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George H.W. Bush: Interventionism Unbound

No political event defined George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency as sharply as the Persian Gulf War. His tenure was marked by several impressive achievements, as noted, with the peaceful management of the Soviet disintegration, German reunification, and Eastern Europe’s restoration to the comity of democratic nations. These tested American diplomatic resolve and talent but demanded no projection of military power to the European Continent. The Persian Gulf conflict obliged the United States to exercise prodigious diplomatic finesse and to deploy large-scale air, land, and sea armaments to distant shores. The Bush administration unprecedentedly projected American military power into the heart of the Middle East. The Persian Gulf showdown blew up suddenly like a summer squall amid other international crises. As such, it reordered the Bush White House’s priorities. The Oval office, by necessity, sidelined other issues so as to focus on countering Iraq’s swift occupation of neighboring Kuwait. The US and allied military deployments and the war itself witnessed the largest ever US armed intrusion into the Middle East (up to that time). Armed might, nevertheless, formed just part of the effort. The conflict in the heart of the Arab Muslim world called for abundant and skilled diplomacy to reassure allies, build and maintain a transnational

Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come,

In yours and my discharge. William Shakespeare’s The Tempest © The Author(s) 2017

T.H. Henriksen, Cycles in US Foreign Policy since the Cold War, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-48640-6_3

coalition, and even gain funding from non-participating powers such as Japan and Germany to pay for the war.

Finally, this crisis marked an apogee of American military and political interventionism as the pendulum arced high in the engagement cycle. Afterward, the dial oscillated back toward the non-engagement direction in the remainder of Bush’s presidential term. This slide away from overseas commitments, in part, reflected the natural rhythm of relaxation following exertions of the Cold War. As such it conformed to the pattern evident since World War I through the Vietnam War of Americans looking inward after international conflicts. But before that disengagement, the United States was called upon to confront aggression that placed its interests in jeopardy by Iraq, a country not well known to most Americans. That first conflict with Iraq thrust America into Middle East in a greater way than any event since the establishment and US recognition of Israel in 1948.

 
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