Let’s Salute the Passing of a Great American, George H.W. Bush
– By Dr./Colonel Tyrus W. Cobb
December 6, 2018
This week we lost a great American, George H.W. Bush, the nation’s 41st President, war hero, public servant, and, most importantly, a man who dedicated his life to his family and his country, guided by a commitment to leading with decency, thoughtfulness and civility.
A World War II hero, Bush later served with distinction as a U.S. Congressman, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and as U.S. Ambassador to China and to the United Nations. He joined political rival Ronald Reagan in the 1980 campaign, and was elected Vice-President of the United States, a position he served in for eight years. His crowning achievement was his victory over Michael Dukakis in 1988 in that year’s race for the White House.
There were setbacks, too, of course, none more so than his stinging defeat in his 1992 reelection bid against Bill Clinton. In that campaign, businessman H. Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate, garnering 19% of the vote, a key factor in the Bush defeat. However, the downturn in the economy that led to the 1992 recession was the major factor in Bush’s loss.
George Bush’s commitment to his country was exemplified in his decision at the age of 18 to forego college and enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1942, with the U.S. at war on two fronts, in Asia against Japan and in Europe against the German-Italian coalition. Bush earned his wings as a naval aviator and was assigned to the West Pacific. During an attack on the Japanese fleet, Lt. Bush was shot down, forced to bail out into the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, after four hours in a life raft, an American submarine was able to retrieve the downed aviator and bring him to safety.
After the war Bush left what would have been a comfortable future working in the financial arena to try his hand at wildcatting in the Texas oil fields! He was equally successful in that venture, which in turn led to his entering the political arena in Texas, where he won a Congressional seat. He later lost a Senate bid but was soon asked by President Gerald Ford to serve as his Director of the CIA and then as UN Ambassador.
He then served with quiet distinction for eight years as Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, where he was asked to take on several challenging assignments, including overseeing our complex and critical relationship with Canada. At that time, I was serving on the Reagan-Bush National Security Council staff, with direct responsibilities involving our relations with the 35 countries of West Europe and Canada, along with some specific assignments dealing with the Soviet Union. It was a pleasure to work closely with the VP, which led to an invitation to join Bush’s team as his deputy national security advisor. Alas, because I was so immersed in issues relating to the Gorbachev transition in Moscow, I had to turn that down.
Tyrus W. Cobb shaking hands with then VP
George H.W. Bush
Bush secured the Republican nomination for President and won that office in 1989. His Presidential tenure in the foreign policy arena was extraordinarily successful. President Bush responded strongly in August of 1990 following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and what looked like a coming move against the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Under Bush’s leadership, a broad coalition of countries joined with the U.S. in February of 1991, storming into Kuwait. Within 100 hours Saddam’s armed forces were defeated, with over 20,000 Iraqi soldiers killed. The U.S., by contrast, suffered just 148 combat deaths.
Under pressure from the coalition, Bush declined to carry the invasion into the heart of Iraq with the goal of overthrowing Saddam. It was widely believed–and likely the case that should the U.S. have pushed on to Baghdad–the coalition would have dissolved. We’ll never know if the decision not to continue into Iraq was the right one, but we can be sure that President Bush believed it was the correct and necessary response.
George H.W. Bush also earned well deserved plaudits for handling the dissolution of the Soviet empire and the fall of the Gorbachev regime in Moscow. Bush refused to tout the achievement of a major, long-standing American objective, the end of communist rule in the Soviet Union and East Europe, preferring to assist in the transition of the former communist states toward democratic rule. Despite the setbacks in that region more recently, Bush’s handling of the fall of the Soviet empire was conducted skillfully and with diplomacy.
Unfortunately for GHWB, things on the domestic front did not go so well. The national deficit soared under Bush 41, with the U.S. debt—which had tripled under Reagan to $3 trillion—soaring under Bush by as much as $300 billion a year. Alas, seven years of economic growth following the 1982 recession ended in mid-1992. And that recession, compounded by Bush’s inability to get the economy back on track by November, cost him the Presidency. As one observer noted, “In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Bush fought the impression that he was distant and disconnected, and he struggled against the younger, more empathetic Bill Clinton”.
In the end we remember the Bush 41 Presidency more for its foreign policy and national security achievements than for its lackluster economic performance. Bush 41’s decision to oust Saddam from Kuwait, his highly successful invasion of Panama in 1989, and his seizing the leadership of the NATO alliance with a bold and successful proposal for deep troop and tank cuts in Europe, will rightly define his tenure in the White House.
Today we pause to reflect on the many achievements of a unique American, George H.W. Bush. The wartime exploits of this young man from Connecticut who joined the Navy at 18 during WW2, who was shot down flying his attack aircraft against Japanese targets in the Pacific theater, and who was rescued at sea, were remarkable. As was his later success in the Texas oil fields, and finally his service heading up the CIA and representing the US at the UN so skillfully. All that followed by eight years as Reagan’s Vice President, and then his four years as President at a tumultuous time in the world.
Let us all salute a great man—President George Herbert Walker Bush!
– Tyrus W. Cobb