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The Foreign Policy Genius of George H. W. Bush

How He Changed the Policy Process Forever

President George H.W. Bush meets with his military advisors at the Pentagon to duscuss the Gulf crisis August 15, 1990. Gary Cameron / REUTERS

George H. W. Bush entered the presidency better prepared to lead the United States’ relations with the world than any U.S. president before or since. Like Richard Nixon, Bush had served in Congress and as vice president for two full terms. But he had also been the United States’ envoy to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

That experience allowed him to reimagine the way the U.S. government created and implemented its foreign policy. Together with his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Bush fashioned a national security process that maximized internal cooperation and avoided the kind of conflict among senior officials that had tarnished the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations.

That process has stood the test of time. Every president after Bush has embraced the formal process that Bush set out in a memorandum on his first day in office, and every national security adviser has

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