The courage of George H.W. Bush: Avoiding the easy path

The life and times of George H.W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush took office in 1989 as the 41st U.S. president and served one term in the White House. The father of former President George W. Bush, he was a Naval aviator in World War II, a congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, CIA director and vice president for two terms under Ronald Reagan.

Former President George H.W. Bush is getting a well-deserved period of tribute from a country grateful for all he did in its service.

But as America puts Mr. Bush to rest this week, it should also pause to recognize what he didn’t do while serving as the nation’s 41st president. His life and record are an important illustration that real leadership often involves not just doing tough things — but having the courage not to do the easy things.

In particular, history will show that the two greatest successes of Mr. Bush’s presidency – victory in the first Persian Gulf War and success in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful end — came because he resisted popular pressure to take the politically expedient route. In each case, he was widely criticized at the time for what was seen as excessive caution and timidity. Yet his courage to resist the politically tempting path spelled the difference between failure and historic achievement.

In the first Persian Gulf War, the crucial moment came at the end of February 1991, when the U.S. and the international coalition it assembled had succeeded in their goal of driving Iraq’s invading army out of Kuwait.

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