Search for...
Follow @ontheissuesorg
OnTheIssuesLogo

George Bush Sr. on Foreign Policy

President of the U.S., 1989-1993; Former Republican Rep. (TX)


United Nations is "the light that failed"

By the end of the Reagan years, State had concluded that the UN had sufficiently reformed that we should begin repaying the arrearage built up during the 1980s. Incoming president Bush endorsed the plan, which contemplated repaying the arrearage at the rate of 20% a year, over a 5-year period.

I had no doubt that Bush, a former US permanent representative to the UN, who had called it "the light that failed," had a thoroughly realistic view of both the UN's potential and its problems. The issue, though, was to translate out intentions into a strategy that was more than just perpetual dissatisfaction with contribution levels. I created a conceptual framework called the "Unitary UN" for this purpose, hoping to take a global view of the entire system, to compare performance levels so we could allocate funds based on real accomplishments. No other country paid as much attention to what the UN actually achieved, as opposed to its aspirational rhetoric.

Source: Surrender is Not an Option, by John Bolton, p. 33-34 , Nov 6, 2007

Called for repeal of UN "Zionism is racism" resolution

General Assembly Resolution 3379, the infamous 1975 text equating Zionism with racism, or "Z/r" as we called it, had delegitimized the UN in the minds of many Americans, because it convinced them that the UN was the hopeless captive of Soviet manipulation and Third World radicalism, both of which perceptions were accurate. Repeal of "Z/r" had become a priority for Israel and many pro-Israeli groups in the US, and a test of whether the UN could ever hope to regain even a hint of the moral authority that its founders envisioned for it in 1945. [After the Cold War, we could] right the historic wrong represented by "Z/r."

Firing the opening shot in the campaign in his annual UN address, President Bush included a call for repeal, signaling that this year we were serious indeed. Persistence paid off. As one of its last official acts before it dissolved, the Soviet Union voted to repeal the resolution it had inspired. "Z/r" was dead.

Source: Surrender is Not an Option, by John Bolton, p. 40-42 , Nov 6, 2007

US troops to Somalia to alleviate starvation

Eleven days after two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down over Mogadishu, killing 18 and creating the gruesome spectacle of warlords dragging American soldiers through the streets, McCain, who had already been agitating for the troops to come home, did just what he'd criticized Democrats for doing two decades earlier--tried to cut off funding to precipitate a withdrawal. The U.S. troop presence, which began under President George H. W. Bush, was initially sent to alleviate an acute starvation crisis brought on by political chaos. But under Clinton the mission had crept to rooting out warlords and providing security. McCain was having none of it: "Our mission is Somali was to feed a million starving who needed to be fed. It was not an open-ended commitment. It was not a commission of nation building, not warlord hunting, or any of the other extraneous activities which we seem to have been engaged in."
Source: The Myth of a Maverick, by Matt Welch, p.161-162 , Oct 9, 2007

Became UN Ambassador after campaigning against UN

After losing his second run for Senate, George's public life looked as though it was over. Nixon planned to dust off his obligation to George by appointing him head of the SBA or giving him a White House staff position with no specific duties. Some Nixon aides came up with the UN as the best way to keep George politically alive.

Nixon said, "I told him our plan, which didn't go down too well at first. 'We hated the UN in Texas,' Barbara said. She reminded me that George had campaigned against the UN. George had said the UN 'has largely been a failure in preserving freedom.' I explained to George that there was no better way for him to stay in public life than to become US Ambassador to the UN."

After the President offered him some insignificant position, George said he'd rather have the UN because he felt that he could make friends for Nixon in a way that no one else could. And his unswerving loyalty would enable him to represent US foreign policy the way Nixon wanted it represented.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.284-285 , Sep 14, 2004

US gives Israel $1,000 for every Israeli citizen

Neil Bush got a rush of Arab investors after traveling to Saudi Arabia and delivering a speech in which he said that the Arabs' problem in the US is that their lobby and public-relations machine is not as strong as the Israelis'. In saying that, he fed directly into an article of faith held in the Arab world and by anti-Semites the world over--that America's Middle East policy is driven by the Jewish lobby rather than national interest. Neil simply had repeated the sentiments of his father who was never perceived as pro-Israel. As President, Bush had complained in a White House press conference about the strength of the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. He reminded his critics that the US gave "Israel the equivalent of $1,000 for every Israeli citizen," a remark that detractors saw as an allusion to the stereotype of Jews as greedy and money-grubbing. Echoing the President's comments was his Secretary of State James Baker, who said, "F--- the Jews. They don't vote for us anyway."
Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.421 , Sep 14, 2004

1987: Visited concentration camps in Poland

In 1986 President Reagan decided to visit the cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, that held the graves of 49 Nazi storm troopers. His decision angered Jewish groups in the US & Europe, all of whom held public demonstrations.

Ronald Reagan would not budge. He had given his word. Former President Nixon backed him in his resolve, as did Vice President Bush, who sent him a secret note, which Reagan later published in his autobiography: "Mr. President, I was very proud of your stand. If I can help absorb some heat, send me into battle--It's not easy, but you are right!!!"

The outcry over Bitburg had convinced the Bush hardnoses that he needed to demonstrate his own sensitivity to the Holocaust. They scheduled a 4-day trip to Poland in Sept. 1987 with stops at the concentration camps of Birkenau and Auschwitz, where 4 million people had been exterminated. The trip was so blatantly political that the Polish press accused Bush of using their country to launch his presidential campaign.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.439 , Sep 14, 2004

1980s: Secretly assisted airlifting Ethiopian Jews to Israel

In the 1980's the Israelis launched a secret effort known as Operation Moses to rescue Ethiopian Jews. Once the news of the rescue operation broke, the effort had to be shut down, leaving hundreds of Jews stranded. The VP went directly to the CIA and secretly arranged a rescue mission that saved those Ethiopians. The mission was never made public until George's campaign. A flyer mailed to Jewish voters was titled "The one candidate who has proven his commitment to the Jewish people."
Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.441 , Sep 14, 2004

1991: Returned asylum-seeking refugees from Haiti

On Jan.5, I announced that I'd temporarily continue Pres. Bush's policy of intercepting & returning Haitians who were trying to reach the US by boat, a policy I had strongly criticized during the election. After Haiti's elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras in 1991, [many refugees fled].

When the Bush administration, which appeared to be more sympathetic to Cedras than I was, began to return the refugees, there were loud protests from the human rights community. I wanted to make it easier for Haitians to seek and obtain political asylum in the US, but was concerned that large numbers of them would perish in trying to get here, as about 400 had done just a week earlier. So, I said that, instead of taking in all the Haitians who could survive the voyage to America, we would beef up our official presence in Haiti and speed up asylum claims there. In the meantime, for safety reasons, we would continue to stop the boats and return the passengers.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.463-464 , Jun 21, 2004

Resigned from Trilateral Commission during V.P. campaign

Myths have long surrounded Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale, including that they pledge themselves to one world government. Conspiracy theorists abound.

However, "The truth is rather mundane: It's a club of 15 students who meet regularly to learn more about each other." What Skull and Bones probably did for Bush, other than providing him with a moneyed old boy network, was to expose him to Bonies of vastly different backgrounds.

During his vice presidential campaign, the senior Bush was compelled to resign his membership in the Trilateral Commission when errant suspicious arose that he served the political agenda of the Council of Foreign Relations in pursuit of a "New World Order."

Though the Skull and Bones legacy would haunt both Bushes throughout their careers, the network it gave them opened important doors.

Source: The Faith of George W. Bush, by Stephen Mansfield, p. 48-49 , Apr 12, 2004

1980s-90s: Supported military junta in Haiti

The Marines invaded Haiti in 1915, destroyed the parliamentary system, reinstituted slavery, killed nobody knows how many people (Haitians say about 15,000), turned their country into a plantation for US investors, and instituted a National Guard, which is a brutal, murderous force that has run the place pretty much ever since under US backing.

This continued right through to when Bush and Clinton supported the military junta directly, right through the worst terror. That was another thing that I saw personally for a couple of days. Right now, in Queens, NY, one of their leading criminals, Emmanuel Constant, is hidden by the US. He's already been sentenced in Haiti for terrorist crimes. He was the head of the paramilitary force that was responsible for killing maybe 5,000 people in Haiti in the early 1990s when Bush and Clinton were supporting the military junta. Haiti has tried to extradite him, but of course the US doesn't even bother responding, and the press won't even comment on it

Source: Power and Terror, by Noam Chomsky, p. 74-75 , May 25, 2002

Supported 1990 South Africa sanctions

In 1990, Bush met separately with South Africa’s reform-minded president, F. W. de Klerk, and with the newly freed black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela. By supporting sanctions against the South African government, Bush appeared to help speed the dismantling of its system of racial separation. His administration lifted the sanctions in 1991 after concluding that the requirements imposed by Congress had been met.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia on-line, “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

Clinton promised to overturn "immoral" Haiti policy

Clinton's handling of Haiti involved many policy reversals that culminated with the Carter mission. One GOP critic said the "mess in Haiti was caused by Clinton running off at the mouth during the last election, by criticizing in an irresponsible manner President Bush's handling of the situation." While that statement has a partisan ring to it, the fact is that prior to Carter's dealing with Cedras, Clinton did not have Democratic support for an invasion of Haiti.

There certainly are those who will claim that Clinton's approach to Haiti eventually worked, since Cedras was ousted and Aristide returned to power. [Overall], Clinton would have considered Haiti a foreign policy victory.

Clinton the campaigner had promised that he would change the policy of the Bush administration relative to the immigration of Haiti. Clinton characterized the Bush plan as immoral. The Haitians took Clinton at his word. A boatload of 400 Haitians set off on a journey to freedom in the US. They died in the attempt.

Source: The Dysfunctional President, by Paul Fick, p. 24-25&62 , Jun 1, 2000

Built consensus with UN to move against Saddam Hussein

You have to build a consensus. Ross mentioned Saddam Hussein. We tried to bring him into the family of nations. When he moved against Kuwait, I said this will not stand. We went to the UN, we made historic resolutions up there, the whole world was united. If we had let sanctions work and tried to build a consensus on that, Saddam today would be in Saudi Arabia controlling the world's oil supply, and he would be there maybe with a nuclear weapon.
Source: The Third Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 19, 1992

Panama: stealing elections requires response

Author's note: In the Panamanian election an international panel of observers led by former President Jimmy Carter, the Catholic Church, and others documented widespread vote fraud by dictator Manuel Noriega.

"Today elected constitutional government is the clear choice of the vast majority of the people in the Americas, and the days of the dictator are over. Still, in many parts of our hemisphere, the enemies of democracy lie in wait to overturn elected governments through force or to steal elections through fraud. All nations in the democratic community have a responsibility to make clear, through our actions and our words, that efforts to overturn constitutional regimes or steal elections are unacceptable. If we fail to send a clear signal when democracy is imperiled, the enemies of constitutional government will become more dangerous."
(Remarks and a question-and-answer session with reporters on the situation in Panama, White House Briefing Room)

Source: Heartbeat, by Jim McGrath, p. 43 , May 11, 1989


George Bush Sr. on China

1971: Argued for dual UN representation for China & Taiwan

In Oct. 1971, the UN voted to recognize Red China and give the People's Republic of China the seat occupied by Taiwan, or Nationalist China. George vowed in his Senate campaigns if that were to happen, he would advocate US withdrawal from the UN. Now, as Nixon's Ambassador, he had to argue for "dual representation" and plead for 2 seats: one in the Security Council for Communist China, and one in the General Assembly for Taiwan. He had lobbied hard among the 129 missions for support and had thought he had enough delegates committed to the US policy. But on the final count, he lost 59-55, with 15 countries abstaining. He took the defeat as a personal rebuke and said he was disgusted by the anti-American sentiments. "For some delegates--who literally danced in the aisles when the vote was announced--Taiwan wasn't really the issue," George said. "Kicking Uncle Sam was."

When the Taiwanese Ambassador walked out of the hall for the last time, George caught him & apologized for what had happened.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.289-290 , Sep 14, 2004

Tiananmen: deplored crackdown but maintained communication

After China’s rulers brutally crushed massive student demonstrations in the spring of 1989, Bush-who knew the aging leaders personally-deplored the crackdown but maintained communication with the leadership. His stance angered human rights activists and appeared to have no effects on China’s policy toward internal dissent.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia on-line, “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

US-China relationship needs to be preserved post-Tiananmen

I don't think if Barbara and I hadn't t lived in China in 1974 7 1975 that when I became President that I would have this strong feeling that that relationship needs to be preserved. It must be preserved. There are problems today with allegations of illegal technology transfer. But somehow we have to get past these troubling things and keep that relationship strong. When Tiananmen Square happened, they did bad things, violated the international convention on human rights; but it is in our interest to keep open relations with that very important country. Now they were set back, but we didn't cut them off. We didn't cut off MFN [Most Favored Nation trade status]. We didn't bring home our ambassador, as some of the people in this country after Tiananmen Square were urging on me. And I might not have reacted the way I did as President if we hadn't had a feeling for the pulse, the real China, the pulse of the people in China.
(Texas A&M University Distinguished Lecture, College Station, Texas
Source: Heartbeat, by Jim McGrath, p.295-296 , Mar 8, 1999


George Bush Sr. on Cold War

Measured response to Berlin Wall to avoid alarming Soviets

The Wall has come down. The President was careful and guarded in his public reaction to the unfolding events, telling reporters that he was very pleased with the development. "We are saluting those who can move forward with democracy," the President said. "We are encouraging the concept of a Europe whole and free." These words were deliberately measured so as not to alarm the Soviets or get too far ahead of the West Germans in pushing for reunification. In private conversations within the West Wing, however, his support for unification was unequivocal. Nevertheless, when we suggested on that momentous day that President Bush go to Berlin, as Kennedy and Reagan had done, the President demurred. "This is a German moment," he said with characteristic modesty. "What would I do? Dance on the Wall?"
Source: My Extraordinary Family, by Condi Rice, p.251-252 , Jan 10, 2012

1991: Met with Yeltsin but avoided embarrassing Gorbachev

In April 1991 the Soviet's decline accelerated precipitously. We decided that the president needed to meet Soviet leaders other than Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin was making a claim--outlandish at the time--that Russia needed to be liberated from the Soviet Union. Yeltsin was Gorbachev's bitter rival, and when he requested a meeting with President Bush there was some reluctance to see him. The President had enormous respect and sympathy for Gorbachev and was determined to do nothing to embarrass the Soviet leader. We settled on a tried-and-true remedy for such a problem: a meeting with the national security advisor, during which the President would make an unannounced drop-by. Yeltsin was told only that he would meet Brent Scowcroft.

30 minutes into the meeting, the President flung open the door. Yeltsin smiled broadly, jumped up, and embraced the startled leader of the free world in a bear hug. After about 30 minutes the President left, and I escorted a self-satisfied Yeltsin out to his car.

Source: My Extraordinary Family, by Condi Rice, p.256-257 , Jan 10, 2012

1989: Restraint about Berlin Wall, to avoid Soviet reaction

Then, November 9, 1989, the East German government announced a new visa policy that essentially opened the door to the West. After 28 years, the Berlin Wall "fell" in the sense that it was rendered obsolete by this new immigration policy.

Given this dramatic development, there were many voices in Congress urging Dad to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall as the triumph of democracy.

"My restraint--or prudence, if you will--was misunderstood, certainly by some in Congress," Dad recalled. "Dick Gephardt, the leader in the House, was saying, 'Our president doesn't get it. He ought to go to Berlin, stand on the Wall, dance with the young people to show the joy that we all feel.' I still feel that would have been the stupidest thing an American president could do, because we were very concerned about how the troops in East Germany would react. We were very concerned about the nationalistic elements in the Soviet Union maybe putting Gorbachev out."

Source: My Father, My President, by Doro Koch Bush, p.298-300 , Oct 6, 2006

Thaw in Cold War revives repressed ethnic tensions

Author's note: Bush spoke to the UN about how the worldwide "thaw" after the decades-long winter of the Cold War did more than liberate oppressed peoples: it also gave rise to ethnic & religious tensions long repressed by the straightjacket of a divided world.

"Communism held history captive for years. It suspended ancient disputes, and it suppressed ethnic rivalries, nationalist aspirations, and old prejudices. As it has dissolved, suspended hatreds have sprung to life. This revival of history ushers in a new era teeming with opportunities and perils.

"You may wonder about America's role in the new world I have described. Let me assure you, the US has no intention of striving for Pax Americana. However, we will remain engaged. We will not retreat and pull back into isolationism. We will offer friendship and leadership. And in short, we seek a pax universalis built upon shared responsibilities and aspirations."
(Address to the 46th sessions of the UN General Assembly)

Source: Heartbeat, by Jim McGrath, p.152-153 , Sep 23, 1991

Dissolution of USSR is death knell for Communist movement

Author's note: Gorbachev phoned President Bush to inform him that he was resigning as general secretary of the Communist Party and that he had ordered the government to seize Party property.

Q: Do you think these events mark the impending death of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union? And shouldn't Americans take some kind of satisfaction?

A: The answer is yes and yes. Yes, it is clearly the death knell for the Communist movement around the world. There's only a handful of people that stick out like a sore thumb. I think of one down there in Cuba right now that must be sweating because you can't stop this quest for freedom.

Q: Should Americans be taking satisfaction--

A: Of course we should. The days when we talked about the Cold War and what it meant, and the fear of aggression--those days are gone now. And so, the American people should take great pleasure that regardless of politics, they have always stood against totalitarianism.
(News conference at Kennebunkport, Maine.)

Source: Heartbeat, by Jim McGrath, p.155-156 , Aug 26, 1991


George Bush Sr. on New World Order

Democrats see America as just another pleasant country

In his 1988 acceptance speech at the Republican convention, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush captured the contrast between himself and his opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, tellingly: "He sees America as another pleasant country on the UN roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe, And I see America as the leader--a unique nation with a special role in the world." Bush's 1988 description of Dukakis easily fits Obama today.
Source: Obama is Endangering our Sovereignty, by John Bolton, p. 15 , May 18, 2010

1989: A new breeze is blowing in world refreshed by freedom

Bush occupied the White House during a time of dramatic change--from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bush recognized the opportunity provided by a period of change in his inaugural address: "I come before you and assume the presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. There is new ground to be broken and new action to be taken."
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p. 50-52 , Mar 3, 2010

Need public relations to change how others view America

In 1975, an American diplomat wrote: "The American people do not have any concept of how others around the world view America. We think we are good, honorable, decent, freedom loving. Others are firmly convinced that though they like the people themselves in our country, that we are embarking on policies that are anathema to them. We have a massive public relations job to do on all of this."

That diplomat, of course, was George H.W. Bush, at the time the US liaison to China under President Ford. His belief that the nation's problem with the world was merely a "public relations" issue is simply mystifying.

Is it really possible that a man like Bush, whose job it was to understand world opinion, could really have believed that all these other people in the world, the Europeans, the Africans, the Asians--all of them merely misunderstood what the US's objectives were?

Source: America's Next Bush, by S.V. Date, p.329-330 , Feb 15, 2007

Informally called world leaders often, while President

Dad took an informal--relaxed, even--approach in contacting his fellow world leaders. From the beginning of his administration, he started working the phones, reaching around the globe to call his fellow leaders. Condi Rice told me, "He would call someone like German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for example, all the time--just to say that he was thinking about him after reading how Kohl had won some big vote in the Bundestag or something like that."

"This had never been done before, and in fact some of the foreign leaders thought they were phony calls at first," said [future Secretary of Defense] Bob Gates. "It was like somebody saying, 'This is Queen Elizabeth calling.' It took probably a year and a half before we had some procedures smoothed out with some of these other people. It went the fastest with the British and the Germans and the French, but it was really funny some of the time when he would reach out and try and talk to some of these leaders, because they just weren't prepared for him."

Source: My Father, My President, by Doro Koch Bush, p.282-283 , Oct 6, 2006

Made deals with Gorbachev’s USSR, then Yeltsin’s Russia

A series of summits with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in the signing of treaties on arms reductions and agreements on other issues. As communist governments collapsed in Eastern Europe, Bush became to some degree a bystander, watching as nations redefined their futures. In August 1991, only weeks after Bush and Gorbachev had signed a strategic-arms--reduction treaty in Moscow, the Soviet president was nearly ousted in an attempted coup. Thanks to Boris Yeltsin’s resistance to the coup, Gorbachev was able to return to power, however briefly. When, in December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved into a loose confederation of independent republics and several unaffiliated states, Bush quickly recognized the new states and sought a rapprochement with Yeltsin, now president of Russia. In the spring of 1992 Bush and Yeltsin agreed to substantial cuts in nuclear weapons.
Source: Grolier’s Encyclopedia on-line: “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

Since I became President, 43 countries have gone democratic

Q: What do you feel our position is in this new world order?

BUSH: Since I became President, 43 or 44 countries have gone democratic. No longer totalitarian, no longer living under dictatorship or communist rule. This is exciting. This new world order to me means freedom and democracy. I think we will have a continuing responsibility, as the only remaining superpower, to stay involved. The Soviet Union is no more. Now we're working to help them become totally democratic through the FREEDOM Support Act that I led on. Ross, you're for that, I'm sure, helping Russia become democratic.

PEROT: Well, it's cost-effective to help Russia succeed in its revolution. It's pennies on the dollar compared to going back to the cold war. Russia's still very unstable.

CLINTON: The end of the cold war brings an incredible opportunity for change, the winds of freedom blowing around the world, Russia demilitarizing. It also requires us to maintain some continuity, some bipartisan American commitment.

Source: The Second Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 15, 1992

New World Order: open borders; open trade; open minds

Much has changed over the last 2 years. The Soviet Union has taken many dramatic and important steps to participate fully in the community of nations. We are hopeful that the machinery of the UN will no longer be frozen by the divisions that plagued us during the cold war, that at last--long last--we can build new bridges and tear down old walls, that at long last we will be able to build a new world based on an event for which we have all hoped: an end to the cold war.

The United Nations can help

Source: Address to the United Nations General Assembly (APP) , Oct 1, 1990

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Foreign Policy.
  • Click here for VoteMatch responses by George Bush Sr..
  • Click here for AmericansElect.org quiz by George Bush Sr..
Other past presidents on Foreign Policy: George Bush Sr. on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole
V.P.Walter Mondale

Political Parties:
Democratic Party
Republican Party
Libertarian Party
Green Party
Reform Party
Natural Law Party
Tea Party
Abortion
Budget/Economy
Civil Rights
Corporations
Crime
Drugs
Education
Energy/Oil
Environment
Families/Children
Foreign Policy
Free Trade
Govt. Reform
Gun Control
Health Care
Homeland Security
Immigration
Infrastructure/Technology
Jobs
Principles/Values
Social Security
Tax Reform
War/Iraq/Mideast
Welfare/Poverty

Page last updated: Jul 05, 2014