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How George H.W. Bush Finished What Reagan Started in Ending the Cold War

December 5, 2018 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Ronald Reagan may have spearheaded the build-up that led to the demise of the Soviet Union, but George H.W. Bush quietly saw it through.

Ronald Reagan is often lauded as the U.S. President who won the Cold War, by orchestrating a massive arms buildup that the Soviet Union couldn’t afford to match, and by giving a famous 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate in which he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

But the decline and ultimate collapse of Soviet communism—from the actual demolition of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet bloc in eastern Europe, to the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself—occurred during the single four-year term of Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush.

While Bush didn’t set in motion the massive geopolitical change that occurred, historians credit his steady, low-key, cautious approach to Soviet relations with helping to ensure that when communism collapsed, it fell as softly as possible. Mainly, it fell without the bloody revolutionary upheaval that had occurred during its rise three quarters of a century before.

READ MORE: The Myth That Reagan Ended the Cold War With a Single Speech

Reagan Demands Fall of Berlin Wall (TV-PG; 1:08)

Bush Was a ‘Moderate Cold Warrior’

“Unlike Reagan, who was rash and undermined American political and moral values to destroy communism around the globe, Bush was a much more moderate cold warrior,” Dickinson College Professor of History Karl Qualls explains. “He was analytical, not impulsive. Although he certainly despised communism, he saw in Gorbachev a reformer who was willing to create change and who wanted peace.”

As Southern Methodist University historian Jeffrey A. Engel wrote in his 2017 book, When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War, the cautious Bush resisted the temptation to aggressively exert American influence on events on the other side of the Iron Curtain. He also did not respond too boldly to the dramatic changes occurring. Instead, Engel says, “his caution helped carry the world safely through this tumultuous time.”

Watch History Remembers President George H.W. Bush Special, premiering Wednesday, December 5 at 10/9c.

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts.

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Bush was better prepared than most for this task, because of his diplomatic experience as ambassador …read more


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