Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A World Transformed by, George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft

President George H. W. Bush has stated on many occasions that he doesn't plan to write a memoir.  Given that Bush is 90 years old, it seems unlikely that he'll do so, even if he reverses his stand.  But in 1998 he wrote a book with his National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft about the major foreign policy decisions they made during their four years in office.  These events were Tienanmen Square, Desert Storm, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In one of the lighter sections of the book, President Bush talks about The Scowcroft Award, given every year to an Administration official who fell asleep in a meeting and did the best acting job of trying to appear they were awake the whole time.

Reading about these events that occurred only 25 years ago, one is reminded about how much chaos and uncertainty there was on the world stage in those four years.  Nearly every day there was another country moving toward independence from the Soviet Union, Germany moving toward reunification, and shifting borders between countries.  After the great personal diplomacy and treaties between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, relations were better between the US and the USSR than they had been at any point in the histories of the two countries.  Bush and his team performed a high-stakes high wire act between supporting these breakaway republics and not antagonizing our new Soviet Allies.

In hindsight, the reunification of Germany was seamless and almost inevitable, but it didn't appear that way to those in power at the time.  Everybody in government of all of the allied countries underestimated the speed of the dissolve of East Germany.  Some of our allies were wary of German reunification, partially because of the history of German aggression (this was only 40 years after WWII), but mainly because of the unresolved issue of Germany's border with Poland.

Each chapter in the book is made up of alternating sections:  one written by Bush, the next by Scowcroft.  Sometimes this was a little jarring and stopped the good narrative flow, but it was interesting to get the participants' differing perspectives.  Bush's style was a lot more readable than Scowcroft's.  Another thing I found interesting was how Bush referred to foreign leaders.  He'd talk of phone calls with Margaret (Thatcher), inviting Francois (Mitterand) to Kennebunkport, and trying to reach Mikhail (Gorbachev) during the attempted coup against him.  In all the books I've read by world leaders, nobody has ever done that.

Some sections of the book were more interesting than others, but overall it provided a good insight into the diplomatic efforts of the Bush Administration and a real fly-on-the-wall feeling of the tumultuous early '90's.

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