- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2018

It was the swiftness and ease with which he operated on the global stage that cemented President George Herbert Walker Bush’s legacy as a great leader who not only protected and advanced America’s interests around the world, but did it in a delicate, nuanced way respected by other powers and future allies.

Mr. Bush’s admirers and former colleagues say this was most prominent in 1990, when he and then-Secretary of State James A. Baker moved with stunning speed to build an international coalition that included precedent-setting buy-in from otherwise divided Arab powers to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

His biographers have written that the inclusiveness and efficiency of Operation Desert Storm was his “greatest mark on history.”

But students of global affairs know there was actually something else — something much more subtle in the years leading up to the 1991 Gulf War — that truly secured Mr. Bush’s respect as a rare international statesman whose humble, peace-seeking geopolitical touch would impact the lives of millions.

President Ronald Reagan may well have changed the world in 1987 when he called on former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall. Yet, as current leaders across Europe have noted in recent days, it was George H.W. Bush who truly closed the book on the Cold War.

It was he, they said, whose quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy in 1990 persuaded skeptical parties from Paris to London to Warsaw to Moscow to embrace and support the idea of a reunited Germany.

SEE ALSO: Bush remembered as peerless patriot, patriarch of political dynasty

Even as critics in Washington lambasted Mr. Bush for refusing to loudly declare victory in the collapse of a Communist bloc that had so long controlled half of Europe, America’s 41st president was determined to stay the course that the delicacy of the moment demanded.

“President Bush’s calmness, leadership and close personal relationships with [then-German Chancellor] Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev were decisive in restoring peace and freedom back to so many people across our continent,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement over the weekend. “We Europeans will forever remember this.”

“He courageously seized the opportunity to end the Cold War,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Saturday in a statement. “He is also an architect of German unity. He supported it from the beginning without reservations. We will never forget that.”

Mr. Bush was “a great statesman,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May. “In navigating a peaceful end to the Cold War, he made the world a safer place for generations to come.”

The sentiments over the weekend stretched all the way to Moscow, where Russia’s Interfax news agency cited Mr. Gorbachev as recalling Mr. Bush as a “genuine partner.”

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has aggravated Washington with Cold War-style provocation in recent years, paid his respects Saturday, referring in a statement to Mr. Bush’s “political wisdom and foresight.”

It was also a decisiveness undergirding his foresight that made Mr. Bush so effective as a coalition builder. With regard to the Gulf War, the former president’s closest aides say his decisiveness was born from a confidence that all had been done that could be done to avoid war before finally committing to the use of American military force.

“He didn’t want to have a first Gulf War. He did everything he could to avoid it,” former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman and later Secretary of State Colin Powell said over the weekend. “We went to the United Nations, at the very last minute, when the war was about to start, he sent Jim Baker over to speak with the Iraqi prime minister and tell him, ‘You know, you don’t want to see this happen.’”

Only when it was finally and fully clear that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein didn’t take the message to heart, Mr. Powell told NPR, Mr. Bush went into decision mode and “it was very clear what the war was all about.”

“From the very beginning, it was a war that was defined in terms of what we were going to accomplish, and when it was over, we would come home,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we did … and it was because the president knew what he wanted. He had a specific mission.”

‘A remarkable American legacy’

With victory secured, the Gulf War’s long-term aftermath was something Mr. Bush would later suggest he was personally bothered by. The ousting of Iraqi forces from Kuwait didn’t lead to the Hussein regime’s downfall in Baghdad, a reality that led Mr. Bush to acknowledge in a 1996 interview that he felt he’d “miscalculated” the Iraqi dictator’s hold on power.

Still, in contrast to the messy insurgency that eventually would envelop Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion authorized by his son, President George W. Bush, the decisiveness and mission clarity of Desert Storm have come to stand as a textbook example of how America can conduct coalition building.

Mr. Bush knew of war’s horrors because he experienced it personally as a younger man. He was shot down as a fighter pilot in World War II while completing a bombing run against a Japanese radio tower. Eight others who were shot down in that mission were captured and executed.

Such lore added to the depth of Mr. Bush’s character when he entered the House of Representatives in the late 1960s. It seemed that eventual executive and world leadership were inevitable for Mr. Bush when President Richard M. Nixon tapped him as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1971.

Mr. Bush later obliged when Nixon’s successor, President Gerald R. Ford, asked him to become the chief U.S. envoy to China, a position he would hold until Mr. Ford nominated him to be director of the CIA in 1976.

The sobriety with which he ran the CIA is often lost in examinations of his past. The CIA honored him in 1999 by naming its Northern Virginia headquarters the George Bush Center for Intelligence in recognition of his effective and respected leadership in keeping Washington politics from sullying the intelligence community’s work.

“We’ve lost a great champion of the Agency — an accomplished Director, faithful advocate, and dear friend — with [his] passing,” current CIA Director Gina Haspel said in a statement over the weekend. “As a heroic Navy pilot in the Second World War, a skilled statesman who deftly managed the collapse of the Soviet Union and liberated Kuwait from Saddam Husayn’s aggression, and a committed citizen who remained engaged in public service throughout his later years, President Bush exemplified the virtues of patriotism, duty, and compassion.”

It’s a reverence echoed by others who run America’s foreign and national security policies with the Trump administration.

Mr. Bush led “a true life of service,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN. “It’s a remarkable American legacy, and they don’t make them like that very often.”

“President George Herbert Walker Bush, naval aviator, decorated in his youth for valor in combat, took his experience in war to build a better world as our commander in chief,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“His service to our nation demonstrated how we as a people can draw on our humility, diversity and devotion to our country to meet every challenge with fortitude and confidence,” said Mr. Mattis. “We will miss him, but at the going down of the day, his example will long guide our sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines for how to live life without regret.”

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