George HW Bush takes the oath of office as he is sworn-in as 41st President of the United States in 1989

George H W Bush, former US president, dead aged 94

  • 1 December, 2018

George H W Bush, the US president who helped steer America through the end of the Cold War and triumphed with the coalition victory over Iraq in Kuwait, has died. He was 94.

Family spokesman Jim McGrath said Mr. Bush died shortly after 10pm on Friday at his Houston home. His passing comes about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara Bush - his "most beloved woman in the world" - to whom he was married for 73 years.

His son, former president George W Bush, led the tributes to his father.

"Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear dad has died," Mr. Bush said in a statement.

"George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.

"The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41's life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad," the statement read.

The nation's 41st president, who lived longer than any of his predecessors, served from 1989 to 1993, and eight years later watched his son George W. become the 43rd president.  

Another son tried to follow their footsteps into the White House, but former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was unable to clinch the 2016 Republican nomination for president.

The elder Bush saw his popularity swell with the United States' success in the Gulf War in 1991, only to watch it fade quickly in a brief, but deep recession that saw him defeated in his bid for a second term by Democrat Bill Clinton.

Mr. Bush had also been a World War II hero, Texas congressman, CIA director and Ronald Reagan's vice president.

Only one other U.S. president, John Adams, had a son who also became president. 

 

How the US reacted

US President Donald Trump paid tribute to his predecessor, praising his lifetime of service to the nation and "unflappable leadership" during the waning days of the Cold War.

"Melania and I join with a grieving nation to mourn the loss of former president George H.W. Bush," Mr. Trump said in a statement from Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he was attending the G20 summit.

"Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service."

Former President Barack Obama and wife Michelle said Mr. Bush's life was "a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey."

The Obamas credited him with "expanding America's promise to new immigrants and people with disabilities. Reducing the scourge of nuclear weapons and building a broad international coalition to expel a dictator from Kuwait.

“And when democratic revolutions bloomed across Eastern Europe, it was his steady, diplomatic hand that made possible an achievement once thought anything but - ending the Cold War without firing a shot."

They said: "It's a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he'd want all of us to try."

Bill and Hillary Clinton said in a statement that Mr. Bush had "never stopped serving".

"I saw it up close, working with him on tsunami relief in Asia and here at home after Hurricane Katrina. His remarkable leadership and great heart were always on full display.” 

Greg Abbott, the Texas Governor, said the state joined the nation in mourning "the passing of one of our greatest Presidents."

In a brief statement, the Republican said "George H.W. Bush was an American hero and icon. He was a friend to all he met. He embodied class and dignity." Abbott added that "Texans are genuinely honoured that he called the Lone Star State home and we collectively grieve this monumental loss."

Contrast to Trump

A foreign policy realist, Mr. Bush's approach was markedly different to the current White House incumbent. His preference for stability and international consensus stood in sharp contrast to the provocative bluster of fellow Republican Mr Trump.

Bush did not endorse fellow Republican Trump, the eventual winner of the 2016 presidential election, who attacked both Jeb and George W. Bush during his campaign.

He did not publicly say whom he voted for in the election, but a source told CNN he went for Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Bush did send Mr. Trump a letter in January 2017 saying he would not be able to attend his inauguration because of health concerns, but wishing him the best. 

The decorated war pilot and former CIA chief suffered the ignominy of being a one-term president, denied a second term over a weak economy when he lost the 1992 election to upstart Democrat Bill Clinton.

Presiding over economic malaise at home, he infuriated his fellow Republicans during a budget battle with rival Democrats by famously breaking his vow: "Read my Lips: No new taxes."

But he was the respected patriarch of a blue-blood political dynasty - the son of Prescott Bush, a successful banker and US senator for Connecticut.

He had a pampered upbringing and attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, but delayed his acceptance to Yale in order to enlist in the US Navy on his 18th birthday and head off to war.

He flew 58 combat missions during World War II. Shot down over the Pacific by Japanese anti-aircraft fire, he parachuted out and was rescued by a submarine after huddling in a life raft for four hours while enemy forces circled.

Bush married Barbara Pierce in January 1945, shortly before the war ended, and the couple went on to have six children, including one, Robin, who died as a child.

Instead of joining his father in banking upon graduation from Yale University, Bush headed to bleak west Texas to break into the rough-and-tumble oil business. He surprised many with his success, and by 1958 had settled in Houston as president of an offshore drilling company.

In the 1960s, Bush, now independently wealthy, turned to politics.

He was a local Republican Party chairman, and in 1966 won a seat in the US House of Representatives. He served there until 1970, when he lost a bid for the Senate.

Over the next decade, he held several high-level posts that took him and Barbara around the world: head of the Republican National Committee, US ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, where he was praised for restoring morale after revelations of widespread illegal activity.

 

End of the Cold War

He served as vice president to Ronald Reagan after losing to him in the 1980 Republican primary, an eight-year period of hands-on training for the top post he would go on to win by a solid margin in 1988, as the Cold War was coming to an end.

In a major test of the post-Cold War order, Saddam Hussein's million-man army invaded Kuwait in 1990 and looked set to roll into Saudi Arabia, which would have given the Iraqi strongman more than 40% of the world's oil reserves.

Bush famously vowed: "This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait."

He assembled a coalition of 32 nations to drive Iraqi forces out in a matter of weeks with a lightning air and ground assault.

Some 425,000 US troops backed by 118,000 allied soldiers took part in Operation Desert Storm, decimating Saddam's military machine without ousting him from power - a task that would be accomplished 12 years later by Bush's son.

Buoyed by his victory in the Gulf, Bush and his hard-nosed and widely respected secretary of state James Baker cobbled together the 1991 Madrid Conference to launch the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The conference was mainly symbolic, but it set the stage for the Oslo Accords two years later.

In late 1989, Bush sent US troops to Panama to oust strongman Manuel Noriega. He also set the groundwork for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Domestically, however, the economy stalled and Bush broke his pledge not to raise taxes in order to reach a budget deal with Democrats - a cardinal sin in the eyes of Republicans.

In 1992, Bush lost his re-election bid to Clinton - whose aide coined the now famous slogan "It's the economy, stupid" - as eccentric third-party candidate Ross Perot syphoned off conservative votes.

After the presidency

The elder Bush's cautious realpolitik would later be contrasted to his son's far more costly ambition to transform the Middle East, but "Bush 41" refused to weigh in on the debate, insisting he was proud of the presidency of "Bush 43."

After retiring from public life, Bush fulfilled a wartime pledge to one day jump out of a plane for fun and famously went skydiving on his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays.

He joined Clinton to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In 2011, Obama awarded Bush the highest US civilian honour, the Medal of Freedom.

He worked with Carter, Clinton, Obama and son George to raise money for hurricane victims in Texas in 2017.

The Bushes had been regular fixtures in their adopted hometown of Houston after his presidency, but public appearances became more rare because of health problems as they reached their 90s.

However, Bush was on the field in November 2017 as his eldest son, who served as the nation's 43rd president, tossed out the first ball at one of the Houston Astros' World Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He also had been joined by Barbara for the ceremonial coin toss when Houston hosted the Super Bowl in February 2017. Guardian

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