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George H. W. Bush Presidency

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George H. W. Bush Presidency

The presidency of George H. W. Bush (January 20th, 1989-January 20th, 1993) marked a time of change for the United States and the world. Bush presided over the end of the Cold War, which had dominated U.S. foreign policy for more than four decades. Bush's single term as president pinpoints a shift in U.S. history. As a foreign policy leader, he guided America through its long-desired victory over the Soviet Union. Thus, Americans' concerns centered on domestic issues, precisely where are to be found most of the conflicts during George W. H. Bush's administration.

Presidency of George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush at the White House, StudySmarter

Bush as Vice President with President Reagan. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The 1988 Election

The Republican Party nominated George H. W. Bush for President in 1988. They proclaimed him "the most qualified man of our times". He did have substantial experience: he had been a member of Congress, ambassador to China, director of the CIA, and Vice President under Reagan for eight years. Bush was viewed not as a candidate of change but as a continuation of Reagan's popular presidency.

Conservative Credentials

Bush did not lean as far to the right as Reagan and had to defeat several more conservative challengers for the Republican nomination. When they were contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, he notoriously discredited Reagan's economic policies as "voodoo economics". To get support from the more conservative members of the Republican Party, he named the conservative Dan Quayle as his running mate.

Campaign against Dukakis

Once the nomination was settled, Bush found himself trailing Democrat Michael Dukakis in the polls. Bush faced the problem of being more known as a team player for other leaders than for his own accomplishments. Instead of focusing on his ideas for the presidency, Bush chose to focus on specific negative attacks on Dukakis. While he won the election, his negative campaign and promise of "no new taxes" would go on to negatively impact his presidency.

Presidency of George H. W. Bush | what experience did george h.w bush bring to the presidency | StudySmarter

Presidential Portrait of George H W Bush. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The George H. W. Bush Presidency

He place himself as a believer of a "kinder, gentler America", which was viewed as a critique of Reagan. This played poorly with conservative Republicans. The fact that he raised taxes to balance the budget was considered a betrayal of his "no new taxes" campaign promise. However, his foreign policy was very popular with the public.

George H. W. Bush and Congress

The Democrats, who at the time controlled Congress, resented his negative campaign against Dukakis. This brewed into a stern opposition to his policy in Congress. Even though Bush did or threatened to veto many bills, this inability for a Republican President and a Democratic Congress to work together often led to gridlock.

Accomplishments of George H. W. Bush Presidency

Bush did had a few achievements in domestic policy, such as the success of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, his greatest successes are in foreign policy. He oversaw the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Russia's integration into the West. He also commanded Operation Desert Storm, supported by several world leaders, to push Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

Major Failures of George H. W. Bush During his Presidency

George H. W. Bush's most prominent failure was not keeping his "no new taxes" campaign promise. This was viewed especially negatively by his own party. Bush's presidency also had tremendous difficulty getting any new federal programs passed. This inefficacy was due to an already high budget deficit and his poor relationship with Congress. Many Americans also blamed him for the recession in the early 1990s.

Foreign Policy of George H. W. Bush

Bush found his greatest successes as President with his foreign policy. Two of his most notable achievements were the successful integration of Russia into the Western economy and the ratification of the North America Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. military successes in the armed conflicts of Panama and Kuwait are considered victories in Bush's political career.

Presidency of George H. W. Bush | Foreign policy | Study Smarter

Bush with USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The End of the Cold War

With mounting costs of an arms race with the United States and the Soviet-Afghan War, the USSR was running out of money by the late 1980s. In 1989, the Soviet Union pulled back its support from the satellite nations it controlled. Shortly, demands for freedom turned into democratic revolutions in these countries. By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union broke up into eleven smaller countries and abandoned communism.

George H. W. Bush's relationship with Russian leaders

Early in his presidency, Bush paused the positive relationship Reagan had built with USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He had little trust for the USSR but soon had to relent. Bush worked with Gorbachev to reunify the Soviet and western parts of Germany. The reunified Germany then became a Nato allied country. The two leaders also signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which reduced each country's nuclear weapons. In 1991, Bush worked with Gorbachev's successor, Boris Yeltsin, on a second agreement, the New START. These are examples of Russia's cooperative relationship with the West at the time.

American Aid to former Soviet Countries

Under Bush, the United States sent a great deal of assistance to help westernize the Soviets. Besides financial aid, Bush dispatched experts to advise the ex-Soviet countries. These experts helped with converting the economies to capitalism and dismantling nuclear weapons.

George H W Bush presidency |  General Colin Powell | StudySmarter

Bush discusses the Iraq situation. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Conflicts During George H. W. Bush's Presidency

Two main foreign conflicts occurred during the George H. W. Bush presidency. The first occurred in Panama. The second was when Iraq attacked Kuwait.


Manuel Noriega was a dictator supported by the United States for his anti-communist policies during the Cold War. While Director of the CIA, Bush had even met with Noriega and had him on the CIA payroll. By the end of Reagan's term, the relationship between the United States and Noriega had grown cold. The tension escalated further when Noriega overturned the 1989 election he had lost. The United States indicted him on racketeering and drug smuggling charges. In addition to this, Noriega's troops killed a U.S. Marine on leave in Panama City.

Operation Just Cause

The U.S. military then conducted an invasion of Panama. This was known as Operation Just Cause. The Operation was successful. Noriega was brought to the United States, where he was convicted of racketeering and drug smuggling. The election Noriega had overturned was then honored. The action was controversial internationally, and the UN general assembly passed a resolution criticizing it.

Operation Desert Shield

In August 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait. Many began to fear that Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, planned to go after oil in Saudi Arabia. As a result, U.S. troops went to Saudi Arabia as Operation Desert Shield.

International Diplomacy

The UN reached a consensus on condemning Iraq's action. A multinational military force was assembled to expel Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait. Bush met with Middle Eastern leaders to get almost unanimous support for moving against Iraq.

Operation Desert Storm

In 1991, the U.S. military forced Iraqi soldiers out of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. They stopped at the border of Iraq instead of pursuing regime change inside Iraq. The quick and decisive victory helped rehabilitate the popular domestic views of the U.S. military. This improved public opinion had started under Reagan. In contrast to the deadly and divisive Vietnam War, Desert Storm gained the support of the American people and was merchandised as toys and trading cards for children.

The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement

Reagan signed a free trade agreement with Canada. The agreement removed barriers to trade and made investing over the border easier. At the beginning of Bush's term, Mexico approached the United States about reaching a similar agreement. Canada asked to be included, turning the deal into an accord between the three North American countries. Bush negotiated and signed the treaty. The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, will be approved by Congress in 1993, during Clinton's presidency.

George H.W. Bush Presidency | A line graph of Gallup polling data of President George H. W. Bush over the length of his term | StudySmarter

The approval rating of George H. W. Bush over his presidency. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Domestic policy of George H. W Bush

Bush found considerably less success domestically. Congress would not work with him and the high budget deficit left him little room to maneuver. However, he still would be able to pass some legislation. He was viewed by many Americans, especially conservatives, as bad for the economy. While there was a recession during his term, some of his policies paved the way for a balanced budget and a strong economy.

The Savings and Loan Crisis

Savings and Loan, S&L, is an institution that accepts deposits of money at interest and then makes a profit by loaning the money out. The term comprises all the associations of this type in the United States.

The S&L Crisis between 1986 and 1995 put at risk almost a third of its assets. The causes of the crisis involved complex economic issues that went back decades and involved decisions by both parties. Under both Carter and Reagan, the government decreased regulation on S&L. As many of these institutions got involved in riskier and less ethical behaviors, they began to fail. The savings and loan associations were covered by federal insurance.

Savings and Loan Bailout

By 1989 Bush had inherited a crisis. If the S&Ls failed, many people would lose everything. With the federal insurance fund running out of cash, Bush supported a plan to regulate and bail out the S&L associations. This ultimately added over $100 billion to the federal deficit, which was very unpopular.


Bush faced major problems with a large U.S. budget deficit. Bush wanted to cut spending, while Democrats were for a higher gasoline tax. When Bush agreed to a compromise of both spending cuts and tax increases, he was criticized for abandoning his "no new taxes" campaign promise. Republicans refused to support the budget bill. Bush had to work directly with Democrats on a budget reconciliation process that included tax increases Republicans were strongly against.

Other Policies

George Bush passed other policies, some of which the conservatives did not approve of. One was the Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlawed discrimination against the disabled. Another was the Clean Air Act, which strengthened environmental protections. His educational ideas couldn't pass due to criticisms from both sides. Bush also promoted volunteering as a solution for many of America's domestic problems.

The 1992 Election

Early in the 1992 election, Bush was viewed as likely to be reelected due to his popular foreign policy. Bill Clinton was a moderate Democrat who united and expanded the party with ideas like a middle-class tax cut and balancing the deficit. By the time the election came, the public opinion of Bush had declined due to issues with the economy and conservative criticism. Another factor was Texas businessman Ross Perot running one of the most successful third-party campaigns of all time. In its final results, Clinton's 40% of the vote beat Bush's 37% and Perot's historic 20%.

The Presidency of George H. W. Bush - Key takeaways

  • Was elected President in 1988. His administration lasted one term, from January 20th, 1989 to January 20th, 1993.
  • Popular on foreign policy issues but struggled on domestic issues.
  • Had a poor relationship with the Democratic-led Congress, which made passing legislation difficult.
  • Oversaw the end of the Cold War and Russia's integration with the capitalist West.
  • Conducted Operation Desert Storm to remove Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army from Kuwait.
  • Was perceived to have created a bad domestic economy.
  • Alienated conservative Republicans by failing to keep his "no new taxes" campaign promise and passing environmental and anti-discrimination legislation.
  • Lost reelection in 1992 to Bill Clinton.
  • The 1992 election was impacted by third-party candidate Ross Perot, who appealed to many conservatives and ran one of the most successful third-party presidential campaigns of all time.

Frequently Asked Questions about George H. W. Bush Presidency

The wars during George H. W. Bush's presidency were the invasion of Panama and Operation Desert Storm on the Middle East.

After his presidency, George H. W. Bush became friends with his successor, Bill Clinton. He also devoted his time to charity work and public speaking on political issues.

George H. W. Bush was an experienced politician. He had been a member of Congress, ambassador to China, director of the CIA, and vice president under Reagan for eight years, before becoming president of the United States.

George H. W. Bush's presidency is known for his success with foreign policy during Operation Desert Storm and the end of the Cold War. And domestically, for breaking his campaign promise to not raise taxes.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR were major events during George H. W. Bush's presidency.

Final George H. W. Bush Presidency Quiz


Who was George H W Bush Vice President under?

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Ronald Reagan

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In which role did George H W Bush never serve?

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Attorney General

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What major conflict ended during Bush's term?

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Cold War 

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Who did Bush work with to reduce Nuclear weapons?

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Mikhail Gorbachev

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What was Operation Desert Storm?

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A military operation to remove the Iraqi Army from Kuwait 

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What was Operation Desert Shield?

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A military operation to help defend Saudi Arabia if Iraq attacked

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What was operation Just Cause?

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The invasion of Panama 

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What was George H W Bush's relationship with Congress like?

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He did not get along Congress which was controlled by the Democratic Party 

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How many terms did George H W Bush serve as President?

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What famous campaign promise did George H W Bush break?

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No new taxes

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Why did Republicans turn against Bush during his term?

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He raised taxes and worked directly with Democrats on budget agreement  

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What crisis led to a controversial and expensive bailout during George H W Bush's term?

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Savings and Loan 

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