The late former President George H.W. Bush became the synonym of a decent and well-meaning leader following his retirement from frontline politics, with many belatedly appreciating his four-year presidency that provided much-needed stability in a turbulent world at the time.
Bush, who died Friday at age 94, will be honored with a state funeral on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., an official gathering that will be attended by current and former leaders of the country.
Wednesday will also be the national day of mourning to honor the 41st president, who served from January 1989 to January 1993. Most federal government offices, Wall Street, and some federal banks and courts will be closed. The U.S. Postal Service won’t deliver mail.
Bush’s presidency lasted just one term, with some attributing that to his failure to communicate a vision of America and its place in the post-Cold War world. He himself admitted that he struggled with “the vision thing” and was mortified by the breaking of a pledge not to introduce new taxes.
In later years, out of elected office, Bush purposely remained on the sidelines of politics, except for some rare appearances and speeches, but he became revered on both sides of the aisle for guiding the country through turbulent times on the world stage.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” Jane Hernandez, a retired physician in the heavily Democratic city and suburbs, said Tuesday as she waited in a long line to view Bush’s casket in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. “I wasn’t the biggest fan of his presidency, but all in all he was a good, sincere guy doing a really hard job as best he could.”
“He was so qualified, and I think he was just a decent man,” said another woman waiting in line. “I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office. My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterward,” woman named Sue Miller seconded.
“I actually think I underestimated him when he was in office. My opinion of him went up seeing how he conducted himself as a statesman afterward.”
Bush presided during the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which had been the nemesis of America for decades. Yet the communist empire fell apart without the violence that normally accompanies such occurrences.
While Bush received help from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he played a key role in ensuring the new world order was crafted in the image of Western freedom rather than by the whims of Moscow.
He also played a key role in managing the British and French reservations about reuniting Germany.
His administration’s decision to build an international military coalition, which included some Arab states as well, to push Iraq out of Kuwait in 1990 has also become a textbook example of restrained American foreign policy, which avoids getting into long-lasting military conflicts.
The Gulf War ended within 100 hours of the start of the ground war, with the coalition forces liberating Kuwait.
“That wasn’t our objective,” Bush said in 2011 about suggestions that the forces should have taken the battle all the way to Baghdad. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted and indeed than we might have feared.”
The ceremony on Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral to honor the 41st president will be attended by four living ex-presidents and other world leaders. Among them, George W. Bush will eulogize his father — and President Trump will attend but won’t speak.
Bush’s death reduces membership in the ex-presidents’ club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.