PoliticsUnited States Of AmericaWestern Asia

George H.W. Bush and the Middle East

Bush only served one term as president, defeated in his re-election attempt by Bill Clinton, whose folksy manner and focus on the economy struck a chord with many Americans and made Bush seem disconnected from voters for focusing on foreign policy over domestic issues.

During his time in office between 1989 to 1993, Bush presided over immense geopolitical upheaval following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The legacy of his decisions can be felt the world over, including in the Middle East. 

First Gulf War

Bush’s decision to launch Operation Desert Shield, otherwise known as the First Gulf War, was a crucial moment in the history of the Middle East.

Fearing that Saddam Hussein would go into Saudi Arabia after occupying Kuwait in 1990, Bush launched an international coalition against the Iraqi leader and bided his time by amassing US troops inside Saudi Arabia.

The operation, launched on 24 February 1991, lasted 100 hours and cost the lives of 148 US soldiers and 20,000 Iraqi troops.

When asked why he did not invade deeper into Iraq and oust Saddam, Bush said: “To occupy Iraq would shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero.

“It would have taken us way beyond the imprimatur of international law, … assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war.”

Commenting on the conflict on Saturday, the New York Times wrote: “Some critics have said that Mr Hussein would not have been so bold as to invade Kuwait had Washington not shamelessly cultivated him over the years; others faulted Mr Bush for not pushing Mr Hussein all the way back to Baghdad and removing him from power.

“Such a course, Mr Bush said later, would have ‘incurred incalculable human and political costs … We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.’

“Which is exactly what his son, George W Bush, a less cautious man, set out to do 12 years later – with disastrous results.”


Helping Israel diplomatically


During his time as president, Bush successfully lobbied the UN to revoke the 1975 UN resolution which likened Zionism to racism and a form of racial discrimination.

Bush took advantage of the aftermath of the First Gulf War to convene the Madrid Conference, which brought together Israel and all of its Arab foes to discuss the Palestinian peace process for the first, and to date, only time.

He also encouraged China and Russia to build ties with Israel and helped pave the way for diplomatic relations to emerge. 


No-fly zones


In 1992, Bush led the call for the no-fly zones that were introduced in northern Iraq to protect Iraq’s Kurdish and Shia populations in the south.

The US, Britain and France used UN Resolution 688 as a pretext to launch the no-fly zones, despite the resolution containing no explicit authorisation.



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