Assessing Legacy of Late President George H. W. Bush: View from Russia

George H. W. Bush died at the age of 94. A moderate Republican, he had no sympathy whatsoever for the Soviet Union, the country Americans preferred to call simply “Russia” just because it is shorter. After all, he served two terms as a vice president under Ronald Reagan, the chief executive who said “We begin bombing in five minutes” – the last sentence of his joke to hit headlines in 1984. But the late president is well-remembered and respected in Russia for what he did to benefit both nations.

For instance, George Bush Senior did not rush to support the break-up of the Soviet Union – something he came under criticism for at home. His administration believed the USSR remaining as a single state, even without the Baltic States, was a better option than the country divided into parts. Those days, the late president made no public address to express his support for the partition of the Communist rival to come under criticism by his opponents who expected him to do otherwise. Bloomberg cites him saying in “41,” an HBO documentary about his life aired in 2012, that publicly celebrating the fall of the Iron Curtain “would have been the stupidest thing I could have done.” According to him, “Everybody’s got certain levels of respect and pride, and for me to stick my finger in the eyes of Gorbachev or the Soviet military would have made no sense at all.”

It was him who went to Kiev in August 1991 to warn about the danger of “suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred”. Looking at the contemporary Ukraine, one can see the late president was bestowed with the gift of foresight. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, he continued to view the world through the paradigm of Washington-Moscow relations. He believed that the relationship with the nuclear power, which has huge territory, resources, population and a seat in the UN Security Council, was of paramount importance for America’s national interests. During President H.W. Bush’s tenure, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was given assurances that NATO would not expand past Germany. The recently declassified documents confirm the story. “Not one inch eastward” said Secretary of State James Baker 9, 1990.It was Bill Clinton who made a decision to expand NATO forward. By doing so, he undermined the European security without any benefits for American people. The warnings by such renowned experts as George Kennan, who opposed the formation of NATO, went unheeded. George H.W. Bush had the gift of global vision while Bill Clinton was mainly concentrated on the Middle East due to internal reasons. Former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, a two-term vice president, ambassador to the United Nations and China, George Bush Senior was the only foreign policy guru among the post-war chief executives – “America’s last foreign policy president”.

He established a good working relationship with Soviet President Gorbachev during the 1989 meeting in Malta. A broad arms reduction agreement (START I) was signed in July 1991and, more broadly, he contributed greatly to ending the nearly a half-century of Cold War and making the world a safer place for generations to come.By no stretch of the imagination could he do what his son did – dismantling the 1972 ABM Treaty to undermine the strategic stability George H.W. Bush did so much to strengthen. It’s not possible to imagine him making announcements about the withdrawal from the INF Treaty or decrying New START – the things Donald Trump have done recently. It’s also hard to imagine him using economy as a billy club against other states that refused to abide by the rules established by the US. It’s sad that the incumbent president does not want to take the page out of his predecessor’s book and thoroughly weigh the pros and cons of such moves. He still has time to rectify the situation but it is running out.

The Soviet Union rendered its political support for the Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The days of the first Gulf War were the days when the two nations were believed to be forging a new strategic partnership. He refused to have contacts with Gorbachev’s opponents attempting a coup to oust him from power in 1991. His position was well understood by those who preferred cold-minded reasoning, not emotions, to see what’s good or bad for America in the long run. George H.W. Bush had to face the ignominy of going down in history as one-term president, but even after that he did his best to maintain good relations with Russia. George H.W. Bush was thrilled to invite Vladimir Putin toWalker’s Point, the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine,allowing his son and the Russian leader to talk the controversial issues over.

In the days of George H.W. Bush’s tenure the US and Russia had deep divisions and wide gaps to divide them on the ways to tackle pressing international problems. They saw the world differently but there were no tensions running high to make the two great nations balance on the brink of conflict. The parties put aside the divisions and cooperated on issues where they could make progress. Unlike today, the prospects for arms control were promising. Nobody doubts the former president protected the interests of the United States. He believed that maintaining a dialogue and strengthening arms control and non-proliferation regime served better the interests of his country. This is the time of mourning and remembering. Those who are going to any length to dismantle his legacy should look into his reasoning for maintaining good relations with Russia with clear gains for his nation.

By Andrei Akulov
Source: Strategic Culture

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