George Herbert Walker Bush

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Bush, George Herbert Walker

Bush, George Herbert Walker, 1924–2018, 41st President of the United States (1989–93), b. Milton, Mass., B.A., Yale Univ., 1948.

Career in Business and Government

His father, Prescott Bush, was a successful investment banker and a Republican Senator (1953–63) from Connecticut. After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., he served as a fighter pilot during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He married (see Bush, Barbara) and studied at Yale after the war and subsequently moved to Texas, where he cofounded the Zapata Petroleum Corp. A Republican, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1964, but in 1966 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and sold his business interests. After losing a second race for the U.S. Senate in 1970, he served in several posts under Presidents Nixon and Ford, including ambassador to the United Nations (1971–73), chairman of the Republican national committee (1973–74), chief of the U.S. liaison office in China (1974–75), and director of the Central Intelligence Agency (1976–77).


Bush was unsuccessful in his bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, but became Ronald Reagan's running-mate and served two terms (1981–89) as vice president. In 1988, he won the Republican nomination for president. Bush and his running mate, Dan Quayle, easily defeated the Democratic ticket of Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen, and Bush became the first sitting vice president to win the presidency since Martin Van Buren did in 1836.

Foreign Policy

Bush benefited from the unraveling of Eastern European Communism, a rapid series of events that began with the collapse of East Germany late in 1989 and culminated in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. To many in the United States these events were a confirmation and a consequence of the anti-Soviet military buildup under Reagan and Bush. Bush also supported and helped shepherd the reunification (1990) of Germany. In 1991, 1992, and 1993, Bush signed nuclear disarmament agreements with the Soviet Union and then Russia that called for substantial cuts in nuclear arms. In Central America the United States achieved long-standing policy objectives. In Dec., 1989, U.S. forces invaded Panama and removed Gen. Manuel Noriega to stand trial in the United States for drug trafficking and other alleged crimes. Then, in Feb., 1990, the Sandinistas were defeated in elections in Nicaragua. Canada, Mexico, and the United States created a free-trade zone when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992.

In the Middle East, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, provided the occasion for the most striking foreign policy achievement of the Bush administration (see Persian Gulf War). Bush saw the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait by an American-led international coalition as a test of U.S. resolve to uphold and enforce what he termed the “new world order.” The success of Bush's military policy led to unprecedented popularity at home, but the U.S. triumph in the Persian Gulf War was not complete; Saddam Hussein retained power in Iraq. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, under prodding from Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace talks began in late 1991.

Domestic Policy

Bush's handling of domestic affairs was less successful. The savings and loan crisis (see savings and loan association) erupted in the early months of his administration, and the costs to the government only added to concerns about the federal budget deficit, which had grown significantly as a result of tax cuts under his predecessor. Bush's plan to stimulate the economy by encouraging growth in the private sector included cutting expenditures and taxes, especially the tax on capital gains. After a prolonged battle with the Congress, he agreed (Oct., 1990) to a deficit-reduction bill that included new revenues, breaking his 1988 campaign pledge to not raise taxes. This angered conservatives, but even more damaging to Bush was a prolonged international recession that resulted in stagnant economic growth at home, high levels of unemployment, and increased concern about the ability of the United States to compete with Japan and other nations.

Because of this economic uncertainty, Bush began his 1992 reelection campaign as a far less popular president than he had been after the Gulf War, a short time earlier. Bush and Vice President Quayle were renominated by the Republican party in Aug., 1992. The Democrats nominated Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas. Businessman H. Ross Perot entered the race as an independent. After a bitter campaign, Clinton won, and Bush retired to Texas. In 2005, during the presidency of his son George Walker Bush, Bush joined with his successor to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, and he subsequently served as UN special envoy for the South Asian earthquake disaster.


See his All the Best (1999), selections from his letters and other writings. See also biographies by H. S. Parmet (1997), T. Naftali (2007), and his son G. W. Bush (2014); C. Campbell, ed., The Bush Presidency (1991); P. and R. Schweizer, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty (2004); J. A. Engel, When the World Seemed New: George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War (2017).

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