The Policies & Presidency of George H.W. Bush

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  • 0:01 Early Life of George H.W. Bush
  • 0:56 Rise to Power
  • 2:33 Foreign Policy
  • 4:16 Domestic Policy
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While many people today hear the name Bush and think of George W. or his brother Jeb, their father was actually the first Bush to make a run at the Presidency. This lesson explains his early life and his rise to power.

Early Life of George H.W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush was born in 1924 to a political family. His father, Prescott Bush, was a senator from Connecticut. George grew up wealthy but with a strong sense of civic service. He had planned to enroll in Yale, like his father and grandfather before him. However, bigger events soon got in the way.

In 1941, Japan bombed the American naval base of Pearl Harbor. By 1942, Bush was a naval aviator in the Pacific Theatre. Following the war, he married Barbara Pierce and enrolled at Yale, graduating in 1948. He soon moved to West Texas in order to pursue business in the oil fields. Within a few years, Bush's business abilities were apparent, as were his family connections. He went from being a clerk to president of a firm in less than 10 years, becoming quite wealthy in his own right.

Rise to Power

Despite his wealth, Bush did not stop. Instead, he turned to the family business of politics. In 1966, he was elected to the House of Representatives. He would only serve two terms before being appointed by President Richard Nixon to lead the American delegation to the United Nations. Following his term as ambassador, he headed the Republican National Committee before returning to diplomacy as the Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office with the People's Republic of China in Beijing. At this time, the United States still officially recognized the government in Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, but Bush's role in Beijing was in reality that of an ambassador. After a year in China, Bush would return to Washington to act as the Director of Central Intelligence.

However, Bush really entered the national spotlight again in 1980 with Ronald Reagan in his run against Jimmy Carter for president. In the end, he was Reagan's pick as a VP, but Bush had actually been Reagan's toughest primary competitor for the Republican nomination.

During the first months of the new administration, there was a degree of separation between the two men. However, Bush's refusal to usurp certain ceremonial privileges of the presidency following the assassination attempt on Reagan in March 1981 caused the President to warm to Bush quickly. Following the successful Reagan-Bush reelection campaign in 1984, Bush started to make plans to run for president. Ultimately, he was successful and was inaugurated in 1989.

Foreign Policy

President Bush faced a world that was changing rapidly. For years, the defining conflict in foreign affairs had been the Cold War, the name given to the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet Union was weakened, in no small part due to the economic success of the United States. Such success caused increased unrest in the Soviet Union as well as its satellite countries, especially Poland and East Germany. To this end, Bush was president while the Soviet Union disintegrated into a dozen smaller states. It would seem that the world had become a safer place.

Yet events out of the Middle East would prove otherwise. For almost two decades, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, had set world oil prices. In the process, many had grown rich but none more than Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia controlled 20% of the world's oil, meaning it had more than anyone else. As you can imagine, Saudi Arabia's neighbors were not pleased with that state of affairs.

One neighbor in particular sought to do something about it. Iraq had 10% of the world's oil, while Kuwait had another 10%. Between the two of them, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein could hope to match Saudi Arabia's output. Iraq invaded Kuwait, prompting worldwide outrage. Bush sent American troops to defend Saudi Arabia as a part of Operation Desert Shield.

Later, when it was clear that the only way to restore the Kuwaiti government was through an invasion, Operation Desert Storm pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait. For the first time, the world saw the power of the American military stealth fighters and smart bombs.

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