PRESIDENT GEORGE WALKER BUSH AND THE EPITOME OF PUBLIC SERVICE.
By: Godknows Boladei Igali, PhD
As the year 2018 enters its closing day, stories of few notable individuals will spill over into the right side of human history. On 30th November, 2018, one of the most celebrated statesmen, and 41st American President, George Herbert Walker Bush passed unto glory. At that hour, he was aged 94 years and about six months, making him the longest surviving American President ever.
Since then, pundits, especially on contemporary history, diplomacy and international politics have dwelt much on his iconic legacy as a statesmen, which stands in a sui generis, and is clearly distinctive. His life, times and impactful patrimony on the global scene, in particular are worth proper reflection.
This intellectual drift is apposite because for many centuries, the study and practice of History have preoccupied themselves with narrating almost with mythological dedication stories of the lives and heroism of great men. Agreed that the discipline has experienced some evolution over time to deal with thematic issues. But, essentially, the centrality of recounting the deeds of great men, which actually goes beyond their biographies, to telling the rhythm of human societies in which they lived and how they shaped or reshaped what they met remains its centre-point . In every generation, many men and women of candour and exceptional gifts have served their times and fundamentally advanced the common good. It is the impact of such individuals that actually becomes a subject of reckoning and historicity.
Of all the great names in 2018, one that stands towering is, George Bush, Snr. A man of purest refinement of human spirit, he was simply known as George Bush for most of his public life spanning about seventy years, until his son of same name became America’s 43rd President. So from 2001, when he was already in retirement, he became more referred to as “George H W Bush” or “George Bush, Senior”. Born in 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, he was fifth in lineage of front line American nationalists, business magnates and public servants.
His family tree reveals a legacy of consistent and accomplished service to the common good and commitment to upliftment of the public space. The actual progenitor of the Bush dynasty, Obadiah Bush who lived from 1797 to 1851, was a very prominent entrepreneur and businessman in the days just after the Declaration of American Independence on 4th July 1776. He was great, great grandfather of Bush, Snr. Although he was an industrialist manufacturing stoves, he was also prominent and fearless abolitionist as his contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, who latter became the 16th President of the United States. Obadiah Bush even became Vice President of the American Anti-Slavery Society at the time. A man of convictions, he protested Slave Trade and Slavery, which at the time had gone on, quite despicably for about 200 years. As a matter of fact, he is recorded to have been ready to deploy his enormous wealth, in those days to seek secession of the State of New York from the United States if slavery was not sanctioned.
It is not surprising therefore, that his own son, James Bush, great grand father of President Bush Snr took to the clergy and also trained as a lawyer at Yale University. From that time, Yale University, which was established in 1701 and for 300 years continues to be rated amongst the best five out of 27,000 universities in the world. It became the training ground for all members of the Bush family. President Bush’s direct grandfather, Samuel Bush, born 1863 and lived till 1948, is considered the modern patriarch of the Bush dynasty. He was, a foremost industrialist of his time manufacturing railway parts in close partnership with the famous Rockeffeller Family. As America entered World War 1, Samuel Bush, along with other prominent business leaders of his day played various roles; he being in charge of relations with Small Arms and Ammunition companies. He was later nominated to the post war Reconstruction Fund and actually served on Presidential Committee on Unemployment Relief.
President Bush’s own father, Prescott Bush was a famous Banker at a difficult period during the global economic depression, coming out relatively unscathed. Prescott Bush was known to have supported many charitable causes such as Birth Control and United Negro Fund, to advance the education of persons of colour. He later moved on to politics, representing Connecticut in the American Senate from 1952 till 1963. He was reputed to have been the prime mover of legislations that supported President Dwight Eisenhower’s post War highway system and championed actions to mitigate the impact of floods and hurricanes.
Another factor of interest which had given the family a very cosmopolitan outlook to public service is its mobility. Though originally from New York in America’s northeast, it soon spread to places such as nearby New Jersey and then on to Connecticut. Thereafter, the family moved to Columbus Ohio in the country’s mid-west, and back to New England in the northeast. The family finally ended up settling in Texas around the southcentral area. Coming from the State of Texas, which is America’s 2nd largest state in terms of landmass and economy, also served as a great advantage. Indeed at about $1. 65 trillion GDP, Texas is the 10th largest economy in the world and leads in such critical areas as Agriculture, Animal husbandry, Oil and Gas and hi-tech. The generational achievements in business and industry, are other factors that broadened the family’s balanced background to public sector, as it ensured their relative understanding of the America life.
During the 1938-1939 period, Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor started his marauding obscenity of attacking Austria, Poland and other neighbours. He soon succeeded in plunging the entire world into conflagration. At the time, President Bush was a seventeen year old secondary school graduate bound for Yale, like his fathers. However it was not to be as Hitler and his Japanese allies under Emperor Hirohito Hirohito attacked the American Pacific territory of Pearl Harbour in 1941. The young Bush, without the prodding of his wealthy parents, opted out of school and volunteered to serve in the war on his eighteenth birthday in June 1941. He joined the American Navy and became one of the best torpedo bomber fighter pilots of his day. For this, he received some of the most coveted military decorations from his country.
Further education, raising of family and business only came in the post war years. Excelling more than his forebears, but leaning on their business networks, he became very successful and affluent. With the completion of university education in 1948, he entered into oil business, becoming a millionaire before be attained the age of 40 years. He therefore, just like his father entered American politics as a very rich man. It was not always a bed of roses as Bush contested twice for American Senate to follow his father, Prescott Bush’s footsteps but he failed in all his senatorial attempts. He however, got an opportunity to go to Congress in 1966, and was re-elected in 1968. Shortly after that, President Richard Nixon appointed him to the position of US Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. He took over from the towering jurist, Arthur Goldberg. It is from this pedestal and his rather superlative performance at the United Nations, which earned him the position of Chairmanship of the National Republican Committee in 1973. With his able handling of American interests at the United Nations at the height of the Cold War, he carved out a niche as a top flight strategist.
His next assignment was as Head of Liaison Office with China. From the time of the Korean War, 1953-1955, Sino-American diplomatic relations had come to its lowest levels, with both sides pursuing rather bellicose activities in South East Asia. But China was too important to be ignored or left in comatose. Bush, working with Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, therefore had to device strategies that re-engaged and restored relations. The quiet ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ helped build confidence leading to formalization and normalization of ties in 1975. Indeed his reassignment to head the Central Intelligence Agency, then regarded as the vortex of the rather grandiose American diplomatic activism, underpinned his chivalry status in the scheme of things.
The high profile national security and diplomatic career, including a stint at The US Congress and the Republican Party, placed Bush as second to none in terms of pedigree in presiding over the affairs of the world’s leading democracy. Although his candidature under the Republican Party was defeated by Ronald Reagan, who later became 40th President, George Bush was invited to join the latter, hence becoming the 45th American Vice President in 1980. Bush is regarded as one of the most dutiful and engaged Vice Presidents ever in American history. With a security background, his role in the fight against drug trafficking and drug abuse was quite pronounced.
After eight years as a highly rated Vice President, in 1988, it was not surprising that Bush defeated his Democratic Party rival, Michael Dukakis; even though the later also came highly favoured. In so doing, he broke a century and half record of Vice Presidents succeeding their principals. The four years of his Presidency, became Americans most impactful in foreign policy and national security. Bush’s realpolitik in a world defined by an arms race and thermonuclear rivalry still managed active engagement with Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin as well as with Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping (who succeeded Chairman Mao), which led to the breaking of the ‘Iron Curtain’ which had hitherto torn the world apart into two. For example, from one monolithic empire, the Soviet Union which had existed since 1917, became splintered into 15 independent and autonomous states without atrocious bloodletting. Other eastern bloc countries such as Poland, Hungary, Czech and Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, former Yugoslavia, also became free from the authoritarian grip of the Russians.
Most graphically, the Berlin Wall which symbolized the divide and stood obtuse for more than two decades gave way. Through adroit negotiations and persuasions, he got both British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and French President, François Mitterrand, both of whom were within World War generation and still mentally alert as to the threats a united Germany could pose to acquiesce. At the same time, he got German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl to make Germany become the bulwark of military strength and capability within the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). He also garnered global alliance, in compliance with Article Seven of the United Nations Charter to embark on military expeditions in Iraq and Panama against those considered rogue regimes. He led the world with a 700, 000 strong force to expel Saddam Hussain from his territorial incursion into Kuwait, with an unprecedented global coalition. Cleverly, he convinced Saudi Arabia, Germany and Japan to pay for all the costs of the war.
Still on the international scene, he worked more than most other American Presidents to build more healthy and beneficial economic ties with the country’s neighbours. He supervised the very complex and intricate negotiations with Canada in the North and the countries of South America to form the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). This was to build in the main, a Pan American economic bloc which could expand the American market frontier and also act as a counterpoise to both China and the European Union.
Domestically, President Bush left the US at peace and more united, especially with the cost of successful external military adventures paid for by taxpayers in other countries. Although his background was from the oil industry, he took it on courageously as he made major amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1963. These have continued to place greater burden on reduction of environmental footprint on the oil companies. His economic policies, were however, less successful as he was caught in the middle between his own Republican Party which was a minority in Congress and the Democrats who gave him no breathing space to undertake many reforms. In all, American rated him, one of the best ever.
In one of the tributes in his honour, a respected American Diplomat, Nicholas Burns asserted that “he became president, he had the world’s most extensive collection of relationships with presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and business leaders. He understood that effective diplomacy required the patient building of trust, something that often eludes leaders across national, ideological and cultural boundaries in our era.” Simply put, he understood the world and knew how to connect with its leaders to get things done.
A strong point for successful governance which many remember is the assemblage of one of America’s best dream team ever. This brought together such heavy weights as Secretary of State, Jim Baker III, Defence Secretary, Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Nick, National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell. Others were Bob Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Bob Blackwill, Bob Zoellick, Dennis Ross, Tom Pickering, etc.
Another factor of record relates to his exceptional personal discipline, humility and civility. Though born into privileged origins and upbringing, he earned great respect by hard work, President Bush goes down in history as a gentleman. He was very closely and personally connected with all his team and with all other world leaders, exuding simplicity. He was self-effacing, and at times abnegated in taking credit for achievements both at home and overseas. Hence, he made Gorbachev feel comfortable in the face of his crumbling empire.
World leaders, especially on the African continent, no doubt have a lot to learn from the legacies of George Walker Bush, knowing that one day, persons completely unknown to them will have to weigh the impact of their stewardship. His mortal remains took residence at his final resting place in Houston, Texas on 5th December 2018, after impressive last rites across the United States of America. He has now gone down in the annals of time, as a good man. A man who exited the scene peacefully, having lost election to the more youthful and loved Bill Clinton. But he left America united and strong, and the world, more “safe and peaceful”. Little wonder, God gave him so much length of days.
Dr. Godknows Boladei Igali is a Diplomat, Administrator and 2015 lifetime achievement recipient of Historical Society of Nigeria