chapter  3
27 Pages

George H W Bush: War and peace

March CIA warns of WMD programmes in Iraq and Iran; suggests internal turmoil in Iran will preclude improved relations; concludes Iran is main threat in region.

May Rafsanjani encourages killing of Americans June Death of Khomeini; Khamenei anointed Supreme Leader; Rafsanjani

visit to Moscow signals Soviet-Iran rapprochement July Rafsanjani elected president August Publication of death of hostage Lt Col Higgins; second hostage threat-

ened; US uses leverage to secure release of 17 Iranian travellers in Lebanon; US approaches Iran through UN


It was never going to be easy for George H W Bush. He was not a caretaker president in the mould of Gerald Ford, nor had he been handed the presidency in the tragic circumstances that had seen Lyndon Johnson finally realise the dream he had nurtured for much of his political life. Unlike both men, he came to office having been elected in his own right; but like Ford and Johnson, he was painfully aware of the shadow – seen variously as both a positive and a negative legacy – of his predecessor. Bush may have had more and wider experience than any modern president; in one way or another he had been preparing for the job all his adult life. Ironically, though, when the understudy stepped up to assume the lead role, he found that the play had changed. By 1988, the world, as academics, journalists and politicians intoned, had entered a state of flux. ‘Mr Reagan’s presidency is likely to be remembered as the upbeat last act of post-war American diplomacy’, noted John Walcott in the Wall Street Journal. Presidentelect George Bush, he counselled, ‘now must write a new script for US policy in a rapidly changing world, a task that will demand not just Reaganesque optimism and confidence, but unprecedented creativity’.2 Creativity, as the fourth

October NSD-26 finalised; reaffirms policy of improving relations with Iraq; Iran links help with three kidnapped Iranians in Lebanon or frozen assets to US hostages

November Bush orders a ‘clearing of the underbrush’ signalling progress at Hague tribunal; apparent movement on issue of linkage on both sides

1990 February Rafsanjani offers to seek unconditional release of hostages March Bush takes ‘hoax’ call from Rafsanjani April Release of Robert Polhill, the first hostage freed since the Iran-Contra

scandal June US offers aid after earthquake in Iran kills 40,000 August Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait September Iran-Iraq diplomatic relations restored

1991 January Operation Desert Storm launched March/April Kurdish and Shia uprisings in Iraq October CIA reports China is aiding Iran’s nuclear programme; Madrid peace talks December Final hostage freed; bodies of Buckley and Higgins returned; Bush

rejects idea of better relations

1992 March Iranian-Russian nuclear cooperation raised as a concern April Iran policy review completed: constructive engagement rejected October US mission to Europe to stop sale of dual-use equipment; Iran-Iraq Non-

proliferation Act passed November Casper Weinberger indicted over Iran-Contra affair; Bush loses presi-

dential election

estate had not been shy about suggesting, was not George Bush’s strong suit. His description as ‘pastel political personality in a mostly pastel time that offers him a limited range of shades from which to choose’ captured the style of the presidency, if not the substance of the man.3 Elected at the end of an issue-light campaign, and without a strong electoral mandate, Bush embraced the office, according to his biographers, with few political advantages, limited political capital and in a weak strategic position.4