By MR Josse
NEW YORK, NY: As readers are very well aware, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, passed away the other day at the age of 94, prompting a cascade of tributes and encomiums from Americans of all walks of life – not to mention those from a galaxy of world leaders.
Perhaps the greatest one-time U.S. president (1989-1993), the American patriot and patriarch, presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the first Gulf War triggered by Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s egregious invasion of Kuwait.
His brief watch witnessed his patient, adroit handling of America’s relations with a China caught up in the turbulent, unpredictable aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, not to mention ordering the invasion of Panama to remove dictator Manuel Noriega who had transformed his country into a narco state that had declared war on America.
Armed with the aura of a honorable, decent – even noble – leader, putting country before self, family or party, Bush came into the presidency with a daunting panoply of impressive credentials, from two terms as President Ronald Reagan’s vice-president, to CIA director, envoy to China and Ambassador to the United Nations: a career background that made him among the most prepared ever to assume the mantle of the American presidency.
As readers will have read tons of assessments, in the print and visual media, on this great American savant’s life and times, here I shall confine myself merely to a few personal ruminations – and a couple of jottings from recent reading.
First, the personal: the closest physical proximity this columnist got to him was when Bush, as America’s vice-president, represented the United States in a UN Security Council debate at UN H/Q in New York, following the downing of Iran Air flight 655, from Tehran to Dubai, caused by missiles fired from USS Vincennes, on July 3, 1988. (Nepal, at the time, was a non-permanent member of the UNSC and, yours truly, a member of the Nepal’s UNSC team.)
Here now are some telling excerpts from Victor Sebestyen (vide ‘Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire): “President Bush was a cautious man. It was his greatest virtue…the crucial factor in the resolve he showed when the Soviet empire imploded…Bush’s immense, reassuring calm was a vital factor in bringing about the end of the Cold War…His great contribution was…what he didn’t do, as well as what he did. He played it cool. He helped to grease the skids on which the Communists were slid from power.
“There was little that Bush could have done to promote the revolutions of 1989…There is much an American President could have done to derail (them)…Bush decided to take his time to decide how to deal with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union…”The process that Gorbachev has set in motion…is likely to lead to lasting changes in Soviet behavior…” he concluded.
Bush furthermore believed that “the Soviet Empire could probably crumble on its own. America did not have to do anything to hasten the process. He decided, with due caution, to wait and see.”
Other assorted capsule recollections by those who knew him best: He refused to ‘dance on the Berlin Wall’, as it came down, convinced that tackling the aftermath was essentially a German priority, best left to the Germans to resolve.
Similarly, not wishing to exceed the UNSC mandate on throwing Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, he refused to take the war into Iraq; he wisely decided not to take sides on the Gorbachev-Yelstin rivalry and sagely allowed matters to cool on the US-China relations front, après Tiananmen, before proceeding any further on the policy front.
If Bush, the 41st U.S. head of state, was the consummate ‘cautious president’ what a striking contrast he makes – wouldn’t you say – with the current resident of the White House, the rambuctious 44th American president?
OVER TO BUENOS AIRES
Talking about President Donald Trump, it would perhaps be in order to recall the recent goings-on in the Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires, the photogenic venue of the G-20 summit of the world’s leading economies.
That, of course, followed on the heels of Trump’s eleventh-hour decision not to pow-wow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the G-20 moot, following Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors – a decision that clearly peeved Putin, as could be seen from visuals of the G-20 confabulations beamed worldwide.
The contrast with the show of bonhomie there between Putin and controversial Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could not have been more vivid, as commented by the media here, including the New York tabloid, Daily News, in its inimitable style and lingo.
In a story headlined, “The G-20 Bro Show”, it splashed a large-sized colour photograph showing “Putin and bin Salman…greeting usually reserved for touchdown celebrations.” It went on to tell readers, “In a video that went viral and set tongues wagging across the globe, Putin and bin Salman shared a hearty handshake and an animated laugh before sitting together like two buds at a ballgame…Earlier, the Saudi ruler was on the sidelines during the official portrait of world leaders and other dignitaries, standing at the far edge of the ‘family photo’ group shot and largely ignored.”
His presence had been contentious in the wake of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Notably, the G-20 summit recorded a substantial politico-diplomatic achievement via a working dinner between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and their respective teams: a temporary truce in their current tit-for-tat trade war.
Incidentally, it may be salutary for readers to mull over how little notice the world media took of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence. Plainly, the world stage is still dominated by Trump, Xi and Putin: others are clearly, or at most, second fiddlers.
In last week’s column by the author, an inadvertent error was occurred referring to President Trump as the 44th president. Please read it as the 45th president-Ed.)