41 at 90: History Will Be Mostly Kind to Elder Bush, Says Historian

Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 08:44 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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Former President George H.W. Bush, who went skydiving for his 90th birthday, also has a lofty legacy to celebrate as the leader who helped end the Cold War peacefully, presidential historian Tom Whalen told Newsmax TV on Thursday. 

"He was kind of the indispensable man because the Cold War, as it was ending during his term, could have gone in a number of negative ways," Boston University professor Whalen told "Midpoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV.

"And he [Bush] said at the time that it would do the United States no good, when the Berlin Wall came down, to go thump its chest and dance on the wall and kind of really rub it in the Russians' noses," said Whalen.

Story continues below video.

Diplomacy and restraint, guided by a sense of history and geopolitics, were the hallmarks of this patrician senator's son, from his "careful" winding down of the Cold War alongside Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev to his pullback after expelling Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army from Kuwait, said Whalen.

"George Herbert Walker Bush did not want to put American boots on the ground in Iraq because he knew that basically Iraq wasn't really a country: It was a bunch of religious factions going at it in a civil war, " said Whalen.

If his strategic vision failed him, according to Whalen, it was after the Cold War.

"He really didn't come up with what kind of world the United States should be in terms of leadership and power," he said. "We're still struggling, well into the 21st century, with trying to decide what our role's going to be."

He added, "I don't think his successor, Bill Clinton, had an answer. His son [President George W. Bush] thought he had an answer, and that involved a lot more intervention on the global scene. And as we've seen, that did not quite work out the way he hoped for."

Bush 1— or "41" as his son, the 43rd White House occupant, liked to call him — is also remembered as a "foreign policy president" who was voted out after one term because he didn't mind a faltering U.S. economy.

"That's somewhat unfair," said Whalen, calling Bush "the guy after a parade went through town … He kind of cleaned up the mess, economically, with the budget act of 1990. But to do so, he had to break his word on taxes. He raised taxes and came to a compromise with the Democrats in return for budget cuts."

Those actions produced a balanced budget — and an economic model — for President Clinton, said Whalen, "and what resulted was the prosperity of the 1990s."

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