The Bush Foreign Policy

Inauguration of George H. W. Bush, 1989.

In 1989 the greatest geopolitical windfall in the history of American foreign policy fell into George Bush's lap. In a mere six months the communist regimes of eastern Europe collapsed, giving the West a sudden, sweeping and entirely unexpected victory in its great global conflict against the Soviet Union. Between July and December of 1989 Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania ousted communist leaders. Their new governments each proclaimed a commitment to democratic politics and market economics, and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Europe began. All this happened without the West firing a single shot.

The revolutions in eastern Europe ended the Cold War by sweeping away the basic cause of the conflict between the two great global rivals: the Soviet European empire. They did so on George Bush's watch, a term that seems quite appropriate. As the revolutions occurred, he and his associates were more spectators than participants-a bit confused, generally approving, but above all passive. The president kept the United States in the background. In response to the most important international events of the second half of the twentieth century, the White House offered no soaring rhetoric, no grand gestures, no bold new programs. This approach served America's interests well. Events were moving in a favorable direction; staying in the background, taking care not to insert the United States into the middle of things, was the proper course of action. The qualities most characteristic of the Bush presidency-caution, modest public pronouncements and a fondness for private communications-were admirably suited to the moment.

The end of communism in Europe need not have proceeded so smoothly. There were pitfalls and blind alleys, alternative policies that had serious advocates. The Bush administration Union, between collaboration and confrontation, was an important and underappreciated achievement of American foreign policy. If one of the tests of each presidency after 1945 has been the capacity to manage crises, the president deserves high marks for his policies during the six eventful months that may be seen in

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