When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1991, thousands of Germans cheered, hugged, and cried. They were finally reunited. Freedom was sweeping across all of Eastern Europe. The “Iron Curtain” Winston Churchill spoke about over forty years ago was beginning to collapse. At the helm of this dramatic shift in global politics was George Herbert Walker Bush.
Bush proved to be a perfect leader, thanks to his many of years of experience. He had been in the U.S. House of Representatives, ambassador to the United Nations, liaison to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and vice president before finally taking the oath of office.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was transformative. Soviet power frightened Americans for many decades. Many leftists in western academia and media believed that a communist planned economy centralized by an autocracy would triumph over democratic and free market institutions. Standard economics textbooks during the Cold War showed the Soviet Union overtaking the United States in gross national product. Experts never expected the communist regime to disintegrate rapidly.
Americans were fortunate to have a man as wise as Bush in the White House at this pivotal moment. He knew the last thing the world needed was to embarrass the Soviets as the Berlin Wall fell, which would risk the peaceful end of the Cold War. Bush was never one to brag about his successes and his decision not to yielded greater results. He also knew how crucial it was to work with his allies. Some of Western Europe’s leaders, including Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand, were against German reunification. Germany would eventually be reunified and countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria established democracies.
Simultaneously, a new threat arose on the global stage. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion of Kuwait. Saddam and his Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party had ruled Iraq with an iron fist for over a decade. His regime murdered thousands of innocent people. While Saddam was effective when it came to maintain power, the same could not be said for his country’s finances. Saddam wanted to open new lines of credit with the oil-rich Kuwaiti kingdom. Kuwait refused and Saddam responded with force.
Would a post-Cold War world tolerate actions like those of Saddam? Bush decided it should not and immediately began organizing the first global coalition since the Korean War.
Many opponents of American counteraction believed it would be a repeat of the Vietnam War. Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy said the war was “senseless” during a debate in the Senate, adding “the 45,000 body bags the Pentagon has sent to the region are all the evidence we need of the high price in lives and blood that we will have to spare.”
Bush also faced criticism from some of the isolationists within his own party. Republican speechwriter Patrick Buchanan thought implementing sanctions and waiting for Saddam to give up was the right policy response. They had no reason to worry. The deserts of the Middle East were very different from jungles of Southeast Asia. The coalition forces succeeded in a ground campaign within 100 hours. A ceasefire was declared and Iraq was expelled from Kuwait at the cost of 292 coalition lives.
Defeating Saddam indicated what Bush’s vision for the world was as the United States became the sole superpower. As tanks sped across Iraq and Kuwait, Bush addressed the American people on television. “We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order — a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations,” he declared.
What George Bush wanted was a world where freedom, free markets, and democracy extended to every individual on the planet. An international order that would defend human rights and be cemented in a rules-based approach.
The world is not yet entirely free, but a wave of progress has been made almost thirty years since he gave his televised address. There are now more people free and more democracies in existence than ever before. Such a trajectory would not have been possible had it not been for Bush’s steady hand during a volatile period in history.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.