President Bush took office on January 20, 1989, and his inaugural address reflected his optimism. “Great nations of the world are moving toward democracy through the door to freedom,” he said. “Men and women of the world move toward free markets through the door to prosperity. The people of the world agitate for free expression and free thought through the door to the moral and intellectual satisfactions that only liberty allows.”
From his time as U.S. liaison in China, as Director of Central Intelligence, and as Vice President, George Bush was acutely aware of the threats that expansionist Soviet communism posed to the world. Nowhere was that more clear than along the Berlin Wall, which was rendered obsolete on November 9, 1989, by a permissive new East German travel policy.
The crumbling Berlin Wall seemed to signal that the Cold War, which so far had outlasted eight American presidencies, finally was drawing near an end. President Bush fostered new diplomatic and arms-control relationships with the USSR starting at the historic Malta Summit in December 1989, which proved beneficial as political reforms swept across East and Central Europe. On Christmas Day 1991, the red sickle and hammer of the Soviet flag was drawn down and replaced by the three broad and bright stripes of a free Russia. The longtime dream of countless Americans and their leaders finally had come true, and President Bush hailed the achievement as further evidence that a “new world order” of freedom and free markets was at hand.
The end of the Cold War was viewed as one of the seminal events of the 20th century, but it was only one of many several foreign relations masterpieces overseen by the Bush White House. Another episode for which President Bush is remembered is the liberation of Kuwait.
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi military forces invaded Kuwait, and President Bush immediately began mustering diplomatic, economic and military action to reverse the aggression. Bush sought and received a United Nations Security Council resolution against Iraq, froze Iraqi and Kuwaiti assets in the United States, and ordered a navy carrier and battle group into the Arabian Sea.
President Bush wrote a letter to his children at year’s end in which he discussed what might happen if Saddam failed to heed the world’s demands. “I have thought long and hard about what might have to be done. … I have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that we have tried hard for peace,” he wrote. “We have gone to the UN; we have formed an historic coalition; there have been diplomatic initiatives from country after country. And, so, here we are a scant 16 days from a very important date — the date set by the U.N. for [Saddam Hussein’s] total compliance with all U.N. resolutions including getting out of Kuwait — totally.”
When that deadline came and went, President Bush made the call: Operation Desert Storm commenced hours after the deadline passed. Coalition forces took Iraq by storm. “We will not fail,” the president assured the American people in a televised address. “Five months ago, Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight the battle has been joined.”
On February 22, the coalition followed up its air campaign with a ground war that lasted just 100 hours; a short six weeks after Desert Storm had begun, the conflict was over. In another televised address, President Bush said, “Kuwait is liberated. Kuwait is once more in the hands of Kuwaitis, in control of their own destiny.”
Bush’s popularity soared during the Gulf War, and his re-election in 1992 seemed almost certain. But by 1992, lingering concerns about a recovering economy and a popular third-party candidate lured enough voters away from the incumbent that his Democratic challenger, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, wrested the presidency away. On January 20, 1993, the Bushes left the White House and returned once more to Texas.
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