George H. W. 'The Dude' Bush

Do the foreign policy debacles of Bush 43 rehabilitate the career of Bush 41?

This aggression will not stand, man!
This aggression will not stand, man!

"Sometimes there's a man, I won't say a hero, because what's a hero? Sometimes there's a man, and I'm talking about the Dude here. Sometimes there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there."

And that's the dude, in the White House, in 1991. Sam Elliot's narration at the open of The Big Lebowski parallels Tim Naftali's argument that George H. W. Bush was the right man in the right place at the right time for his presidential term. Naftali, the director of the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, gave a lecture at UT Wednesday that focused on the ex-president's foreign policy decision-making. Yes, the head of the Nixon Library was at the LBJ Library talking about George Bush.

Interestingly enough, in that scene, close viewers will notice that as the camera pans across Ralph's Grocery, a TV is playing an interview with Bush during which Bush said "This aggression against Kuwait will not stand." He always was such a brilliant orator.

Though he did mention some of the former president's foibles as well, Naftali said that his foreign policy decision-making was nearly always on point. Some highlights include:

The night the Berlin Wall fell, Bush told then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that he felt pressure to dance on the wall and make a celebration out of it, but that it was not in the US' interest to kick Gorbachev during what must have been an extremely tough time in his country. Bush seemed to realize that reputation matters in international policy and that being a good winner can make friends of enemies faster than being a bully.

Some other guy with the same surname may not have the best grasp of that concept yet, though.

Bush was also clear and firm when he needed to be, said Naftali, with regard to shifting the US economic policy toward the USSR only when the USSR showed moves of good faith to change their policy of bullying Baltic states like Lithuania.

He was also way ahead of the curve in pushing for the newly united Germany to be welcomed into NATO. So when people say his prudence and boring nature was emblematic of a president without a vision, there's always a counterpoint. Naftali even said that had Bush not totally botched his campaign for a second term he might be seen as one of the great US presidents.

An interesting side note: Naftali commented on the beginning of George W. Bush's first term, when pundits were questioning his foreign policy chops. Others said, 'yea but look at the great team that he put together of his dad's people.' "But it matters who's actually president," Naftali said.

The Dude abides.

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University of Texas, George Bush, Tim Naftali, LBJ School, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, George H. W. Bush, Bush 41

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