Academy, on his eighteenth birthday Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy, becoming the navy's youngest pilot. After World War II he married Barbara Pierce, graduated from Yale with an economics degree after two and a half years, moved to Texas, and embarked on a career in the oil business.
Bush entered politics in 1964 as a Republican, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1970 he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. President Richard M. Nixon appointed Bush ambassador to the United Nations (UN) in 1971. In this post for two years, Bush fought to preserve Nationalist China's (Taiwan) seat in the UN, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful.
From 1973 to 1976 Bush held a series of important government posts, including the directorship of the CIA. When he took over the CIA in 1975, the agency was reeling from revelations about its role in assassination plots, coups, and other covert operations conducted in the name of the Cold War. He tried to rehabilitate the CIA during his tenure, and his efforts met with some success.
In 1980, Bush sought the Republican presidential nomination but lost to former California Governor Ronald Reagan, who then named Bush his running mate. The pair went on to win an overwhelming victory in the 1980 elections. As vice president, Bush loyally backed Reagan's hard-line Cold War policies. Military spending increased dramatically during Reagan's first term, and the administration provided considerable aid to foreign governments and insurgents to combat communism.
Bush bolstered these measures by traveling around the globe soliciting support for Reagan's policies, particularly in Central America. Bush met with Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who had allied himself with the anti-communist Nicaraguan Contras. The Contras were fighting the Sandinista government and receiving U.S. military and financial aid. After Congress voted to cut off assistance to the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration began covertly aiding them. Members of the National Security Agency concocted a plan by which proceeds from the sale of weapons to Iran were diverted to the Contra rebels. When the Iran-Contra story broke in 1986, Bush denied any knowledge of the illegal operation. Questions remained about his role in the Iran-Contra Affair when he ran for the presidency in 1988, but he nonetheless secured a sound victory that November over Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
When Bush took office in January 1989 the Cold War was winding down. During Reagan's second term, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had improved tremendously, and Bush continued to negotiate with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in his first year as president.
In November 1989, the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in the end of the Cold War. Bush's reactions to the changes in Eastern Europe were calculatingly restrained. He and his foreign policy advisors were wary of antagonizing the Soviet leadership and were fearful that the Soviet military might be employed to stanch the prodemocracy movements. But Soviet weakness and Gorbachev's promises not to intervene led to a peaceful revolution. By January 1992 the Soviet Union had been officially dissolved, and later that year President Bush and the new Russian leader Boris Yeltsin declared an end to the Cold War.
After Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait in August 1990, Bush successfully mounted an international coalition force that liberated Kuwait and dealt a crippling blow to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's military. The first Persian Gulf War, Operation desert storm, ended in less than one hundred hours of ground fighting after a protracted air war that had begun in January 1991. The war liberated Kuwait and protected Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern oil supplies but left Saddam Hussein's bloodthirsty regime in place. After the war, Bush enjoyed meteoric approval ratings, but a deep economic recession combined with Bush's inability to offer solutions to the downturn resulted in his losing a presidential reelection bid in 1992 to Democrat William Clinton.
Justin P. Coffey
Bush, George H. W., and Brent Scowcroft. A World Transformed. New York: Knopf, 1998.; Parmet, Herbert S. George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee. New York: Scribner, 1997.