George H.W. Bush: A president in turbulent times

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Former US President George H.W. Bush salutes as he departs the East Front of the US Capitol Building after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States in Washington January 20, 2009. Reuters

WASHINGTON (Deutsche Welle) – The 94-year-old George H.W. Bush has died, according to a statement released on Saturday.

George H.W. Bush became president in 1989 after serving as vice president under Ronald Reagan. In Germany, he will be fondly remembered for the crucial role he played in uniting the East and the West in 1990.

Born in Massachusetts in 1924, George H.W. Bush enlisted in the US Navy on his 18th birthday to become its youngest aviator. He undertook 58 combat missions in the Pacific theater, earning several decorations. He was once shot down and spent four hours in a life raft before a submarine came to his rescue.

Mr Bush married Barbara Pierce in 1945, and following his honourable discharge later that year, began studies at Yale University; after graduation, the family moved to Texas. With support from President Richard Nixon, Bush was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966 and in 1971 Mr Nixon appointed him ambassador to the United Nations.

He also served as the first US diplomatic representative in China and head of the Central Intelligence Agency before being elected vice president and ultimately, in 1988, the 41st president of the United States.

Mr Bush first ran for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 1980. Despite losing the race, he was later picked by fellow Republican Ronald Reagan as his running mate. Mr Bush’s foreign policy expertise in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union played a role in the ticket’s election.

After eight years as Mr Reagan’s vice president, Mr Bush ran again for the presidency in 1998, winning the Republican nomination and the election – the first sitting vice president to be elected president in 152 years. Mr Bush beat his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

Mr Bush took office on January 20, 1989. In his inaugural address, he proclaimed “The day of the dictator is over” – presciently, as Europe’s communist regimes were overturned by democratic movements later that year, bringing the Cold War to an end. Only the Soviet Union remained – it would also disappear from the map two years later – and Mr Bush, the diplomat, managed to gain Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s trust.The result was the Two-Plus-Four agreement, signed in 1990 between the two German states and the World War II victors Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the US. Mr Bush used military force and ordered the invasion of Panama to arrest its drug-dealing leader, Manuel Noriega, in December 1989. The following year, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Mr Bush assembled an unprecedented UN coalition under US leadership that included many Arab states. When Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw his forces, the Gulf War, codenamed Operation Desert Storm, began in January 1991.

Despite postwar approval ratings over 90 percent, Mr Bush’s failure to use his unprecedented popularity to address difficult domestic issues eventually soured his fame. Mr Bush lost the presidential election in 1992 to Bill Clinton.

After his defeat, Mr Bush withdrew from politics and settled in Houston with Ms Barbara, where he spent the rest of his life. His son George W. Bush, one of six children, served as governor of Texas and was himself elected to the White House in 2000. Another son, Jeb Bush, also ran for the Republican nomination in 2015, losing to Donald Trump.

Even years after his presidency, Mr Bush was honoured with numerous awards. In 2008, he received the Henry Kissinger Prize in Berlin. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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