Thirty years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, as crowds of East and West Germans were tearing down the wall that symbolized division and totalitarianism, I was fortunate to watch firsthand as President George H.W. Bush eschewed high rhetoric in favor of clear-eyed statecraft.
He had developed strong relations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterrand. Each of them trusted the president as a leader who kept his word. They also recognized that Bush would search for pragmatic solutions in an effort to ease their concerns rather than ignore them. As a result, less than a year after the wall fell — on Oct. 3, 1990 — Germany became a single nation again.
Bush’s nimble diplomacy was instrumental in concluding the Cold War with a whimper rather than the nuclear bang I had feared for most of my adult life. And it cleared the way for democracy and freedom to spread.
In the end, no one individual was responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Bush, in many ways, followed in the path of every American president since Truman in his commitment to a free and undivided Europe. The actions of Gorbachev and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl were historic. And, above all, the enduring spirit of the citizens of the captive states finally tipped the scales toward freedom.
But Bush’s role was indispensable. Because of his adroit foreign policy during that time of global transition, he is routinely remembered as one of our nation’s most effective leaders and the very best one-term president ever.
It is a model that all American presidents should follow.