A World Transformedby George H. W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft
It was one of the pivotal times of the twentieth century--during George Bush's presidency, an extraordinary series of international events took place that materially changed the face of the world. Now, former President Bush and his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, tell the story of those tumultuous years.
Here are behind-the-scenes accounts of… See more details below
It was one of the pivotal times of the twentieth century--during George Bush's presidency, an extraordinary series of international events took place that materially changed the face of the world. Now, former President Bush and his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, tell the story of those tumultuous years.
Here are behind-the-scenes accounts of critical meetings in the White House and of summit conferences in Europe and the United States, interspersed with excerpts from Mr. Bush's diary. We are given fresh and intriguing views of world leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and François Mitterrand--and witness the importance of personal relationships in diplomacy. There is the dramatic description of how President Bush put together the alliance against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. There are the intensive diplomatic exchanges with Beijing following the events of Tiananmen Square, and the intricate negotiations leading up to German reunification. And there is the sometimes poignant, sometimes grim portrayal of Gorbachev's final years in power.
A World Transformed is not simply a record of accomplishment; Bush and Scowcroft candidly recount how the major players sometimes disagreed over issues, and analyze what mistakes were made. This is a landmark book on the conduct of American foreign policy--and how that policy is crucial to the peace of the world. It is a fascinating inside look at great events that deepens our understanding of today's global issues.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Wall Street Journal
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Random House
- NOOK Book
- Sales rank:
- File size:
- 7 MB
Read an Excerpt
Past and Prologue
As the ferry carrying Mikhail Gorbachev slowly approached the Coast Guard station at Governors Island through the gray waters of New York harbor, a feeling of tense expectation spread across the waiting knots of US and Soviet officials. The arrival field had been largely cleared of spectators, and Coast Guardsmen and their families peered from windows, eagerly waiting to glimpse the Soviet leader as he stepped out onto the island. It was a crisp December 7, 1988, and I was looking forward to seeing Gorbachev, who had just finished a major address to the United Nations General Assembly--one filled with far-reaching arms control proposals. He was on his way to meet with President Ronald Reagan for a brief summit, which had been tacked on to the tail end of his visit to New York.
To tell the truth, I was a bit uncomfortable. As the first sitting vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren, I was in the awkward position of having to weigh my present role against my future one. I was only the president-elect, a few weeks away from my own inauguration and not yet setting policy. At the same time, I realized Gorbachev was anxious to know what direction I planned to take regarding the Soviet Union. It was a balancing act I had tried to maintain since the November election. I had to be careful to separate my own plans from those of President Reagan, who, after all, was still in charge and who had been extraordinarily considerate and kind to me for eight years. I tried to avoid anything that might give the appearance of undermining his authority, such as meeting separately with foreign leaders. I was determined to be a supportive vice president, one who had been--and would continue to be--loyal to his president.
I first met Gorbachev on March 13, 1985, when I was in Moscow representing President Reagan and the United States at the funeral of his predecessor as Soviet general secretary, Konstantin Chernenko. In the early 1980s, the Soviets had worked their way through a series of leaders--from Leonid Brezhnev to Yuri Andropov to Chernenko--and I had flown to Moscow for the funeral of each. I think it was Jim Baker who came up with the slogan for me "You die, I'll fly" to describe these trips. Though necessarily somber events, I found them useful opportunities. State funerals allow world leaders to hold brief talks. In addition, these occasions gave us the chance to eye the new man in charge. With the high mortality rate in the top position at the Kremlin during that period, we had little first-hand knowledge of the personalities of the Soviet leaders--just as we were adjusting to one, he was dead.
After the Chernenko funeral, our delegation, which included Secretary of State George Shultz, was ushered into the inevitably stiff and formal setting of a high-ceilinged, opulent official Kremlin receiving room, where we were greeted by Gorbachev. I recorded my first impressions of him in a cable I sent to President Reagan. The language reflects both the time and the suspicions of the Cold War, but I think, in retrospect, that the substance hinted (if perhaps unwittingly) at what was to come:
Gorbachev will package the Soviet line for Western consumption much more effectively than any (I repeat any) of his predecessors. He has a disarming smile, warm eyes, and an engaging way of making an unpleasant point and then bouncing back to establish real communication with his interlocutors.
He can be very firm. Example: When I raised the human rights question with specificity, he interrupted my presentation to come back with the same rhetorical excess we have heard before. Quote "Within the borders of the US you don't respect human rights" or [referring to African-Americans], "you brutally repress their rights." But along with this the following: "We will be prepared to think it over" and "Let's appoint rapporteurs and discuss it." The gist being as follows--"don't lecture us on human rights, don't attack socialism but let's each take our case to discussion!"
Looking at these words years later, they were almost a prescription for the way US-Soviet relations would unfold in the years to come. We would talk through problems, not allow them to block progress. But there were other signs of change as well, although perhaps we did not pick up on them in 1985. At the end of our meeting, Shultz made a superb presentation in which he told Gorbachev that Reagan wanted to be personally engaged with the Soviet leader. He did it with great genuineness and warmth. And it was clear from Gorbachev's response, even in translation, that he was offering the same kind of man-to-man sincerity. Perhaps this would not be a leader who would simply hide behind the same old rhetoric, as had his predecessors.
I subsequently developed a good feel for Gorbachev during his summit visit to Washington in December 1987. When I saw him at the Soviet embassy, we discussed the forthcoming US presidential race. I'm sure he had no desire to involve himself in an American election, but I had the impression he would not be unhappy if I won. I suppose he expected there would be some predictability and continuity from the Reagan Administration--in arms control, in working together on regional matters, in encouraging the Soviets toward openness and reform.
I told Gorbachev not to be concerned about the "empty cannons of rhetoric" he would hear booming during the campaign, and explained what the expression meant. It was a phrase Chinese leaders, I think Mao Zedong especially, had used years before to describe their propaganda criticizing the United States. Don't worry about excessive bombast, they would say; look at deeds and actions instead. I said that the upcoming presidential campaign would be filled with strong, hard-line statements from all kinds of sources about US-Soviet relations. He should not take them too seriously. I also told him I was willing to think anew about the future relationship between our countries.
One incident that day showed me Gorbachev the skilled politician at work. We were to go from the Soviet embassy to the White House in the same motorcade, and he was running a little late, although it didn't seem to concern him. He impulsively asked me to get into his "tank" (armored limousine) and ride with him. As we drove along, the crowds were enormous--Americans waiting to catch a glimpse of him. At one point I told him that I wished he had time to stop and speak to people, and that he would be well received. A minute later, the limo screeched to a halt, Gorbachev having commanded the driver to pull over: Secret Service agents from both the Soviet Union and the United States rushed to get into position as he plunged into a surprised and responsive crowd of onlookers, shaking hands and greeting them all in Russian. It was an amazing sight, and it was like a shot of adrenaline to him. He got back into the car visibly uplifted by the warm reception.
Later on during that visit I also learned something of what his wife Raisa was like when I was seated next to her at the reciprocal dinner given by Gorbachev for Reagan at the Soviet embassy. The evening wore on and on with ceremonies, formalities, and toasts. After an excellent meal at which we all ate too much, a large Russian opera singer appeared at the far end of the dining room. She was very talented, but not very pretty--I think that statement could stand any objective test. In an effort to inject a little levity into what was a rather somber evening, I leaned over to Raisa as the singer started her final song and said, "I think I'm falling in love." Raisa paused and looked at me in a serious way. "You'd better not," she replied sternly, "remember Gary Hart!" She had obviously been well briefed on the troubles the former senator had endured during the Democratic presidential primaries. I looked in her eyes to see if she was kidding; but no, I think she was serious.
Now, a year later at Governors Island, I was meeting Gorbachev in my new role and in the middle of a Soviet propaganda offensive. By this time he had captured the imagination of the entire world and was perhaps its most popular statesman. His address that day at the UN had been dramatic in both content and delivery, and it was obvious he loved the gamesmanship that went with an appearance there. It was an encouraging speech. Gorbachev had said that the threat or use of force should no longer be an instrument of foreign policy. He had promised to shift Soviet military doctrine to a more defensive stance and would unilaterally reduce their armed forces by 500,000 in two years--which, given their total size, was small but a good start. He also announced that several armored divisions would be withdrawn from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and East Germany by 1991 and disbanded. I was looking forward to hearing what he would add when he spoke to the President.
A broadly smiling Gorbachev emerged from the ferry waving, dressed in a smartly tailored gray suit and a serious red tie. Shortly after President Reagan greeted him, I somewhat self-consciously joined them dockside and soon we ducked inside one of the buildings. With only a month and a half to go in his term, this would be Reagan's farewell meeting with a man he had come to respect and for whom he felt genuine fondness and friendship. Reagan had brought the US-Soviet relationship a long way forward. He had dispelled the myth that he opposed absolutely everything to do with the Soviet Union, and the Soviet leaders no longer looked upon him as an unreconstructed Cold Warrior.
Our discussion was a strange one, a blend of the old and the new. I spoke infrequently. At one point, Reagan asked me if I had anything I wanted to add. I said I hoped to build on what he had achieved in US-Soviet relations. We would need a little time to review the issues, but what had been accomplished could not be reversed. Gorbachev said he understood. It seemed to him that prospects for our relations were good. There was a lot that he and I could do together, and he urged that I think about the possibilities.
Wanting to avoid specifics, I pledged general continuity with Reagan's policies toward the Soviet Union. I told Gorbachev I would be putting together a new team. I had no intention of stalling things, but I naturally wanted to formulate my own national security policies. Our group would have people in it who hoped to move the relationship forward, and if we could get a break on Nicaragua (where the Soviets were pouring in aid), it would help in arms control and in everything else. He did not respond, nor did he offer anything in the way of his own vision for the future of US-Soviet relations--just some vague general references that he hoped things would continue as they had been.
Sitting in on the Soviet side was Anatoly Dobrynin, a man I knew well and liked. He had been ambassador to the United States for over twenty years and was now a special assistant to Gorbachev. During a break, Gorbachev came over to me and said that if I wanted to get any special messages passed along to him in confidence I should use Anatoly. Given the fact that Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Central Committee Secretary Alexander Yakovlev, the current ambassador, Yuri Dubinin, and others were in attendance, I was surprised that Gorbachev had designated Dobrynin as the approved "back channel." In retrospect, I think he was signaling to me his eagerness to move forward in Soviet-American relations, and his desire for close contact with me as president. It was a good sign.
During the meeting Gorbachev bristled only once. It is easy to tell when he gets a little mad. His eyes sparkle and he turns red, with his mouth firmly set, and he kind of shrugs. Later on, when I got to know him much better, I felt he would deliberately throw a little anger into a statement to more passionately make a point. But at the Governors Island meeting, he genuinely flared up when Reagan innocently asked him about progress in reform and perestroika ("restructuring"). Gorbachev, with some real feeling, replied, "Have you completed all the reforms you need to complete?" I think he had misinterpreted the question as a criticism, because after we talked about our desire to see reform succeed he calmed down considerably and his good humor returned.
There is resentment on the part of many foreign leaders when they deal with the United States, a notion that we arrogantly consider ourselves perfect while they still have far to go. Indeed, we often do seem to lecture and confront other nations publicly on issues such as human rights. For that reason I went out of my way to be careful in questioning foreign leaders or diplomats about their countries' internal affairs. I had no hesitancy in telling them of our commitment to human rights, but I tried to avoid becoming the pedantic lecturer. In this case, Gorbachev seemed to believe that Reagan was speaking for certain Western "elements," as he called them, who hoped that his reforms would fail and the Soviet Union would fall into chaos and stagnation.
Gorbachev's visit was cut short the next day by the news of a terrible earthquake which had ripped Armenia. It had killed at least 50,000 and left half a million homeless. In its aftermath there was great tragedy, and for the first time since World War II, the Soviet Union permitted foreign assistance. AmeriCares, a wonderful relief organization started by my grade-school classmate Bob Macauley, a truly compassionate man, planned to send a plane loaded with medical supplies to Yerevan. Macauley called to see if any member of the Bush family would like to make the flight. He felt that such a gesture would mean a great deal to the Russian people.
Our son Jeb and his twelve-year-old son, George P., signed up--even though it meant being away from home at Christmas. They did their job helping to unload the plane, and then were whisked away from the area by a welcoming team. They toured a hospital and later said their Christmas prayers in a small chapel. Both my boys cried, overcome by what they had seen. Later on, Gorbachev was to tell me, and Shevardnadze Jim Baker, that when the Bushes--father and son--wept, it sent a strong signal across the entire Soviet Union that America genuinely cared about their suffering. It reflected an important new tone in our attitudes about each other as peoples.
The day after the Governors Island summit, I sat down with Brent Scowcroft, my national security advisor-designate, at the vice president's house at the Naval Observatory in Washington. I told him I wanted to come up with something dramatic to move the relationship with Moscow forward--not just responding to Gorbachev's latest ideas, but something bold and innovative, which would reaffirm American leadership in shaping the international agenda. Gorbachev was presenting us with an enormous opportunity to make fundamental changes. Although I could not foresee the dramatic shifts that would take place during the next four years, I did believe that, given Gorbachev's commitment to reform and to better relations with the United States, we had a chance for some significant breakthroughs, particularly in arms control.
There was a practical political need to react to Gorbachev's overtures as well. Although his troop cuts did not significantly affect Soviet superiority in conventional forces, I knew his proposals would appeal to Europeans, particularly the Germans. Gorbachev was very popular in Europe, where there was a kind of euphoria in the air. His speech increased the pressure on our incoming Administration to get moving, to match him with offers of our own. I did not want to be seen as lagging behind Gorbachev with nit-picking, foot-dragging responses. Yet I certainly did not want to make a foolish or short-sighted move either.
I was probably less suspicious of Gorbachev than were others in my incoming team. I thought, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had once said about him, that this was a man I could work with. I knew him well enough already to feel he was sincere in his desire to change the Soviet Union and superpower relations. Gorbachev was, and is, a very proud Russian. He has convictions. I believed he was so committed to reforming his country and its foreign policy that he could not, and would not, retreat from the revolution he had set into motion. I never subscribed to the view, so prominent among some Soviet experts, that he would immediately test us with something provocative to see how the new Administration would respond. I did, however, think he was carefully watching to see if we would veer off to a harder line than Reagan had taken at the end of his Administration.
Looking back at the evolution of my relationship with Gorbachev, I'm struck by how it reflected the changes in US-Soviet relations in the last days of the Cold War. We started out in the 1980s with formal meetings such as I have described, addressing each other stiffly as "Mr. Chairman" and "Mr. Vice President" (then "Mr. President") and ended in the early 1990s with informal and genuinely friendly conversations between "Mikhail" and "George." (Barbara and Raisa experienced much the same evolution in their own relationship.) That growing confidence in each other became very important and helped each of us in reaching difficult and, at the time, controversial decisions. I felt I could trust him, and I think he felt he could trust the West at this time of deepest, and ultimately final, crisis for the Soviet Union. Had the dynamics between us, and other leaders, been different, the changes we saw might have been more painful than they were. Not that there would have been war, but the character of a unified Germany, or the path to arms and troop reductions--to say nothing of the handling of the Persian Gulf War--would undoubtedly have been different, and our world perhaps less secure.
One contrast between our relationship and those that preceded it was the amount of contact I had with Gorbachev. I probably had more interaction with him than my combined predecessors did with their Soviet counterparts. I liked the personal contact with Mikhail--I liked him. How many American presidents could say that about the leader of the Soviet Union? Roosevelt or Truman saying that about Stalin? Kennedy about Khrushchev? Nixon about Brezhnev? I know President Reagan felt warmly about Gorbachev too--a feeling genuinely reciprocated--but he did not have the opportunities to work as closely with him as I did. Gorbachev and I found we could sit down and just talk. We could go around the world on issues. I thought I had a feel for his heartbeat. Openness and candor replaced the automatic suspicions of the past. It was a stark contrast to the dark decades of Cold War we were leaving behind.
It was indeed a remarkable change in the superpower relationship we had known over the previous fifty years, during which US foreign policy had been largely defined by the Soviet-American confrontation. The Cold War, and a predictable preoccupation with national security, altered how Americans viewed the world and how we set our domestic and foreign policy priorities. Moscow and Washington were locked in a competition that reached throughout the globe and penetrated every aspect of international politics. Third World civil wars, the division of Europe, and the gridlock of the United Nations were all part of the prolonged struggle.
The history of those years was littered with near-collisions between these two giants or their proxies in what had become essentially a bipolar world: Berlin (over and over), Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and an ongoing arms race. The Soviet-American engagement was a complex entanglement, one, we quickly learned, that required patience and a sense of balance to manage well. All the changes that would come to pass in Europe during the Bush Administration played out in this adversarial context, from the revolutions of 1989 to German unification, the Baltic crises, the reformation of NATO, and, finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.
This environment of suspicion and rivalry had fostered, at best, uneasy relations between our countries. Throughout most of the Cold War there was little direct communication between Moscow and Washington, except on matters of security and arms control. The two powers held fundamentally incompatible views of society, government, and man's relationship to them. The Soviet Union was, in philosophy and action, committed to the proposition that the two systems could not permanently coexist. These differences were not mere intellectual disagreement couched in the rhetoric of debate. While the animosity between these former wartime allies stemmed from the ideological elements of the competition, the urgency of the political situation flowed from its serious national security implications. For the first time, the United States faced a foe capable of striking it anywhere, inflicting immeasurable loss of life, damage, and misery on the American people virtually at a moment's notice. The oceans, behind which for generations we had felt secure, were no barrier to nuclear attack. The USSR was a mortal threat to us and to our friends and allies, who looked to us to ensure their own political independence. The United States was, after all, the only nation with both the will and the resources to confront the Soviet Union around the world. We took up that responsibility and that leadership.
Since the 1950s, the central tenet of US foreign policy and security strategy had been to "contain" the Soviet Union and communist domination and influence. The intent was to stop Moscow from extending its control, in the hope that Soviet communism would ultimately be transformed into something less threatening. By the late 1960s, the raw confrontational character of containment was infused with the idea of detente. Its basic assumption for the United States was that the two systems and superpowers were going to exist side by side for the indefinite future. Therefore, the focus of our policy should be to reduce the potential for conflict by seeking to ameliorate tensions and to increase areas for cooperation. In practice, however, enduring rivalry and suspicion proved too much for detente. Unable significantly to modify the attitudes and behavior of the Soviet Union, it finally collapsed with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
When Reagan assumed office, American policy took a sharp turn back toward confrontation. Initially, the Reagan Administration, at least in part, perceived the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire" portrayed in its rhetoric. Detente was replaced with the notion of bringing down the USSR over the long term, exerting economic and political pressure to encourage its eventual collapse. Reagan's strategy was to deal with the Soviets from a position of renewed strength, and he focused on a defense buildup in order to exert leverage on them, rather than relying simply on negotiations. There were no summits in the early Reagan years, as the United States rebuilt its defenses and modernized its nuclear forces. By 1984-1985, however, with the buildup well underway, the rhetoric was beginning to soften, and the arrival of Gorbachev and his reforms in 1985 helped accelerate this change. To the consternation of many of his hardline subordinates, Reagan liked Gorbachev and came to believe that the Soviet leader's commitment to reform was genuine. He moved from simply exerting pressure to entertaining the possibility of a changed Soviet Union, to doing business with them; he even began to speak of the end of the Cold War.
While I was, in general, a strong supporter of the Reagan Soviet policy, I was quietly critical of some aspects of its execution. It was my sense that the "Evil Empire" rhetoric had been excessive. It tended to frighten our allies and make support of American leadership of the West more difficult. That harsh period was then followed, rather rapidly, by another extreme, marked by what I considered an unwarranted assumption that the changes in Soviet attitudes and rhetoric, or perhaps the accession of Gorbachev to power, signaled the end of the forty-year confrontation between East and West.
The Reagan Administration's willingness to declare an end to the Cold War, without taking into consideration what that would require, disturbed me. The bristling battle lines were still in place, along with a complex strategic nuclear and conventional weapons balance. Nuclear weapons were, for me, an indispensable element in the US strategy of keeping the Soviets at bay, a compensation for their enormous superiority in conventional forces. I was therefore concerned by the implications at the 1986 Reykjavik summit that we might be willing to reduce, or even eliminate, that compensation independent of a real reduction in Soviet conventional capabilities. It appeared that the Reagan Administration had disregarded the strategic aspects of arms control, placing emphasis on reductions as a goal in itself. It had, I believed, rushed to judgment about the direction the Soviet Union was heading.
As we began our own planning about new approaches, I felt that the stakes were far too high for us to operate on the basis of wishful thinking. As a country, we had in an earlier period mistaken a twist in the road for a basic change in direction and I was determined that we should err on the side of prudence. I had a reputation for being cautious--a charge to which I plead guilty. I believe that one should try to change the direction of the great Ship of State only with care, because changes, once made, are inordinately hard to reverse. This was the great downside of the detente of the early 1970s. Because of its political attractiveness, what was in practice a purely tactical maneuver assumed--in the popular mind--the character of a permanent strategic change in the US-Soviet relationship, a mistake for which we paid heavily for some years. The discipline, toughness, and costs of the Cold War no longer seemed necessary, and US determination to contain the Soviet Union began to flag. As a result, at least in part, Moscow became more aggressive in areas such as Ethiopia, Angola, and Afghanistan. It took the harshness and determination of the Reagan Administration, at considerable budgetary expense, to restore a realistic perspective. Given the costly consequences of the detente experience, I did not want us to be responsible for a repeat performance. The real question was: were we once again mistaking a tactical shift in the Soviet Union for a fundamental transformation of the relationship? The answer depended heavily on Gorbachev, what he was up to and how it would be received inside the Soviet empire.
I was suspicious of Gorbachev's motives and skeptical of his prospects. There was no doubt he was a new phenomenon. Following a period in the 1970s when the United States seemed to be faltering and the Soviets were confidently talking about a permanent change in the "correlation of forces" (the measurement by which, under their ideology, they judged whether the time was ripe to move offensively), things began to turn sour for them. The last several years of a semi-senile Brezhnev, followed by a fatally ill Andropov and a weak and sickly Chernenko, amounted to a half dozen or more years of almost total stagnation. In contrast, the United States, under President Reagan, experienced a dramatic rejuvenation. Add to these parallel developments a deteriorating Soviet economy and the result was, by the time of Chernenko's death, a consensus in the Politburo that strong leadership, capable of making drastic changes, was essential. In choosing Gorbachev, the old men of the Politburo clearly did not think they were selecting someone who would overturn the system, but one who could get it back on track. Gorbachev's hard-nosed reputation, and the character of the chief sponsors of his rise through the ranks, seemed to confirm their choice. The fundamental question was, were they all wrong? In 1989, I didn't think that was likely.
To oversimplify, I believed that Gorbachev's goal was to restore dynamism to a socialist political and economic system and revitalize the Soviet Union domestically and internationally to compete with the West. To me, especially before 1990, this made Gorbachev potentially more dangerous than his predecessors, each of whom, through some aggressive move, had saved the West from the dangers of its own wishful thinking about the Soviet Union before it was too late. In the 1960s, the Soviet strategic nuclear building program destroyed our assumption that their goals were simply the attainment of a modest--or matching--assured nuclear destruction capability. Likewise, in the 1970s, our hopes that SALT I had essentially stopped Soviet strategic modernization in its tracks were dashed by the emergence of new and more advanced missiles. The occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 ended notions of more moderate Soviet goals in the Third World. These are but examples of the Soviet leaders periodically hitting us between the eyes to remind us of their aggressive ambitions.
Gorbachev was different. He was attempting to kill us with kindness, rather than bluster. He was saying the sorts of things we wanted to hear, making numerous seductive proposals to seize and maintain the propaganda high ground in the battle for international public opinion. The unilateral force reduction initiatives contained in his December United Nations address had little military significance, but the speech struck a responsive chord among many and won him much approbation, putting the West on the psychological defensive. Everyone was tired of the Cold War, and even leaders such as British prime minister Margaret Thatcher were now declaring it over. My fear was that Gorbachev could talk us into disarming without the Soviet Union having to do anything fundamental to its own military structure and that, in a decade or so, we could face a more serious threat than ever before.
In short, I thought Gorbachev remained a communist, committed to a socialist future for the Soviet Union. Through glasnost ("openness") and perestroika ("restructuring") he sought to revitalize the USSR and strengthen its economy. He was not basically interested in political reform for its own sake but rather as a means to deal with those in the Party who were blocking his economic changes.
Gorbachev hoped, and probably believed, that he could bring the inefficient economy of the USSR close to the level of the West by the year 2000. It was never clear, however, that he really understood what fundamental economic reform required, nor how far he was willing or able to accept Western methods. Just how much could the existing Soviet system be readjusted to accommodate the changes Gorbachev had in mind? It was difficult to grasp the extent and depth of the problems it faced. As it turned out, the situation was far worse than anyone--either inside the USSR or abroad--ever imagined.
Glasnost gradually began to reveal the extent of the problems, only some of which were known or suspected in the West. Vast sections of centralized industry and agriculture were under the control of Party leaders who ran them as private fiefdoms, diverting money to their own pockets and falsifying production figures to meet inflated quotas. The distribution system was poor, with crops left rotting in rural areas while the urban population endured shortages and empty grocery shelves. Fuel scarcity during the legendary Russian winters meant inadequate heat for much of the population--despite the fact that the Soviet Union had immense oil fields and huge coal reserves. In the face of these difficulties, by 1989 Gorbachev was looking to the West for desperately needed economic and technological help to shore up the crumbling Soviet economy and smooth the effect of the reforms he was getting underway.
As daunting as the obstacles may have appeared, there was an even greater challenge--gaining Communist Party support for reform. While a government administrative structure existed and wielded authority, in truth the Party and its apparatus were ultimately in charge of the State. The Party selected the State's leadership in the name of the people, and it was from this basis, as general secretary of the Communist Party, that Gorbachev drew his power and authority. Gorbachev's economic changes faced tremendous resistance arising from ideology, the politics of bureaucracy and corruption, and plain ignorance and prejudice about market economics. His efforts to overhaul the Soviet system helped spark crisis, both through the threats it posed to entrenched institutional Party and bureaucratic interests and the opportunities it offered for outsiders to the establishment to assert themselves--liberals, dissidents, and nationalists in every republic. Reform openly divided both the Party and the Soviet policy-making process--and the powerful interest groups of the military and industry.
Gorbachev had not counted on the resistance of the Soviet system to his reforms. He began with a relatively straightforward program to improve worker productivity and campaigned against drunkenness, absenteeism, and corruption. He also sought to replace the rule of terror with the positive incentive of an increase in the quality and quantity of consumer products. In my opinion, faced with his inability to get the Party behind these changes, Gorbachev instituted democratic reforms as a way to threaten the recalcitrant apparatchiks with elections, opposing them with people who supported his programs. His policy of glasnost was, no doubt, sincerely intended to remove the Stalinist horrors from the system, but he also used it to apply pressure to the Party bureaucracy by exposing their depredations. He was trying to save the system, not destroy it.
Still, as long as Gorbachev was doing our work--moving things in our direction--I agreed with George Bush that he deserved a carefully cooperative response. But being cautious and wary did not mean I didn't want to make bold moves. I believed strongly that it was now time for innovative thinking and a fundamental review of the basics of American strategy toward the Soviet Union. There were two main areas of the relationship which to me warranted far-reaching moves, ones that would restore the initiative to us and also advance our interests. The first was in Eastern Europe, where nascent moves toward reform might provide us an opportunity to capitalize on the "new thinking" within the Soviet Union in order to loosen Moscow's grip on its satellites. The second was nuclear and conventional arms control--where we would inherit the ongoing strategic arms control negotiations, with the goal of concluding a START treaty, and faced upcoming negotiations as well on conventional forces. I thought these were opportunities for dramatic cuts to not only strengthen strategic stability but also reduce the conventional forces Moscow relied on to control Eastern Europe. We would have to become familiar with the excruciating intricacies of the US and Soviet positions on the issues involved. More fundamentally, we would have to review whether the existing US positions reflected our own philosophy (which we had not yet established) especially about what a START treaty should accomplish, and find the best way to take advantage of the new possibilities unfolding in Eastern Europe.
As I prepared for the presidency late that fall, I thought about the people I wanted to fill the senior posts in the new Administration, those who would bear major responsibility for tackling these questions. I was fortunate to have served under three Republican presidents--Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. I had observed Lyndon Johnson when I was a congressman, and later, from afar, Jimmy Carter. Through their experiences I came to understand how foreign affairs and national security policy-making should function, how to work with Congress, and the challenges of the presidency itself.
I learned the most about the presidency from Ronald Reagan. I did not really know Reagan when he asked me to be on his 1980 ticket, but one of the joys of my life is that I soon got to know him well. He was an example of how you can be a strong leader yet still be a kind and gentle man, something I spoke of as a goal for the nation. He had a few firm principles that guided him and that he repeated over and over again. Everyone knew where he stood on issues such as taxes and the Soviet Union. I marveled at the way he could take complicated problems and then, in penetrating but simple terms, explain his views to the American people.
Reagan demonstrated that leadership need not be equated with a flamboyant style. Some can lead with rhetoric, with great speeches, while others lead by character and example. I never felt comfortable with flowery phrases dreamed up by a speechwriter. I felt that people could see through it if I tried to act the great historical scholar or use extravagant language. I once asked Reagan at one of our private weekly meetings how he managed to get through some of the very emotional speeches he gave. I was thinking of the words he delivered near Omaha Beach in Normandy as he paid tribute to those who had died there. He told me that after he crafted the remarks he would go over them time and time again so that the emotion he felt would be somewhat diminished. By doing this, he found he could deliver the words with meaning, but without breaking down in the middle of them. I never mastered that art. I choked up too easily.
Even if I could not express it as well as Reagan, I knew what I hoped for our country and for the world. I wanted to tackle the big problems facing us, such as lingering superpower confrontation. I was determined to do what I could to make the world a better, safer place, where people would no longer fear imminent nuclear war. Although certainly no expert on the technicalities of arms control, I wanted to reduce nuclear weapons in a way that would not diminish our deterrent capability. It was difficult for me to give dramatic speeches on my vision for the nation. I was certain that results, solid results that would lead to a more peaceful world, would be far better than trying to convince people through rhetoric.
I, too, had my own guiding principles and values. Everything I learned from history, from my father, Prescott Bush, everything I valued from my service in the US Navy reinforced the words "duty, honor, country." I believe one's duty is to serve the country. This can mean not only military service, especially in time of war, but also appointive or elective office. I think it is important to put something back into the system--to get in the arena, not simply to carp and criticize from the sidelines. Honor and integrity also are both very dear to me. Vietnam and Watergate had created an adversarial sense of cynicism among many in the press, who seemed convinced that all public servants could be bought or were incapable of telling the truth, that all were unethical in one way or another. The result was that every rumor is pursued no matter what the truth, no matter how hurtful to innocent parties. Given this climate, I felt it was important that my Administration try not only to have but also demonstrate clearly the highest possible standards. I believe we succeeded and that our Administration was made up of people who respected the offices they held. I know I made mistakes in my years of public service, but when historians review the Bush years, I hope they conclude that I served with honor and integrity.
Besides examples of presidential leadership such as Reagan's, my predecessors offered insights into how the machinery of foreign policy and national security should work. I intended to be a "hands-on" president. I wanted the key foreign policy players to know that I was going to involve myself in many of the details of defense, international trade, and foreign affairs policies, yet I would not try to master all the details and complexities of policy matters. I planned to learn enough so I could make informed decisions without micromanaging. I would rely heavily on department experts and, in the final analysis, on my cabinet secretaries and the national security advisor for more studied advice. A president must surround himself with strong people and then not be afraid to delegate.
At the same time, strong individuals can lead to some practical problems in making and implementing decisions. I had witnessed the inevitable personality conflicts and turf disputes that would spring up between cabinet members, advisors, and departments. I was determined to make our decision-making structure and procedures in the new Administration so well defined that we would minimize the chances of such problems. While the secretary of state is the president's chief action officer and source of foreign policy advice, I envisioned a special role for the national security advisor, who is the manager of the National Security Council. I needed an honest broker who would objectively present to the president the views of the various cabinet officers across the spectrum. If the national security advisor commanded the proper respect, he could resolve many of these inevitable clashes. Thus, I wanted very special and trusted people in these two key policy posts.
My choice for secretary of state was what we call in golf a "gimmie." James Baker and I went back a long, long way. In 1959, when Barbara and I made the 492-mile move from Midland to Houston, Jim became one of my very best friends in our new home town--and our wives were best friends too. Jim was there when the political bug bit me in the early 1960s. He was at my side when, after two terms, I left the House of Representatives in 1970 to run for the Senate the second time. I was beaten by Lloyd Bentsen, but Jim helped me a great deal in that race and in many subsequent campaigns. From our political collaboration, and from many other contacts, including sports, I knew that Jim was competitive and tough. I also saw him face great personal adversity with strength when his first wife died of cancer. I was with him at her bedside, and I was at his shoulder when her suffering finally ended. In whatever he does, Jim is a real fighter and he goes the extra mile. This quality was proved again and again in those endless meetings around the world and in putting together the coalition that fought in Desert Storm. Jim also was, and is, a tough trader and a strong negotiator; I knew he would always tell me directly and forcefully how he felt on various matters.
I also knew that I wanted Brent Scowcroft, another trusted friend, to be my national security advisor. I had worked closely with Brent when he had the position under President Ford and I was director of Central Intelligence (DCI), as well as when I was vice president and he served on various boards and commissions. Thinking that, having already served in the job, he might prefer a different post, I briefly toyed with the idea of persuading him to accept Defense or the CIA. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that putting Brent in the national security advisor job was best for me and for the nation. His reputation, based on his deep knowledge of foreign policy matters and his prior experience, was such that there could be no doubt he was the perfect honest broker I wanted. He would not try to run over the heads of cabinet members, or cut them off from contact with the president, yet I also knew he would give me his own experienced views on whatever problem might arise. In selecting him, I would also send a signal to my cabinet and to outside observers that the NSC's function was to be critical in the decision-making process. There was one additional dimension. I came into office with a vision of the world I wanted to see, but I had no fixed "ten-point plan." Brent more than made up for my failings in arms control and defense matters. He fit the bill perfectly. He was someone who would hit the ground running.
On Sunday morning, November 20, 1988, President-elect Bush asked me to come to the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory for a cup of coffee. When I arrived, I found Jim Baker there as well.
I considered George Bush a good friend, someone I knew well and admired enormously. We had met when I first came to the White House in 1972 as military assistant to President Nixon and he was US ambassador to the United Nations. Our contacts through the end of the Nixon Administration were pretty much limited to cabinet meetings. In 1974, however, when I was deputy to Henry Kissinger in his national security advisor role, President Ford appointed Bush chief of the US Liaison Office in China--the second person to hold the position. The Liaison Office was established in 1972 following Nixon's trip to China and remained the form of US representation in China until the United States and the People's Republic established diplomatic relations in 1979. Since the early days of the Ford Administration, we had frequent interaction, although when Bush went to China it was, of course, mostly by cable or telephone.
It was during his days at the CIA that we developed a close relationship. We had a standing joke--at his expense--that he was our barometer of crises, though not because he was DCI. He would frequently visit his family's summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, for the weekend, and he would always call to inform me he was going. There seemed to develop an uncanny coincidence between his absence from Washington and the eruption of crises. So, whenever he told me he was heading for Maine, I would wonder aloud to him where the inevitable crisis was going to break out.
My background with Jim Baker was more casual. We had known each other since 1975, but the relationship was mostly a bantering one. The banter centered on how we two had tried to deal with Ford's mishap in the 1976 campaign, when, in the San Francisco debate with Carter, he declared that Poland was not dominated by the Soviet Union. That was a traumatic experience. My heart sank into my shoes when I heard him say it, but at the "stand-up" interviews we gave the press immediately after the debate, there were no questions about Poland. I was momentarily encouraged, thinking perhaps we had dodged a bullet. However, by the time we got back to the hotel, what looked like the entire press corps had gathered, demanding an explanation. Baker, as campaign chairman, and I, as national security advisor, were tossed to the wolves. The very first question was how many Soviet army divisions were stationed in Poland. The two of us perspired heavily as we explained what Ford meant to say. It was a tough evening, but it was a bonding experience.
On this cold Sunday morning thirteen years later, President-elect Bush, Baker, and I went into a small study behind the living room, where there was a fire crackling in the fireplace. With very little preliminary exchange, the President-elect asked me to be his national security advisor. The offer came as a total surprise, although I had considered the possibility that I might be invited to join the new Administration. The previous June, he and I had discussed foreign policy strategy and how that ought to appear in his campaign, and I had offered to help in any way I might be useful, without any expectation of a "reward." Given a choice, I probably would have preferred to be secretary of defense, principally because I had already served as national security advisor. However, I was aware of John Tower's aspirations for Defense and, with no hesitation, I said yes to the offer. I considered George Bush the personification of the qualities a president should possess and I was honored and excited to be offered the opportunity to work closely with him.
Another important member of the foreign policy team is the director of Central Intelligence. Here, too, I was certain about what I wanted, for as Ford's DCI I learned the proper role for the director in the national security structure. He is not, and should not be, a policy-maker or implementer, and should remain above politics, dealing solely in intelligence. The only exception to that role, I feel, concerned covert action as part of a specific policy decision. I never asked to be accorded cabinet rank and I felt strongly that the DCI should not even attend cabinet meetings unless they related to foreign and national security policy. When the subject shifted from foreign policy to, say, agricultural policy, I would get up and leave the room. For these reasons, when I became president I decided not to put the DCI in the cabinet.
I also believed that the DCI appointment should not be considered in the same light as other presidential selections. Automatically replacing the director in each new administration would tend to politicize what essentially is a career service that is supposed to be beyond politics. Treating the DCI just as presidents usually treat the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--as continuing through changes in administration--is, under all but the most unusual circumstances, a good formulation. The CIA job should, in my opinion, go to a career employee or to someone instantly compatible with the intelligence community. When Ford named me DCI, I had to work hard to overcome the understandable concern about bringing politics into the agency. I wanted my own choice to send a positive signal to the intelligence professionals. That proved easy. William Webster, who had served with distinction on the federal bench in St. Louis and then as head of the FBI and DCI under Reagan, was serving very well indeed. He had stayed out of politics in both positions. I asked him to remain, confident that he would have the respect of whoever made up our national security team. I was never disappointed in that decision.
Choosing a secretary of defense proved more complicated. Former senator John Tower topped my list. John was an old and loyal friend I had known more than twenty-five years in and out of Texas politics. He was a very strong leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and time and again I had watched him fight for a sound defense policy backed by sound defense budgets. I was certain about Tower's knowledge of the subject of defense, but I had some slight reservations. I wanted to be sure in my own mind that this strong-willed individual would be in harmony with the new national security team. Although some regarded him as an uncompromising hard-liner, those of us who had worked with him knew him to be far more reasonable and accommodating than his public persona suggested.
When I nominated Tower, I had no idea that the confirmation process would deteriorate, and how hurtful and humiliating it would become for John and his family. It also would adversely affect the desire of many good people to serve in Washington. Historically, members of Congress, or former members, are treated with respect, almost deference, by their peers. I was certain, with Tower's long service in the Senate, that he would go through the process easily. I probably knew John better than most of his Senate colleagues did. I had never seen him fail to perform his duties or live up to challenges. The rumors and ugliness that attended the Senate action on Tower were a disgrace. While I did not take the eventual defeat of the Tower nomination on March 9 as a personal one, I sympathized deeply with John and his family. I am proud that I stayed with him until the bitter end. He was a good man. Like anyone, he had shortcomings, but none so glaring that he did not deserve my loyalty, my standing by him when the going got downright tough.
With the Tower nomination shot down in a blaze of partisanship, I moved quickly to find a new, first-class replacement. The lack of a defense secretary had paralyzed policy work at the Pentagon for the first weeks of the Administration, so we had to have someone who would sail through the confirmation process, ideally a member of Congress. I still thought that Brent would be wonderful in the job, but I already knew I needed him badly as national security advisor. I soon decided that Dick Cheney would be ideal, provided he could be talked into leaving Congress and his position of leadership there.
Cheney had not chaired a major committee dealing with national security, as had Tower, but as part of the Republican House leadership and as a ranking member on the Select Committee on Intelligence, he had a sound knowledge of defense matters. Furthermore, he had been President Ford's chief of staff and knew how policy was made. He had a reputation for integrity and for standing up for principles and, at the same time, for getting along with people. He was strong, tough, and fair. I was confident that as secretary of defense he would be skilled and effective at dealing with both the Senate and House, where he was well liked and widely respected. Less than forty-eight hours after the Tower vote, I offered Dick the job, and he immediately accepted. As I hoped, he was quickly confirmed, and like Brent he hit the ground running.
I was delighted with the selection of Cheney, whom I had known since the early days of the Ford Administration when he became deputy to Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld. Then, in the grand shuffle of October 1975, Cheney was made chief of staff at the same time I became national security advisor and George Bush came back from China to head the CIA. Dick and I worked closely together. He was solid, no-nonsense, and practical, with no ego to get in the way of the business at hand. His approach encouraged cooperation from everyone. Following the Ford Administration and after Cheney entered Congress, I helped get him involved in study group activities related to arms control and other strategic issues. The result was that Dick had far more detailed knowledge of defense issues than was evident from his formal committee assignments.
The other national security principal is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The term of office of the chairman is fixed by law at two years, and Admiral William Crowe was just past the halfway point. As he is primarily an advisor, not a policymaker, I viewed the chairman as a career officer and above the usual political pressures. I was impressed with Bill, and retained him. He gave us strong support until he retired at the end of September 1989.
When Crowe announced he would be leaving, Cheney suggested I appoint Colin Powell to replace him. I first got to know Colin when he was national security advisor to President Reagan. He was easy to like, and easy for all to get along with. We soon became friends. He has a great sense of humor, which got us through a lot of tense times. But while Colin was an excellent choice, I was concerned on two accounts. First, I worried about elevating him too fast, about jumping him, a junior four-star general, ahead of other very qualified senior officers. Then I wondered whether it was actually the right step for Colin at this stage of his service. Perhaps a senior command might be better. He was young enough to serve as chairman later. Cheney was adamant--and persuasive. Needless to say, I never regretted my decision to appoint him.
Colin came on board on October 1, in the middle of the continuing crisis over Panama's stolen election and, within a few days, a coup attempt against its dictator, Manuel Noriega, by a member of his own security guard. Later, in December, I watched him during the sensitive planning for the operation to save American lives, bring Noriega to justice, and restore Panamanian democracy. When he briefed me, I found there was something about the quiet, efficient way he laid everything out and answered questions that reduced my fears and gave me great confidence. I admired his thoroughness, and above all his concern for his troops--something that came through again and again in planning for Desert Storm and during our humanitarian operations in Somalia.
I first met Colin when he was serving as executive officer to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, although our contact at that time was fleeting. Our paths next crossed shortly after he became deputy to National Security Advisor Frank Carlucci, when we shared a podium at the National War College discussing the NSC system. I was impressed at that time with his management views and the orderliness of his mind. That impression was reinforced during the transition to the Bush Administration, when I replaced him as NSC advisor. The replacement was managed with great ease, as a simple, low-key shift of responsibility. He had in mind exactly what I wanted to know and I, having been in the job before, gained insight into his views about foreign policy and national security, which I found broadly compatible with my own. I did worry whether his appointment, as a very new and young four-star, would cause problems regarding his acceptance by the military, especially given his "White House connections." I need not have worried; there was nary a ripple. Powell was unfailingly imperturbable, even when the situation or the conversation became tense. He managed brilliantly the sometimes awkward relationship between the secretary of defense and the chairman in NSC discussions with the president, serving as an NSC principal alongside his own immediate boss.
Two other important individuals, though involved mainly in domestic policy, contributed to our foreign policy team--Vice President Dan Quayle and Chief of Staff John Sununu. Both were bright and very interested in arms control, and over the years their advice would prove extraordinarily helpful.
While choosing the right people at the top is important, giving them leeway in picking their associates is vital as well. Jim Baker had told me that he wanted Lawrence Eagleburger as his deputy secretary of state. I was enthusiastic about the idea. Larry was a distinguished and outstanding career Foreign Service officer. He had a great deal of practical experience--having served abroad as an ambassador and in key State Department positions in the Ford and Reagan administrations.
Baker and I spoke about his selection of a deputy. He mentioned several people, including Eagleburger, and asked what I thought. I told him there was no one else, in my judgment, as qualified as Eagleburger. I had been somewhat surprised when Baker first mentioned his name. Larry and I were extremely close, both personally and professionally, and we both had a long association with Henry Kissinger. Baker could have been uneasy about the possible implications of such a situation. I think it showed great strength of character that he swept all the negative possibilities aside and went for the best man. I was--and still am--impressed by his taking that step. The addition of Larry tremendously facilitated and improved the business of national security policy-making and execution.
Like Baker, I was also selecting my own staff. The NSC staff is small and it is my philosophy that people should join it with the expectation that they will be working incessantly and under constant pressure. When they feel they can no longer sustain the pace, it is time for them to move on. It is essential that each member carry his or her full load. I believe that good personnel can make even a poor organizational structure work, but that even a good structure cannot compensate for poor personnel.
My top priority was selecting a deputy. I needed an alter ego, someone who had broad substantive background, knew the NSC system, understood how the executive branch operated, and, last but most important, had the confidence of the President. I directed my focus to Robert Gates, deputy director of the CIA. I had brought Gates into the NSC as a junior staffer during the Ford Administration. He also had served on the NSC during the Carter Administration and thus knew the business well from the perspectives of different presidents. Bob had been nominated by President Reagan to be DCI at an extraordinarily young age. Immediately he had become enmeshed, unfairly, in the Iran-Contra net. At a time of great national emotion, Gates, rather than persisting in order to vindicate himself (something accomplished by his confirmation as DCI in 1991), had the courage to withdraw so as not to risk embarrassing his president. President-elect Bush, of course, knew him, and when I raised Bob's name, gave his enthusiastic endorsement.
The team the President had selected proved a close one. Most had served together before, and brought enormous experience to the Administration. There was a deep camaraderie among us as well. I think this quality set apart the Bush Administration from any other I knew, and certainly from those in which I served. These were strong personalities, yet egos did not get in the way of the nation's business. A genuine sense of humor made jokes and respectful kidding part of the daily routine, and eased even the most difficult crises. It was an informal--but, at the same time, deadly serious--crowd. This was also true within my NSC staff. Although most had not worked together in the past, their bonds became tight at the beginning of the Administration as we tackled the review process, and a good-natured humor developed among us. I soon felt--and still feel--an affection for each of them.
As January arrived and the inauguration approached, I saw Brent nearly every day for what we called "look-ahead" sessions. He came up to Camp David (which President Reagan would generously allow me to use when he wasn't there) on January 2 to talk about the opportunities and challenges ahead of us. In that relaxed setting, especially during the course of long walks through the snowy woods around the camp perimeter, we ruminated on the Soviet Union, arms control, and a general policy review. We were not trying to reach any conclusions, only spell out what was needed and set up our priorities. I was eager to get moving.
Soon thereafter, on January 9, I had a long talk about the Soviet Union with Henry Kissinger, John Sununu, Jim Baker, and Brent. I have great respect for Henry's knowledge of history and for his analysis. He spoke of a need for a grand design and, though he was too polite to say it, it was clear that he felt we lacked a broad strategic concept in our approach to Europe and the Soviet Union. Kissinger was also pushing to set up a separate informal channel with Moscow, something other administrations had used, perhaps with himself as the contact. I was wary. I wanted to be sure we did not pass the wrong signals to Moscow, with some in our Administration saying one thing while others were conducting secret negotiations that might be sending out contradictory signals. Although helpful, back channels can leave critical people in the dark on either a forthcoming policy decision or the details of some conversation between the President and a foreign leader.
While I hesitated to use anyone as a formal back channel, I had left the possibility open when Gorbachev at Governors Island had designated Dobrynin to fill the role. I did take advantage of Kissinger's upcoming trip to Moscow to send along a personal note to Gorbachev. I thanked him for the attention given to Jeb and my grandson during their visit to Armenia. I also underscored the remarks I had made to him during the UN visit and explained that the new team would have to take some time to reflect on the central issues of the Soviet-American relationship--particularly arms control. I thought it was also important to lift our dialogue beyond simply arms control matters to the important issues of the larger relationship we wanted to create.
I agreed with Kissinger. I was a strong proponent of back channels as a means to bypass the bureaucracies on both sides and a way to ensure instant contact with Gorbachev. But Dobrynin, whom Gorbachev had already tapped, came closer to filling both those requirements than did Kissinger. In January, Baker and I met with Dobrynin at Baker's house in order to exchange views and discuss what arrangements would be needed. As it turned out, the channel did not really bear fruit, despite a number of efforts on my part in succeeding months to use it. Dobrynin became ill early on, and perhaps being out of circulation at a time of personnel changes in the Soviet Union had reduced or eliminated his access to Gorbachev. I regret that we lost an informal avenue of communication like those which served us so well with the British, French, and Germans.
A few days after his return from Moscow, Kissinger sent us a detailed and fascinating account of his extensive talks with the Soviet leadership and offered us an insight into Gorbachev's thoughts. The Soviet leader said he welcomed a confidential dialogue with the Administration and added that he took the fact that the President-elect had approached him even before the inauguration as a sign of good faith and a serious commitment to a dialogue.
Gorbachev told Kissinger there would be no Soviet pressure regarding START, but he thought the political dialogue could begin as early as March. He outlined a number of international problems, especially in Europe. "My view is that we should keep an eye on Germany and by that I mean both Germanies," he said. "We must not do anything to unsettle Europe into a crisis." He did not elaborate. As for Eastern European reform efforts, life was bringing certain changes no one could stop, and that applied as well to Western Europe. But both sides should be careful not to threaten each other's security. That was the spirit in which he would approach the dialogue.
Gorbachev dictated a reply for Kissinger to take back to Washington: "I am ready to begin an exchange of views taking into account the need to harmonize our policies in international matters. I greatly appreciate the message, especially that a confidential channel has been opened even at this early stage." From the tone and content of the message, it seemed clear that he wanted to establish a positive atmosphere and was ready to pick up immediately from where the Reagan Administration had left off.
Kissinger wrote in his report that, as he got up to leave, Gorbachev grew pensive. "I lead a strange country," he had told him. "I am trying to take my people in a direction they do not understand and many do not want to go. When I became general secretary, I thought that by now perestroika would be completed. Instead, the economic reform has just begun. But one thing is sure--whatever happens to perestroika, this country will never be the same again." Kissinger asked him how, as a product of the old system, he could be so determined to change its premises. "It was easy to see what was wrong," said Gorbachev. "What is harder is to find out what works. But I need a long period of peace." Kissinger concluded that the Soviet president was treading water with perestroika, and that he was looking to foreign policy as a way out. He also believed Gorbachev was willing to pay a reasonable price to that end.
Meet the Author
George Bush was President of the United States from 1989 to 1993. He lives in Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine.
Brent Scowcroft was National Security Advisor under Presidents Ford and Bush. He is president of The Scowcroft Group, Inc., an international consulting firm, and president of the Forum for International Policy, a nonprofit foreign policy foundation, both based in Washington, D.C. He lives in Maryland.
From the Hardcover edition.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
This book is a terrific account of the international relations during the Bush presidency. German Unification, the Gulf War, arms treaties with Russia, and the dismantling of the Soviet Union are discussed. The reader gains an appreciation for the complex politics involved, and for the critical role played by Bush and his team. The book claims to be focused on the decisions and negotiations and thought processes, but it is also an excellent factual account of the events.