George Herbert Walker Bush came as close as you can to inheriting the presidency. His grandpa was a presidential advisor to Hoover, and his dad was a U.S. Senator. He himself already had a White House office as vice president to Ronald Reagan.

Even though Bush had once called Reaganomics "voodoo economics," he was happy enough being Reagan's vice president and was easily elected president in 1988 against the hapless Democrat Michael Dukakis. Although Bush the elder was a former representative to China and head of the CIA, he stood by without even proposing economic sanctions in 1989 when Chinese tanks crushed democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Democracy had more luck in Europe.

The fall of the Soviet Union

In 1989, the former Soviet puppet governments in Eastern Europe fell, as did the Berlin Wall. Eastern European nations were now free to govern themselves. What had been the Soviet Union split into the Commonwealth of Independent States, the largest of which was Russia. A hero for helping the Communist empire open toward freedom, Mikhail Gorbachev fought off a coup attempt from party hardliners and then was dismissed, leaving behind a small world of independent nations struggling toward democracy.

Bush signed the START II Treaty (1993) with Russia, pledging both nations to reduce their long-range nuclear weapons by two-thirds. The U.S. military scaled back with the end of the Cold War.

In additional good news, Nelson Mandela gained freedom from prison and became president of a democratic interracial South Africa. Free elections in Nicaragua ousted the leftist government there without the necessity of the Iran-Contra plotting of the Reagan administration. The U.S. tossed a drug-lord dictator of Panama out by force.

Operation Desert Storm

Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, invaded the neighboring oil-rich country of Kuwait in 1990. Working through the United Nations, President Bush skillfully put together a coalition of the United States and 28 other nations to kick Saddam out. Although the U.S. contributed more than half a million troops, the other nations added 250,000 more on their own.

Operation Desert Storm tore through Iraqi forces like a hurricane; U.S. and coalition forces rolled over Hussein's army in four days. Kuwait was free; the only problem — and a big one — was that Saddam Hussein was left in power in his capital of Baghdad.

Legislation under the elder Bush

On the domestic front, Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990), which prohibited discrimination against the one in seven people who have some form of physical or mental handicap. President Bush also appointed a conservative African American to the Supreme Court.

Bush grudgingly accepted some improvements in environmental water usage and civil rights, but the only controversial legislation he proposed was the tax increase that cost him the presidency.

Campaigning in 1988, Bush had dramatically said, "Read my lips: No new taxes." Faced with huge budget deficits, he was forced to go back on his word and raise taxes in 1990. The Democrats wouldn't let people forget that mistake.

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