High-Stakes Diplomacy and the Bush 41 White House
George H.W. Bush was a one-term president, but his influence on world affairs cannot be overstated.
The documentary “Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team,” a co-production of VPM and the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, explores his legacy. Watch the premiere August 4 at 10 p.m. on PBS.
The Cold War
“The Cold War really dominated global politics from 1945...up until 1989. This was an incredibly volatile period where governments felt at risk. Where civil war could break out. Where nuclear weapons are involved." —Jeffrey A. Engel, Director, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, speaking in “Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team”
When George Herbert Walker Bush assumed the American Presidency in January 1989, it was clear the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, which had raged since the end of World War II, was starting to thaw. Under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR was slowly opening up. The Iron Curtain, which divided democratic Western Europe from communist, Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, was weakening. Change was in the air and so was uncertainty. The stakes were high. World leaders were on edge.
Then on November 9, 1989, something remarkable happened. The Berlin Wall, that impassable border, that symbol of oppression for the people of East Germany, came down. What followed was one of President Bush’s greatest achievements: his work in negotiating the unification of East and West Germany.
After gradual weakening of centralized Soviet control in the USSR, an attempted coup against Gorbachev and Gorbachev's subsequent resignation, the Soviet Union was no more. In December of 1991, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War was officially over.
“The Cold War didn’t have to end peacefully. It could have ended with a bang. Most people thought it was going to end with a bang.” —James A. Baker, III, George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, speaking in “Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team”
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union were just two of many major world events Bush and his trusted advisors faced during his time in office. The documentary “Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team” illuminates this period in history through detailed, first person accounts by members of the Bush 41 foreign policy team, including James Baker, Dick Cheney, Robert Gates, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Brent Scowcroft, among others. Under the direction of Lori Shinseki, the film reveals how with thoughtful leadership, measured diplomacy and a “dream team” of foreign policy experts, global change is possible.
“I want a kinder, gentler nation.” —George H.W. Bush, 1988 Acceptance Speech, Republican National Convention
The state funeral for George H.W. Bush in December 2018 attracted former American presidents and numerous world leaders. At the funeral, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Condoleezza Rice that, in her opinion, Germany never would have unified were it not for President Bush. She came, she said, for her country. The outpouring of grief and the many tributes offered were a testament to a man who made a lasting impact on the world.
George H.W. Bush was the consummate statesman. He was a skilled negotiator. He often talked about the importance of America's power and obligation to enact positive change. He expressed his belief in our country’s good. Today, at a time of great political division and infighting, may we keep the words of George H.W. Bush in the forefront of our mind.
“Americans are a caring people. We are a good people, a generous people. Let us always be caring and good and generous in all we do.” —George H.W. Bush, Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Cessation of the Persian Gulf Conflict, March 6, 1991
Watch the Documentary
Directed by Lori Shinseki of Fire Horse Pictures and co-produced by VPM and the Miller Center
of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, “Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team” will debut nationally on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).
Join the Virtual Panel Discussion
On August 5 at 11 a.m., the Miller Center and VPM will present a special public discussion about “Statecraft” featuring White House Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Zoellick, National Security Council staff member Philip Zelikow, New Yorker journalist Susan Glasser and Miller Center Director of Presidential Studies Barbara Perry. For more details and to register, visit vpm.org/events.
For more about the film, background about the major world events it features, and additional interviews with members of the Bush foreign policy team, visit millercenter.org/statecraftmovie.