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President George H.W. Bush: Foreign Policy

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  • 0:05 Understanding Bush's…
  • 0:48 Diplomatic Aims
  • 3:27 A New World Order
  • 4:18 Use of Force
  • 7:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

President George H.W. Bush's foreign policy was a pragmatic blend of diplomacy and force. Learn more about Bush's international affairs during his tenure as President of the United States.

Understanding Bush's Foreign Policy

When it comes down to it, President George H.W. Bush was a highly regarded international tactician. This ability stemmed from his early career as a diplomat, an ambassador to the United Nations and as the director of the CIA. Bush embodied President Theodore Roosevelt's straightforward notion of 'speak softly and carry a big stick.'

When Bush assumed office in 1989, he established a foreign policy that prioritized diplomacy over force. This conservative approach was utilized in relations with China and the Soviet Union and in places like Germany and Somalia. However, whenever diplomacy was unattainable, Bush fully supported the use of force to remedy international crises, deploying military force to Latin America and the Middle East.

Diplomatic Aims

Bush's use of diplomacy to solve international issues was a trademark of his presidency. In fact, Bush attempted to encourage diplomatic solutions in all instances of aggression before using force. His belief in cooperation and negotiation yielded admirable results. In 1989, Bush's first foreign complication arose in China when the Chinese military violently overtook pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. You may remember seeing the famous photograph of a Chinese protester standing in front of a tank during the time of the crackdown.

While the international community called for action to be taken against the Chinese, Bush rejected the use of force in favor of sanctions. Why? Simply because Bush didn't want to ruin the relations between the United States and China that had improved drastically since the end of the Second World War.

Speaking of improved relations, Bush was adamant to bring the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union to an end. Fortunately, the power of the Soviet Union had slowly dissolved during the 1980s. With Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev opening the closed society and numerous satellite republics breaking away from the Soviet Union, a permanent rapprochement between the two nations was possible.

Bush ensured the removal of the Berlin Wall in Germany. He agreed to a bilateral reduction of nuclear arms with the Soviet Union, which included the approval of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991. Bush's diplomatic aims with the Soviet Union helped to reduce any remaining tension between the two nations. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed in 1991, and Bush began working with Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall posed a new set of international issues for the Bush Administration. The foremost problem was establishing protocol for the unification of Germany. All parties involved, including the United States, Soviet Union, France and Britain, pursued different measures in unifying the German nation. Bush campaigned for the 'two-plus-four' agreement, which called for joint cooperation between the four nations as well as East and West Germany. After the agreement was adopted, Bush presented a unification compromise that called for Germany to be admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and granted the Soviet Union four years to withdraw its forces from the nation.

Bush's streak of successful diplomacy continued in Somalia. The small coastal nation faced several hardships, including famine, economic depression and starvation during the final years of Bush's tenure. As a result, Bush deployed United States forces to help ease the growing crisis. He provided food, water and refuge for those who had struggled to survive. While his overtures were successful, the humanitarian efforts in Somalia collapsed during President Bill Clinton's tenure due to guerrilla force.

A New World Order

In an attempt to redefine security and enlarge the American presence in the world, Bush campaigned for a New World Order in 1990. The New World Order called for the beginning of multilateral cooperation in international security. Bush maintained that the new alliance represented a world 'freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony.'

The goal was to break down complications that were caused by the Cold War and build working relationships with former enemies in a quest for international security. The best example is the renewed relationship between the United States and Soviet Union, who, as you will see, worked together to bring security to the Middle East. Bush believed that the United States, coupled with multinational cooperation, was destined to secure the post-Cold War world.

Use of Force

Force was generally the final solution within Bush's foreign policy. While he was able to navigate a number of successes through diplomacy, Bush did face instances where he was required to take action. The two most prominent examples were in Latin America and the Middle East.

Panama became a battleground against communism, terror and lawlessness. The main culprit in Panama was Manuel Noriega, an individual who the United States had sponsored during the Reagan Administration. Noriega turned against the United States and began funding the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Noriega was notorious for his extensive drug trafficking within the United States, as well as his violent takeover of the Panamanian military and government. The aggressive leader also single-handedly ensured his election as president of Panama through terror and the destruction of voting results. This final act represented the tipping point for the Bush Administration.

Bush originally approved of a coup against Noriega. However, the plan was poorly designed and did not guarantee the appropriate results. Coincidentally, Noriega sealed his fate when he ordered the attack on American servicemen around the time of the proposed coup. Bush now had a legitimate claim to intervene and dispose of the dictator. Shortly thereafter, Bush approved of an invasion of Panama known as 'Operation Just Cause.' The United States military, with the strength of 10,000 soldiers coupled with the Panamanian resistance, overwhelmed Noriega and his military. The effort lasted less than a month; Noriega was arrested and placed in an American prison.

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