They say the first year after the death of a spouse is crucial for the surviving partner. It is often the case with couples that have been married long, that when one passes away, the other follows usually within the year. The phenomena is common enough to have a name: Broken heart syndrome. George and Barbara Bush were married for 73 years, and the former President of the United States has joined his wife less than six months after she died.
It is often hard to imagine politicians as people – as humans with feelings, families, sincerity, weaknesses, desire – the works. It is rare enough to see that kind of empathy for politicians locally, and so trying to empathise with a foreign, war mongering President might be impossible.
Yet George H W Bush, 41st President of the United States and the man that oversaw the end of the Cold War, was human enough to die of a broken heart, even if his résumé may make him seem almost super human. A war hero with footage of him surviving a plane crash during the second world war to boot, Bush came to the office of President having already been Ambassador to the UN, followed by a stint as Director of the CIA and finally as Vice President to Ronald Reagan.
Bush as US Ambassador to the UN.
Smart, well versed in international politics, experienced, charming but strong, and sharp as a tack, Bush 41 might just have been one of the best American Presidents of all times. The last to sign a truly bipartisan bargain, and the proponent of a masterful foreign policy, he was what Americans look for in a President. But the stars seemed disturbed, and the man who started his presidency with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the USSR, and a record high 90% approval rating, would not manage to win a second term in office.
Before being elected President, he had famously told a crowd “Read my lips: No new taxes.” But when push came to shove, new taxes were introduced. That might just have been what cost him a second term. A decision he took knowing what it might entail because it was the best one.
Bush with Soviet premiere Mikhail Gorbachev.
Almost a decade after he had left the White House, his son would go on to have two terms as President. There have only been a few repetitions of last names in the White House. There were the two Johnsons, Andrew and Lyndon Baynes, that were unrelated. Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt who were cousins, and the two Harrisons who were grandfather and grandson. Bush 41 and Bush 43 were the only other father-son Presidential combination other than John and John Quincy Adams.
Other than their last name and a striking resemblance, the two shared very little. It was a classic case of imperious father and the son never quite able to keep up. The generations did, however, share one other crucial similarity, that both fought a war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. What Bush 41 started, Bush 43 would end, leaving in their wake a field of death and destruction.
Despite his humanness, the Muslim world will not remember the 41st President in kind words. His son even less so, and with all that has happened since either of them were at the world’s helm, the name Bush, who cares senior or junior, will be one that emotes little other than hate and anger. While it may have been a great victory for him at home, and the optics of Operation Desert Storm historic, it was US appeasement and later US aggression that led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait followed by the great first step in the continued havoc that reigns in Iraq. The Gulf War was an American problem given an American solution, and the collateral of it all just another in the many collaterals that the United States has created in the course of its supremacy in the global order. Perhaps if Bush 41 had known his son would be the one dealing with Saddam Hussein in some time, he would have ended the task then and there, but left it he did, setting the stage for the bloodied battlefield that is the cradle of civilization has now become.
Bush with his troops after victory in the Gulf War
Iraq was not Bush’s only conquest, with another clinical campaign being waged in Panama. The Soviet Union he saw to its end, Saudi Arabia he continued to deal with, and he was a great friend to Israel and of no help to the Palestinian cause.
Yet Bush was simply one among many Presidents, the ninth since the second world war. Four have followed him since, and American policy towards the world has not changed. At most there have been changes in tone and rhetoric, changes of principle, and even secular Democrats like Obama or Clinton have effected the same policy as hardline conservatives such as the Bushes or Trump.
Bush with wife Barbara and their family dog in the Oval office.
Any crimes that Bush 41 has committed were not particular to him, although they might be pinned on his person, but were crimes of the United States. The crimes of the dominant state that have been committed throughout history. George H W Bush was just among one of the many people that stood in the thick of things.
How history judges Bush 41 is to be seen. He was no revolutionary like Castro to be absolved in life, and he was no enigma like Kennedy to be revered in death. Instead, he was another man that lived, that served, that led, and that died. There are many lessons to take from Bush 41, none of them majestic or glorious, but drab and real much like the man was. Dedication to duty, bravery, and dignity in defeat chief among them.