George HW Bush, 41st President of the USA

Born: June 12, 1924;

Died: December 1, 2018

GEORGE HW BUSH, who has died aged 94, was a Republican president born from privilege who was frustrated by circumstances. He was the president who won three wars – Cold, Panamanian and Gulf – with minimal loss in American life, but voters ruthlessly dumped him when he sought a second term.

He was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1924, the son of Prescott Bush, an Ohio banker, and was driven to school in a chauffeured limousine. However, he was little more than a boy when he was caught up in the Second World War.

In 1943 he passed out as the youngest air-pilot in the US Navy, and the following year, while on a bombing mission in the Pacific, was shot down by the Japanese. He surfaced to find a life-raft, but no other survivors. Then, by incredible providence, a US submarine surfaced beside him.

Early in 1945 he married his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Pierce. That autumn, he began studies at Yale, but on graduation spurned the offer of work in the family business, and headed for Texas to make a fortune in oil. He and Barbara also started to build a family, but a little daughter, Robin, succumbed to leukaemia.

Bush made his fortune, co-founding Zapata Oil, but began to smell the ozone of politics. He served as a state-senator in Texas, now his adopted state and sat for a time in Congress. In 1964, boldly, he bid for the US Senate. He, and his party, were duly steamrollered in the Johnson landslide.

Richard Nixon briefly considered him as a vice-presidential candidate in 1968. In office, he made Bush ambassador to the United Nations. In 1974 he was again pondered as a potential vice-president by Gerald Ford, but instead served as unofficial ambassador to China, and later, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

By 1980, Bush wanted the presidency himself and his chances seemed good. He was youthful, a war-hero; he had a creditable career behind him, and a good team. His principles were described as somewhat to the centre of centre. The sitting president was a Democrat and most unpopular; Bush’s principal Republican rivals appeared to be Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

Ford did not run but Reagan, well managed, proved a candidate able to carry his audience. Bush won the first contest for nomination, the Iowa caucuses, but Reagan made him look silly in a critical televised debate on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. Bush lost, and, thereafter, his candidacy floundered. By the Detroit Convention in July, he could only hope for the vice-presidency. And for a few black hours even that nomination was denied, as Reagan aides haggled with Gerald Ford; when a premature announcement of a Reagan-Ford ticket was brought to Bush, he turned dead-white and vomited.

It was premature; Bush became second-banana after all. But the 1980 primaries had exposed critical weaknesses. He was too well-heeled, too preppy. There was a gung-ho quality that Americans derided. He seemed unable to shed the deadly scent of elitism and class.

After eight nondescript years in a nondescript job, George Bush nevertheless bustled forth in the 1988 campaign. Senate minority leader Robert Dole, another war-hero, was his major rival. Bush lost the Iowa caucuses but he stormed back to trump the polls, seizing the New Hampshire primary. The Dole campaign imploded. Bush sailed through 1988, the nomination in the bag by the end of March.

But there was still the wimp factor. And there was Bush’s unenviable gift of mangling the English language. He spoke in loopy, crazy sentences. “Boy! They went in big for crematoria, didn’t they?” was his considered response to Auschwitz, and later, burbling happily about his close partnership with President Reagan, "We’ve had meetings, we’ve had discussions, we’ve had sex...”

At the end of the Democratic Convention that summer, candidate Michael Dukakis led the vice-president by high margins in most opinion-polls. But the Bush team prepared to destroy him, and there ensued a campaign as vile as America had seen for many years.

Bush won in November by a minor landslide but he had left a dangerous hostage to fortune: the pledge, “Read My Lips: No New Taxes”, which now ticked away like a time-bomb.

As president, Bush for a time enjoyed remarkable popularity. The bubble of Reaganomics prosperity continued and 1989 proved a veritable annus mirabilis. Poland threw over Communist rule. So did Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. And, in November, East Germany flung open its borders, and crowds danced on the Wall. After a summit with Soviet leader, Gorbachev, President Bush could declare, The Cold War is over, and it was true.

And then the military machine of Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait for his Iraqi empire. That America should have anticipated Hussein’s intent, and blocked it, was true. But few could fault Bush’s handling of the crisis. He moved patiently to build a multi-national alliance; with tacit Soviet support, an Allied taskforce assembled while the USA skilfully let the United Nations pass appropriate motions.

The assault was launched in January, 1991, and Operation Desert Storm proved one of the most spectacular successes in military history; the Iraqis were driven from Kuwait with remarkably few Allied casualties. But the Hussein dictatorship remained in power, and the Iraqi military machine substantially intact.

He was, briefly, hugely popular, but within months new slaughter had broken out, in the crumbling remants of Yugoslavia, and Bush did nothing. Already, by the late summer of 1991, the administration was in serous trouble.

America was also sliding fast into serious recession and the Democrats, who controlled Congress, repeatedly blocked Bush pleas for moves to balance the budget. He had even to condone new taxes. In that he signed his political death-warrant.

Bush’s floundering government did little when Florida was struck by a violent hurricane. Television cameras mercilessly recorded his violent illness at an important banquet in Japan. Nor, after the shocking verdict of the Rodney King trial, was Bush able to pose as much more than an onlooker after the ferocious riots of Los Angeles.

Amiable, unhappy, stumbling, Bush lurched into the 1992 election hoping that Democratic opponent Bill Clinton could be as readily dismantled as Mike Dukakis. The president had, simply, nothing more to offer nor to say. America saw, and revolted.

Bush must properly be credited for his gifts on the foreign stage; his courage in swift military decision, and his genuine warmth and integrity of personality. He was balked at home by the serious problems he inherited, and the irresponsible politicking of a legislature run by his opponents. He certainly yearned for power, but in office could never quite grasp what he once described as the vision thing.

The Bush family's influence at the highest level was not over though - George W Bush would go on to be elected president in 2000 after Bill Clinton and served two terms. Another son, Jeb - a former Florida governor - made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in 2016. Only one other US president, John Adams, had a son who also became president.

In 2011, Bush was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

In his later years he developed a form of Parkinson's disease and used a motorised scooter or a wheelchair for mobility.

He was admitted to hospital in Maine in 2015 after falling at his summer home and breaking a bone in his neck.

He was taken to hospital the previous December because of shortness of breath and spent Christmas 2012 in intensive care for a bronchitis-related cough and other issues.

Despite the loss of mobility, Bush celebrated his 90th birthday by taking part in a tandem parachute jump in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Two years on and Bush led a group of 40 injured veterans on a fishing trip at the helm of his speedboat, three days after his 92nd birthday celebration.

In January 2017, his office announced that he and his wife would not attend President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration due to the former president's age and health.