President George H.W. Bush at the White House, August 1990. 
Gary Cameron/REUTERS

President George H. W. Bush belongs to history now. Since I am a professor of history, I got a jolt when I opened my mailbox yesterday—the real-world, analog one—to find a heavy envelope from the Bush Presidential Library, stuffed with paper notices about documents I’d gotten released from his archive. These notices are hardly new to me, as I have been declassifying presidential files for over a decade. But it was with a new mixture of sadness and responsibility that I started reading the latest releases: the era of Bush the elder is now past, and when an era ends, it is incumbent upon my profession to discern its leading lessons.

One of those lessons concerns the importance of level-headed leadership and the value of U.S. allies, specifically those across the Atlantic. At no time was this more apparent than at the end of the Cold War, following the sudden opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. As Bush explained in A World Transformed, his joint memoir with former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, the fall of the Wall came to represent, more than anything else, the momentous shifts that marked his presidency. There was no

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  • MARY ELISE SAROTTE is the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Distinguished Professor of Historical Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS and the author of The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall.
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