war but made one much more likely. The final verdict on the Gulf War must hence be mixed for the simple reason that there is no God-given assurance that just because something is difficult, this means that it must not be done, and because it left the question of Iraq very much open rather than taking any fundamental step towards closing it. It is impossible to understand the war we find ourselves in now without appreciating that Saddam Hussein fired the first shot when he invaded Kuwait in 1990, and that everything else has followed on from the need to stop him carrying out a similar action again.

Other interventions

Bush senior also sent troops into Panama and Somalia. In Panama, he deposed a dictator called Manuel Noriega who had at one time been on the CIA payroll but was now facilitating drug-related crime. In an act of hubris, Panama declared war on the United States and harassed soldiers who lived in the Canal Zone; Bush launched Operation Just Cause, speedily shipped Noriega off to the U.S. and placed him under arrest, and then just as quickly lost interest in the country again. The alternative - nation-building, or trying to address the fundamental problems of Panamanian society - was not even considered.

Then there was the intervention in Somalia, which kicked off the process that led to the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Somalia was undergoing a brutal civil war which featured forced starvation, a situation that had come about partially because the U.S. had stopped supporting the country's dictator when he became useless to them after the Cold War. Bush did not want to address the country's fundamental problems, but just to launch a humanitarian intervention that would focus on getting food to the country's population and then leaving. Nation-building or peacekeeping was not on his agenda, and he hoped troops would be out before Clinton took office in 1993. However, as it transpired they were not, and Clinton then transformed the mission to be much more wide-ranging and suffer the disastrous "Black Hawk Down" episode in 1993.

Bush's whole intervention in Somalia was anomalous because it appeared to have no relation to the U.S. national interest, and there was significant opposition to it from people who did not want to risk U.S. lives on a humanitarian mission to such a depraved country. When Clinton redefined the mission and it eventually soured, the very idea of peacekeeping and nation-building suffered a terrible blow which contributed towards Bush junior saying that he would not engage in such activity during the 2000 election. Even the neoconservatives have showed little interest in Somalia, as Africa is a traditional blind spot for them because it is seen as uniquely damaged and is so far removed from any traditional definition of the U.S. national interest. Hence, almost everyone would rather forget the intervention in Somalia, and those who remember it primarily recall it as a disappointing departure from the good sense that is taken to characterize the rest of Bush senior's foreign policy.


While the Cold War had seen the U.S. claim an interest in every part of the world - a consequence of the domino theory - Bush senior declared that the U.S. could pocket the gains of winning the Cold War and retrench. When intervention came, it would now be quick and painless - he even thought that now the Cold War was over, the entire world would co-operate in heading off dangers like Saddam Hussein. This was the idea behind his declaration of a "New World Order", and he came to this optimistic conclusion primarily because the Soviet Union backed the Gulf War. It was even mooted that Soviet troops might fight alongside Americans.

But the idea that the world had changed to such an extent was hopelessly quixotic because Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was one of those rare acts that almost every other country on the planet opposes, whereas normally countries are divided. Conflict is the norm in world history, not the exception, and to demand that action always premised on the rest of the world agreeing is a recipe for constant inaction.

Similarly, a tendency to declare expansive and global goals that cannot possibly be achieved with the available means has been the perennial disease of American foreign policy - witness Bush junior's promise to democratize the entire Middle East by invading Iraq - and Bush senior avoided this admirably until he also fell into the trap by talking about a "New World Order" in which history would stop and everyone would link arms and dance into a better tomorrow as soon as they had kicked Saddam out of the way.

Limited goals can only have limited results, which are inevitably incomplete results and leave more to be done tomorrow. But this is how history has always operated, because there are no quick and complete solutions to any of the problems facing us, especially in our interactions with other peoples abroad. The neoconservatives criticized Bush senior for not delivering final victory for the United States in the aftermath of the Cold War, but it is they themselves that are at fault for imagining any such victory to be possible. The world will always be dangerous and our solutions will always be incomplete, but to remove ourselves from reality into a utopian dreamworld where anything is possible is hardly any solution.

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