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Top 10 Foreign Policy Presidents, Number 10: George H.W. Bush

Given that American foreign policy is the main subject of my first four novels, it’s the natural subject of my first series of blog posts. My interest in the subject grew out of my studying World War II, meaning it’s been one of my main passions since I was fifteen. My college thesis was on how Charles de Gaulle inspired Nixon’s opening to China and I received a concentration in National Security Law from Case Western Reserve University School of Law. I would describe my foreign policy views as “soft realism,” meaning that I think America should primarily go to war only when her vital interests are threatened and all diplomatic options fail, but still promote democracy and human rights around the world. Put another way, I believe pursuing idealistic ends through realist means.


I evaluated the Presidents on how well they followed these values, the complexity and scale of the foreign challenges they faced, and how skillfully they managed America’s role in the world.



(image from NBC)


Number Ten: George H.W. Bush


The elder Bush was the last great foreign policy President. He’s also my favorite President since Eisenhower, partly because he modeled himself on Ike and is almost a “junior” version of the Supreme Commander. Bush was open about finding foreign policy more interesting than domestic and he assembled one of the best national security teams in American history. Baker, Scowcroft, and Powell all worked within the moderately conservative soft realism exemplified by Bush and Ike. Together, they navigated a series of crises so successfully that, like Ike, Bush barely received credit for his statecraft, hurting him politically.


The Gulf War was his largest crisis. Bush was determined to not allow Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait to set a precedent in favor of conquest in the post-Cold War world. His leadership made the war by far the most successful of America’s five major engagements since 1945. Bush built a coalition of 42 countries that decisively defeated Iraq with overwhelming force. Bush then halted the offensive, the UN’s objective achieved, sparing Hussein but preventing a civil war in Iraq. I see each of these elements as models of how the United States should manage military and national security issues.


In Europe, Bush presided over the Cold War’s epilogue. He refused to gloat when the Berlin Wall fell and pushed for West and East Germany’s unification despite British and French hesitation. The Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, ending the Cold War and removing what was arguably the greatest foreign adversary in American history. Unfortunately, it also removed the main context for Bush’s presidency. Americans turned their eyes to the economy and elected Bill Clinton in 1992. I think this was a mistake since Bush had a deeper vision for defining the post-Cold War international system. He called it the New World Order and it was meant to bring FDR’s dream into reality. Clinton shared a similar vision, but Bush’s experience and expertise in foreign policy would have given it a better chance of becoming real.



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