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US President George H W Bush: a remarkable man


Thursday, December 06, 2018

I am prompted to write this short tribute to the late George H W Bush, president of the United States from 1989-1992. I do this because I would like to pay tribute to a remarkable man during whose tenure I served as Jamaica's ambassador to the US and permanent representative to the Organisation of American States from 1991- 2001.

I am motivated also to put in the public domain the fact that he was instrumental in the recalibrating of the US-Jamaica relationship at a time when many in the Republican Administration still regarded a People's National Party Government as socialist, pro-Cuban, and not entirely market-driven.

He more so than his foreign policy/national security team was willing to accept that Michael Manley and the People's National Party had genuinely modified its policy paradigm while not abandoning its principles. Although Bush served for only one four-year term, he will, in time, come to be recognised as one of the outstanding American presidents.

His conduct as president and his accomplishments should come as no surprise because few, if any, came to the presidency better prepared than he did.

He was a decorated World War II hero before he attended Yale University. It was his post-university education that moulded his intelligence and his innate political acumen. He was a successful businessman who made good in the oil industry before entering Congress and chairman of the Republican National Committee. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was negotiated between Canada, the United States and Mexico under his leadership.

His diplomatic skills were honed while serving in China. At the time the United States recognised Taiwan, and he was de facto ambassador. He handled this assignment with sufficient aplomb, and hence it was no surprise that he thrived in multilateral milieu, the United Nations, as ambassador.

His knowledge of national security issues was founded on his tenure as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). All of this served him well when he had to make critical decisions on issues such as military operations in Panama, the Persian Gulf, and the destruction of the Berlin War. He handled the employment of the awesome power of the United States presidency with deft diplomacy, restraint, and in consultation with allies at the time when the US was the sole superpower, the Soviet Union having imploded.

His presidency cannot be understood without an appreciation of how his character, principles and personal qualities defined it. Among his attributes as a gentleman was his urbane manner of engagement, listening with patience, and articulating with calm, understated self-assurance.

He never lost himself in the job, remaining true to what he personally believed in. His character was clearly evident when he invited Jamaica's Michael Manley to a private dinner at the White House after he had demitted office as prime minister. Manley was lodged at Blair House, normally reserved for heads of state. Dinner was at a single table in the private quarters, seating among others Manley; President Bush; General Colin Powell; Speaker of the House of Representatives; my wife and me.


Ambassador Richard L Bernal is a Jamaican economist and diplomat.