The Diplomacy of George H.W. Bush



Many of the titles that the 41st U.S. President held prior to serving in that office were notable in the way they prepared him to be nation’s top diplomat and leader: member of Congress, CIA director, envoy to China and UN ambassador. What can we take away from President Geroge Herbert Walker Bush’s diplomatic legacy beyond the titles? He should be remembered in the same way we think about other notable president diplomats such as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams–and among important statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, as “a very different kind of Republican” in “a very different poltical moment” as Jacob Weisberg says in a the CFR Lessons from History Series.

  1. Fixing Foreign Policy In-House

The Clinton/Gore team ran on “reinventing government” but Ivo Daalder and I.M. Destler assert that it really was George H. W. Bush’s reinvention of the foreign policy process resulted in a new way to create and implement U.S. foreign policy. They call it nothing short of “genius”– an innovation that “has stood the test of time.” Consequently, Bush was called by Michael Cohen one of the five “Best Foreign Policy Presidents of the Past Century.”

He assembled a true body of wise men–whose influence in power and afterword continue to offer foreign policy direction–even if largely unheeded by Republicans today: Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Colin Powell, and others such as Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Richard Haas, Robert Gates, and even Dick Cheney–mastered the processes needed to make foreign policy work and offered a steady hand when in office. They all demosntrated the impact (and importance) of effective governance.

2. Exemplifying Diplomacy as a Dealmaker

Bush was the example of what a truly tough negoiator looked like facing down China at the UN. Even so, he was tested in ways that make his one term the stuff of modern legends–confronting more crises and major global issues that most Presidents face in two.

In the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Bush dispatched his top diplomat to build a coaltion that would be the 20th century gold standard for collective security, in line with the United Nations Charter:

The U.S. effort to put together an international coalition against Iraq in 1990 was stunning. Secretary of State James Baker met with every head of state or foreign minister whose country held a seat on the U.N. Security Council. That meant not just meeting with those countries that had permanent seats like the Soviet Union and China, but also those holding rotating seats such as Ivory Coast, Romania and even Cuba.

via PBS, James Goldgeiger, The Conversation

He also recognized the truth that realists should be expressing more loudly: “limited objectives in the Middle East” are essential to the maintance of U.S. power and national interests. (This reality is driven by the nature of colaitions, as well.) The U.S. may see itself as “indespensable” but it cannot manage a world in chaos without recognizing the strategic necessity to temper its foreign policy goals and contstrain any possible expansive tendencies.

3. Demonstrating How Tone Matters

His tone as a leader, deeply influeced by diplomatic norms and his personal life experiece, contrasts in a major way with the current Pennsylvania Avenue resident: measured, steady, and prudent. Not exciting terms or ones that would marshall voters in a primary–but essential ones for an effective statecraft in the time when the U.S. was seen as the unequivocal winner of the Cold War and the last superpower standing.

As Philip Seib of USC writes, Bush’s legacy

is not that he failed to win reelection, but that he succeeded in making the world safer and in reinforcing American world leadership. He acknowledged the responsibilities that accompanied this role: “We cannot retreat into isolation. We will only succeed in this interconnected world by continuing to lead.”

Oddly enough, part of President Bush’s diplomatic legacy may have morphed directy into the Democrats as embodied in Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as other luminaries such as HIllary Clinton, as Derek Chollet notes in FP.



Set on Repeat: UN Security Council Reform

Even though the story isn’t new–how UN Security Council reform can’t ever seem to get off the ground–the challenges facing this most powerful of all UN bodies are:

David M. Malone, a veteran Canadian diplomat and now rector of United Nations University, calls it “a crisis of relevance.” The Security Council has been unable to end the conflict in Syria for five years and it has been adrift in the face of a civil war in South Sudan. It has remained largely silent on what could amount to crimes against humanity in Yemen as a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States conducts a campaign against Houthi rebels that has also killed hundreds of civilians. And it has been unable to stop the Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory; even a move to set up a tribunal to prosecute those who downed a Malaysian civilian aircraft over eastern Ukraine was vetoed — by Russia.

Several Council diplomats — and Mr. Ban — are increasingly exasperated by the inability of the Security Council to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The United States has repeatedly vetoed measures dealing with the conflict. It helped defeat a French-led effort to set a deadline for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Source: Calls Grow at U.N. for Security Council to Do Its Job: Keep the Peace – The New York Times

Wonder how reforms ought to be undertaken so as to assuage US fears? Read this from Kara McDonald and Steward Patrick at CFR.

Saudi Arabia Rejects U.N. Security Council Seat in Protest Move –

What if you threw a Security Council party and someone important didn’t want to come? This past week saw a shocker that comes as a slap to the UN’s only organ with an enforcement mechanism:

Saudi Arabia stunned the United Nations and even some of its own diplomats on Friday by rejecting a highly coveted seat on the Security Council, a decision that underscored the depth of Saudi anger over what the monarchy sees as weak and conciliatory Western stances toward Syria and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

The Saudi decision, which could have been made only with King Abdullah’s approval, came a day after it had won a Security Council seat for the first time, and it appeared to be unprecedented.

via Saudi Arabia Rejects U.N. Security Council Seat in Protest Move –

Why would they do this? Wouldn’t it be easier to influence the SC from within? As noted by Erik Voeten in the Monkey Cage, “as a non-permanent member, Saudi Arabia would have little power to affect votes” with the P5’s veto standing in the way.


President Karzai urges for UN Security Council reform

The call for reform from a somewhat surprising area:

Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the United Nations Security Council does not repsent democracy and urged for a reform in UN Security Council.

While speaking during the Bali Democracy Forum in Indonesia President Karzai said, “Coming to the global democratic governance, I think there is no disagreement here, that it isn’t just nor is it very democratic, the security council does not represent all of us, the five permanent members having the right of veto is not democratic and the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly is not democratic and of course, we all wish it to be democratic.”

President Karzai further added, “How do we get there, Afghanistan is too small and insignificant to make an impact but the talk we will, democracy allows that, the freedom of speech. So we do ask for a more democratic global order and we hope all of us together can push for that.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said the decision regarding the future of world belongs to five nations as the UN Security Council is comprised of five permanent members and ten temporary members.

He said, “We want to experience a change in UN Security Council and the new formation which should lead justice and equality.”

via President Karzai urges for UN Security Council reform – Khaama Press (KP) | Afghan Online Newspaper.

New Security Council Members Elected, Including Controversial Rwanda

Along with South Korea and Australia, election results are in on the SC’s new term members:

Argentina, Rwanda and Luxembourg also were elected yesterday to fill seats on the 15-member Council, the highest decision-making body of the world organization. Bhutan, Cambodia and Finland ran and failed to get enough votes from the UN’s 193 members to win any of the five contested seats.

via S. Korea, Australia Among Five to Join Security Council – Businessweek.

Rwanda’s victory is called a “dreadful day and very sad ay for Africa” by Atoki Ileka, Congo’s ambassador to France, amid allegations that it is the power behind an uprising of M23 rebels involving arms embargo violations, child soldiers and prisoner executions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Powell Was More Skeptical Than Thought on Iraq, Annan Says –

A new memoir from the former UN Secretary General reveals drama behind the scenes of the Iraq War–when Colin Powell was put in the awkward position of making the case for a war he didn’t believe in–and was later shown to have been deceived about:

Six weeks after the Iraq invasion, Mr. Annan wrote, Mr. Powell visited his 38th-floor office at the United Nations to privately exult with him over news that American forces believed they had found mobile laboratories in Iraq that the administration claimed were used by Saddam Hussein to make weapons of mass destruction — the core reason for the war.

“Kofi, they’ve made an honest man of me,” Mr. Annan quoted Mr. Powell as telling him. Mr. Annan wrote that “the relief — and the exhaustion — was palpable. I could not help but smile along with my friend, and wanted to share in his comfort,” even though Mr. Annan himself was far from convinced. Still, Mr. Annan wrote, “I could only be impressed by the resilience of this man, who had endured so much to argue for a war he clearly did not believe in.”

via Powell Was More Skeptical Than Thought on Iraq, Annan Says –

UN Security Council 101 | The Multilateralist

A little wit from David Bosco on what possible ‘training’ for new Security Council members might include:

Still, with all that said, it’s hard not to smile at some of the wisdom that current Council members could offer their new colleagues. Some possible offerings:

–A session by India on how to blow your chances at a permanent Security Council seat in the space of a year.

–U.S. ambassador Susan Rice could speak on how to lecture the Security Council on responsibility without being at all certain that Congress will appropriate America’s annual UN dues. Alternatively, she could offer a seminar on how to find authorization for regime change in a resolution on protecting civilians.

–China’s ambassador could expertly lead a session on appearing powerful while abstaining repeatedly.

–Bosnia’s ambassador could expound on how to manage conflicting voting instructions from three different presidents.

–Last but not least, as Brazil prepares to depart the Council, it seems only appropriate that China, Russia, India, and South Africa should reveal once and for all the location of the secret BRICS clubhouse, where their strategy for protecting beleagured dictators is refined.

via UN Security Council 101 | The Multilateralist.