At The Federalist, Sumantra Maitra explains the prudent foreign policy decisions of President George H.W. Bush. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, in what could have turned into a complete meltdown of society in Russia and the other Soviet states, Bush 41 maintained his awareness of the broader perspective and didn’t attempt to take advantage of the Russians, which could have caused a violent reaction from the still powerful country. Maitra writes (abridged):
In a world largely inhabited by foreign policy ideologues with no sense of history, one can only hope George H.W. Bush’s prudence, restraint, and realist statecraft makes a comeback
It was under Bush 41’s leadership that the Western leaders understood the momentous times they were passing through, and other Western leaders like Francois Mitterrand of France, Margaret Thatcher and John Major of Britain, and Helmut Kohl of Germany understood that it is imperative to be generous in victory.
The Cold War ended without a single shot proverbially fired, and the credit for the relatively peaceful devolution of the Soviet Empire goes completely to the calm, cold, calculating Bush administration.
Bush 41 was the last “serious” foreign policy president, with a sense of history and proportion, and an experience to have actually fought in the last global great power war. Unlike his myopic successor, Bush 41 was a conservative and a realist.
Humble and stoic in victory, he apparently understood what subsequent generations of policymakers failed to grasp: that unipolarity is not a permanent state of affairs in the world, that aspiring hegemony is unsustainable, and that balance of power and acknowledging the defeated adversary’s interest are keys to a long-term peace.
His realism was again on display during the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein wanted to be a regional hegemon. Bush worked with allies, got the Saudis to pay the major cost of the war, had the United States play the role of an offshore balancer, and defeated Hussain’s expansionism.
All the while, he understood the simple reality that toppling a dictator wouldn’t mean there would be democracy and peace in the region tomorrow.
George H. W. Bush was a salutary post-war foreign policy president. As one mourns his passing, one can only wish his sense of conservative prudence, restraint, realpolitik, and his deep admiration of the cycles of history makes a comeback in a world otherwise full of myopic idealists.
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