When former American President George Herbert Walker Bush breathed his last on Friday night in Houston, Texas at the ripe age of 94, it marked a fitting end to a life lived to the fullest by every parameter of human judgement. He was a quintessential leader: war hero, a suave diplomat, a successful businessman, the scion of a political family who reaffirmed the dynasty, a distinguished public servant and leader who was ready to lead from the front and let the world know and feel the weight of American power.
If there was anyone who was prepared for the US presidency, he was one. He was born on June 12, 1924, to a wealthy and politically active family in Milton, Massachusetts. His father, Prescott Bush, was a Connecticut Senator.
George attended the elite boarding school, Phillips Academy. He graduated at 18 and that same day enlisted in the Military as the youngest pilot in the Navy during World War II. He did not shy away from the frontlines because of his privileged background. Rather, he was in the thick of action, making 58 bombing missions in his Avenger torpedo bomber in the Pacific theatre of the war before his plane was shot down in 1944. For his heroics, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After the war, Bush went to develop himself further. He enrolled at Yale University. After graduation, he and his wife Barbara headed to west Texas to make their fortune and raise their family. He started the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Company in 1951 and co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation in 1953. By time he turned 40, he was already a millionaire and had the financial muscle to launch into politics where he, again, hit instant success in his first political foray, winning a congressional seat in 1967 and becoming the first Republican to represent the district around Houston.
The then President Gerald Ford appointed Bush an envoy to the People’s Republic of China — a crucial post in 1974 as President Richard Nixon had only recently re-established relations with the Communist nation in 1972. After his diplomatic stint, he was appointed director of one of the world’s most influential spy agencies, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1976, in the thick of the Cold War era. After Ford’s regime, he returned to his business until 1979 when he ran for the Republican presidential ticket against Ronald Reagan. He lost but Reagan had seen the stuff he was made of and nominated him as his running mate and together they easily beat the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, winning in a landslide, 44 states out of 50.
After serving as a two-term vice president under President Ronald Reagan, Bush beat Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis and became America’s 41st President from 1989 to 1993. From his earlier endeavours, it was not surprising that Bush became a warrior president and succeeded at it as well. He presided over the end of the Cold War symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall. And when a US Navy seaman was killed by the Panamanian Defence Force, Bush sent a military expedition into Panama and captured its President Manuel Noriega and jailed him in America.
Perhaps the one to feel Bush’s power the most was Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, whose military forces tried to annex Kuwait in 1990 and threatened Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries in a power grab over oil fields, Bush vowed to force Hussein to retreat and amassed a coalition of counties to help him in Operation Desert Storm. However, he made the error of letting Saddam Hussein remain in power which kept the whole region on edge, an error his son, President George W. Bush, was later to correct over a decade later in another war in which Hussein was overthrown and later killed.
The late Bush made an unsuccessful re-election bid in 1992, losing to Bill Clinton. Bush’s son, George succeeded Clinton and became the nation’s 43rd president, making them the second father and son to hold the office, along with John Adams and John Quincy Adams.
In his later life, and despite recent health problems, Bush was one of the most active ex-presidents, regularly attending Houston Astros baseball games and cultural events around Space City. Since leaving office, Bush was heavily involved in charities, often teaming up with former President Clinton with whom he remained close. Just as the late Senator John McCain, another war hero, who received a state burial earlier this year, Bush deserves no less. May his soul rest in peace.