I finished a short biography of George HW Bush over the weekend (the book I read was by Timothy Naftali and it’s part of the American Presidents series).
Bush was the first President in my presidential reading list who didn’t have a wealth of biographies to choose from–my hunch is some of these presidents will get harder and harder to read up on.
HW was a major inspiration behind this whole project of mine. After seeing Oliver Stone’s W. (which I didn’t like), I thought Bush Sr. was by far the most interesting character. And Obama referenced him as a model for his foreign policy, which made me interested in him as well. I’d also read a bit about him in the book Flyboys, which dealt with a narrow part of the war in the Pacific, including Bush’s fighter being shot down and him eventually rescued by a US sub.
So. Bush as President.
Reading the book gave me a lot to chew on about his legacy.
Desert Storm, especially after our current experience in Iraq, looks even better by comparison. But I still struggle with the call to the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam only to find the US wasn’t there to back them when it counted. The book suggests 50,000 to 80,000 people were killed by Saddam in a campaign starting March 6, just a week after the end of our war. (Film fans might recognize that Three Kings touched on this as well).
On the other hand, I came away with a greater appreciation of Bush’s management of the end of the Cold War. Reagan is commonly given credit for “beating the Soviets,” but Bush seems to deserve far more credit for how he handled the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89, the Soviet coup in ’91, and eventually the reunification of Germany and its entrance into NATO. The book calls it a “soft landing” for the Cold War that was very much managed by Bush. Desert Storm was even a part of that process of turning the Soviet enemy into a Russian ally.
I may come back and read more about Bush later. I came away with a pretty good picture, but still one that feels incomplete. I know he’ll probably factor in when I get to Reagan so that might fill things in a bit more too (the book also calls out how well Bush performed as a VP when Reagan was shot).
I think I’m going to go back to the Founders next. Hamilton was never a President but I think I need to deal with him and I have his biography. He’ll be up next. But give me a little while; it’s a 750 page tome with tiny print. It’ll take awhile.