James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bush I's Finest Moment

I saw a portion of The American Experience about George Herbert Walker Bush last night.

In Bush's first year as President, Poland held free elections for the first time, and Hungary opened its borders with Austria, triggering upheaval in the Eastern Bloc that led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

As this happened, Bush remained, as Dana Carvey would often mock on Saturday Night Live, "prudent." He sent a message to Gorbachev that he wouldn't be dancing on the Berlin Wall. He framed the issue as something wonderful for the German people, not the sign of "victory" in the Col War. As commentators on the program noted, Bush didn't want Hungary, 1956 all over again, when the CIA persuaded the people that America would back their revolution, only find themselves crushed by Soviet troops. So if the Soviets ordered a crackdown, America was not going to intervene.

While Sen. George Mitchell and Rep. Dick Gephardt publicly criticized Bush for not being exultant, Bush quietly earned the trust and goodwill of Gorbachev. With a vote on German unification coming, the question was with whom Germany should be aligned. Bush wanted it to be part of NATO, and Gorbachev wanted it to be neutral. But the 1975 Helsinki Accords affirmed that each European country had the right to decide to choose for itself. Bush pointed this out to Gorbachev, who was forced to agree. So they held a press conference saying that the issue wasn't up to them, it was up to the German people. (Who, in the end, did join NATO)

Bush did some pretty bad things, such as giving the green light for Saddam to invade Kuwait, then make war on Kuwait, then misleadingly encouraged the Iraqi people to revolt against Saddam (though at least Bush I wasn't dumb enough to actually invade Iraq). Bush also deposed Noriega from Panama, and established the "Drug Czar."

But his refusal to grandstand on the Berlin Wall, when just about any other President or would-be President would have done so, was one of the best diplomatic maneuvers I've seen. He would have done better had he, and subsequent Presidents, acted like that more often.

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