President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker in the Oval Office, February 22, 1991
Rick Wilking / REUTERS

A few days after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, President George H. W. Bush surprised even his closest foreign policy advisers. Walking from the presidential helicopter toward the White House, Bush paused to tell assembled reporters on the South Lawn: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

The dramatic and definitive declaration caught many in Washington, including on Bush’s own team, off guard. According to Bush’s biographer Jon Meacham, minutes later in the Oval Office, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft asked the president, “Where’d you get that?” Bush replied, “That’s mine.”

The ad lib was a rare moment for Bush. The president, who died last week at 94, has been lauded by Ivo H. Daalder and I. M. Destler (“The Foreign Policy Genius of George H. W. Bush,” December 4) and others not just for the national security decisions he made but for the process in which

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  • JOHN GANS is the director of communications and research at Perry World House, the University of Pennsylvania’s global policy institute.
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