George H.W. Bush Was So Bored by Peace He Wanted to Quit

A new biography says Bush “suffered from a post-victory despondency after the Persian Gulf war of 1991.”

U.S. President George H. Bush addresses the 91st annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Baltimore, Monday, August 20, 1990. Bush declared for the first time that 3,000 Americans trapped in Iraq and Kuwait are hostages, and he will "hold the government of Iraq responsible for the safety" of those being held. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
Photo: Doug Mills/AP

A new biography of George H.W. Bush is getting a lot of attention, mostly because of Bush’s criticism of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. But there’s another revelation from Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush that is considerably more important and far-reaching.

Bush, according to the account in the New York Times, “suffered from a post-victory despondency after the Persian Gulf war of 1991 — a ‘letdown’ over no longer being involved in such a huge endeavor.”

“On March 13, 1991, just two weeks after Iraq capitulated in the gulf war, Mr. Bush fantasized in his diary about calling it quits after a single term,” the Times reported.

Quoting from Bush’s diary: “Maybe it’s the letdown after the day-to-day” 5 a.m. calls “to the Situation Room; conferences every single day with Defense and State; moving things, nudging things, worrying about things, phone calls to foreign leaders, trying to keep things moving forward, managing a massive project. Now it’s different, sniping, carping, bitching, predictable editorial complaints.”

That’s right: Bush was so bored without a war to fight that he considered retiring rather than slog through another dreary day of being President of the United States.

What’s even more important, and even more frightening, is that it’s not just Bush. It’s most of official Washington, D.C. that finds peace unbearably dull, and war the only thing that lends zest to their gray lives. In August 1990, as the mobilization for the Gulf War began, R.W. Apple Jr. wrote in the New York Times:

The obituaries were a bit premature.

There is still one superpower in the world, and it is the United States. … Washington is not the backwater that it seemed to some when the action was all in the streets of Prague or at the Berlin wall. …

In a hot, humid month when much of Washington is on vacation, there is a rush of excitement in the air here. In news bureaus and Pentagon offices, dining rooms and lobbyists’ hangouts, the fever is back — the heavy speculation, the avid gossip, the gung-ho, here’s-where-it’s-happening spirit, that marks the city when it grapples with great events.

”These days, conversations are huddled,” said Stan Bromley, the manager of the Four Seasons Hotel, where King Hussein of Jordan stayed. ”People are leaning closer together. It’s serious business.”

And this goes for the British political world too. Lance Price, Tony Blair’s deputy communications minster, wrote in a memoir that Blair was stimulated by killing Iraqis, in Blair’s case in Operation Desert Fox in 1998:

“I couldn’t help feeling TB was rather relishing his first blooding as PM, sending the boys into action. Despite all the necessary stuff about taking action ‘with a heavy heart,’ I think he feels it is part of his coming of age as a leader.”

David Cameron’s government was unhappy enough about this truth leaking out that when Price’s book was published in 2013 it forced him to rewrite this passage.

It’s all just further proof that Adam Smith was right was he wrote this in The Wealth of Nations 239 years ago:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. … They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Regular people hate war, because they pay the price. But powerful people love it. That’s why there’s so much.

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