Farewell, President George Herbert Walker Bush

Thursday, December 06, 2018

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The United States this week accorded the appropriate pomp and ceremony to Mr George Herbert Walker Bush who was often described as the best one-term president of the US, and a man who may yet come to be recognised as one of the best presidents of America.

His accomplishments as 'Bush 41' benefited from a long and comprehensive career which made him one of the most prepared for the job as leader of the free world. Having spent eight years as vice-president to President Ronald Reagan, Mr Bush was only the second vice-president to be elected president after Mr Martin Van Buren in 1836.

Among his preparatory experiences was his tenure as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and as a veteran of World War II. He was educated at Yale University before becoming a highly successful investor in the oil industry. He was elected to Congress and eventually became chairman of the Republican National Committee.

On the domestic front, one of President Bush's major achievements was the North American Free Trade Agreement which led to several years of growth in trade, investment and employment among Canada, the US, and Mexico. He also fixed the massive financial scandal of the savings and loans industry.

His actions in the Persian Gulf stabilised the world economy by securing oil supplies from the Middle East. Doing the right thing to reduce a budget deficit which ballooned under Mr Reagan had a political price when he raised taxes, contradicting his oft-quoted campaign promise — “Read my lips”.

Mr Bush's biggest achievements came in foreign policy. His diplomatic acumen first emerged while serving as de facto ambassador to China and as the US ambassador to the United Nations. He exercised awesome restraint in the use of power at a time when the US was the sole superpower.

He realised that the implosion of the Soviet Union left an unstable nuclear-armed Russia struggling to transition to capitalism and democracy, and he clearly understood the need to rebuild the countries formally under Soviet domination and treating with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

While his style of diplomacy was one of consultation with allies, he was, however, willing to use force when convinced that it was necessary, for example, Desert Shield to protect Saudi Arabia. His sophisticated statecraft was nowhere more evident than when, for the first time, the former Soviet Union and the US agreed to stop Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait but refrained from occupation. This was enlightened geopolitics because it restrained Saddam but did not leave Iraq vulnerable to arch-rival Iran.

President Bush, too, was good for Jamaica because he gave Mr Michael Manley and the People's National Party the benefit of the doubt about its changed economic policy template after the 1989 general election, in spite of reservations in his party, which was another example of his sophistication in foreign policy.

Those who knew Mr Bush speak of him as a gentleman of character, principles and a commitment to the pursuit of peace, prosperity and democracy. He campaigned for “a kinder and gentler America” and was always as gracious in victory as he was in defeat.

His restraint and tolerance were not always fully comprehended by those favouring a more combative approach. But supporters and opponents alike never doubted his decency and sincerity.

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