A master of statesmanship and dignity


If we’re looking for proof that we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone, the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush makes the point. He set the gold standard for genuine human decency and thorough preparation for a job he got right. That was no match for the whims of American voters, who chose to limit our 41st president to one term.

Oh, but what a term. He was commander in chief during the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War, both of which saw the 82nd Airborne Division and many others from Fort Bragg play a key role. And it was in his presidency that the Soviet Union dissolved. It was President Bush who negotiated a longstanding nuclear arms reduction treaty with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and then made further progress in agreements with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

It was especially the Gulf War that showcased President Bush. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein seized control of Kuwait, the president drew on his CIA background to understand the dynamics of the Middle East, and his UN experience to assemble an international coalition to drive the Iraqis decisively out of Kuwait. And that Middle Eastern experience meant he didn’t need Gen. Colin Powell to remind him of the “Pottery Barn Rule — You Break It, You Own It.” Rather than hunt down the Iraqi leader, he knew we and the Middle East would be better off if Saddam were simply contained. In a 1998 book he co-authored with his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, he explained his controversial decision to leave Saddam in place: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably stil be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome.”

Five years later, the president’s son, George W. Bush, proved the truth of that observation. We’re still in Iraq today.

The Gulf War — which was a deep social and economic challenge for the Fayetteville community — wasn’t President Bush’s last connection with Fort Bragg. After his presidency, in fact, he grew closer to this community. He visited here for a political fundraiser and also forged a strong tie with the Golden Knights. He jumped with them for the first time in Arizona, at the age of 72. That same year, he visited Fort Bragg for a Golden Knights reunion, and in 2004, he attended the opening ceremony for the team’s headquarters. And he kept jumping with the team — ther last time to celebrate his 90th birthday.

The president’s love of adventure was exceeded only by his kindness and decency. He treated his staff, other politicians (even Democrats) and the people he met every day with courtesy, respect and caring. He maintained hundreds, maybe thousands, of relationships with people he’d met, sending notes or making calls. His presidency was marked by a level of wise statesmanship and dignity that we’ve seldom seen since.

— The Fayetteville Observer


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