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George HW Bush: from war hero to war leader, thirty years in politics

Reuters | George Bush photographed on March 29, 2012.

George H.W. Bush, former Republican president and father of George W. Bush, died Friday at age 94. He is mainly remembered for his widely praised stewardship of the Gulf War in 1991, as well as his much-criticised handling of the US economy.

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George Herbert Walker Bush, an American politician who served as the 41st US president from 1989 to 1993, died late Friday night at his Houston home, said family spokesman Jim McGrath. He was 94.

A Republican and the father of former president George W. Bush, Bush served two terms as vice president (from 1981 to 1989) under then-president Ronald Reagan before being elected to the White House himself.

Prior to that, he occupied a variety of roles in US political life, including Congressman representing Texas, US ambassador to the UN, and director of the CIA.

From the army to the Ivy League to the oil industry

Born in 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, Bush belonged to a world of privilege and politics from the beginning. His father, Prescott, was a successful banker and later a Republican senator from Connecticut, and Bush attended prestigious boarding school Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

As a high school student, Bush met his future wife, then called Barbara Pierce. They were married in 1945.

At 18, Bush postponed college to enlist in the US Navy, becoming a highly decorated combat pilot in World War II. After the war, Bush attended Yale University, earning a degree in economics in 1948.

After moving to Midland, Texas, with his wife, Bush quickly rose through the ranks of the state’s oil and petroleum industry. His biggest financial successes came from his tenure as president of Zapata Offshore Company, a subsidiary of an oil company he had co-founded just a few years earlier.

But political ambitions pulled Bush in a different direction. After losing a Senate bid in 1962 and acting as chairman of the Harris Country Republican Party a year later, he was elected to the House of Representatives from Texas in 1966. He served two terms.

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Bush went on to a handful of prominent positions in politics: ambassador to the UN in 1971 under then-president Richard Nixon, head of the Republican National Committee from 1973 to 1974 (during the Watergate scandal), and envoy to China and, subsequently, Director of Central Intelligence under former president Gerald Ford from 1976 to 1977.

In 1980, Bush aimed even higher, running for his party’s nomination in the presidential primary. He lost to Ronald Reagan, but Reagan soon selected him as his running mate. Bush served as Reagan’s vice president for both terms, setting himself up for the pinnacle of his career: the presidency.

Successes abroad, setbacks at home

Bush beat Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis handily in the 1988 presidential election. His four years in the White House were tumultuous, marked by stinging domestic setbacks and widely praised foreign policy accomplishments.

Bush had famously proclaimed, “Read my lips: No new taxes”, during his speech at the 1988 Republican convention, but he ended up reneging on that promise, caving to pressure from the Democratic-controlled Congress and raising tax revenue just two years later. The move is seen as the main reason his popularity sunk among conservatives who had once supported him.

Bush earned high marks, however, for his navigation of several major foreign policy initiatives. He reached out to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall, paving the way for US-Russian relations in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He also oversaw the US army’s removal of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega from power.

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Bush’s most significant legacy is undoubtedly his stewardship of the Gulf War in 1991, for which he earned domestic support and built an international coalition to carry out a military strike that drove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Despite approval of his handling of international affairs, the economic recession at home took a toll on Bush’s image. He lost the 1992 presidential election to Bill Clinton.

Bush and Clinton are known to have developed a friendship years later, even co-creating the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund in 2005 to aid those impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Bush is survived by his children George, Jeb, who was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. Another daughter, Robin, died in 1953.

 

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