WASHINGTON D.C. – Flags flew at half-staff in Washington Saturday as Americans prepared for a week of solemn tributes to George H.W. Bush, in his home state of Texas and in the US Capitol, a day after the former president died aged 94.
Tributes poured in from world leaders in memory of the 41st US president, who guided America through the end of the Cold War and launched the international campaign to drive Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.
Many of those same leaders are expected to attend Bush’s state funeral next week, alongside President Donald Trump and his wife Melania. Trump was notably absent from the funerals of the statesman’s late wife Barbara, and of veteran fellow Republican John McCain.
Although the two Republican presidents were in many ways polar opposites — the soft-spoken, patrician Bush reportedly once dismissed the blustering New Yorker as a “blowhard” and even voted for his rival Hillary Clinton — Trump paid the late leader a gracious tribute, saying he had “inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service.”
“His accomplishments were great from beginning to end,” Trump tweeted.
Declaring a national day of mourning for December 5 — when the federal government and New York Stock Exchange will close in Bush’s honor — Trump also signaled his respect by calling off a press conference planned at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Funeral arrangements are still being finalized, but will include a commemoration in Houston, where the Bushes lived for years, then in Washington, where he will lie in state in the US Capitol between Monday and Wednesday, and then back to College Station, Texas, where the Bush presidential library is located, for his burial.
A statement from a joint military task force supporting the state funeral promised a “first-class tribute,” complete with musical units, color guards, honor cordons and body bearers.
Bush, who died Friday in Houston surrounded by friends and family, was a decorated World War II pilot, skilled diplomat and onetime CIA chief who saw his son George follow in his footsteps to the Oval Office.
From former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to current heads of state, leaders praised Bush both for his strength and his moderation, as well as the commitment to internationalism typified by his assembling of a global coalition to oust Iraqi invaders from Kuwait in 1991.
– ‘Grace, civility and social conscience’ –
Paying tribute, the oldest surviving former US president Jimmy Carter, said Bush’s administration “was marked by grace, civility and social conscience.”
With flags at half-staff at the White House, Britain also took the rare step of lowering flags in government buildings.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised Bush’s “unwavering support for German reunification.” Gorbachev called him “a true partner” in winding down the Cold War.
French President Emmanuel Macron mourned the loss of a leader who “strongly supported the alliance with Europe” — drawing an unspoken contrast to Trump’s frequent criticisms of the Old Continent.
George W. himself paid tribute to “a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”
Bush, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, had been wheelchair-bound and in failing health. He is survived by his five living children and 17 grandchildren.
According to Bush’s longtime friend and former secretary of state James Baker, quoted by The New York Times, Bush’s final words were to his son George, who was put on the speaker phone to say goodbye, to tell him he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.
“I love you, too,” Bush replied.
New World Order
Born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts into a wealthy New England political dynasty, Bush left school to join the US Navy during World War II.
He flew 58 combat missions and was shot down over the Pacific by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.
He returned home and graduated from Yale University before briefly working in the Texas oil industry.
But the world of politics was calling this son of a US senator.
He served in the US House of Representatives, as Washington’s envoy to China and as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency before being elected Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
Eight years later, in accepting his party’s nomination for president in 1988, Bush pleaded for a “kinder, and gentler nation.”
Bush was a foreign policy pragmatist who led the United States through the turbulent end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union.
He declared a “new world order” in 1990 and — backed by a 32-nation coalition — drove Iraq from Kuwait with a lightning air and ground assault.
The crushing sanctions he imposed on Iraq, however, were blamed by Iraqis for thousands of deaths, drawing him the bitter nickname of “Mr. Embargo.”
And Panamanians said his invasion of their country in 1989 claimed hundreds of civilian lives.
But it was primarily a weak economy at home that cost him the 1992 election, won by upstart Democrat Bill Clinton.
Bush later would see son George occupy the Oval Office, making them only the second father-son duo in American presidential history, after John and John Quincy Adams.
In his later years, Bush turned to philanthropy, joining forces with Clinton to raise funds for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and with ex-presidents Clinton, Carter, Barack Obama and son George to raise money for hurricane victims in Texas in 2017.
“I am profoundly grateful for every minute I spent with President Bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life’s greatest gifts,” Clinton said in a statement.
“America has lost a patriot and humble servant in George Herbert Walker Bush,” said Obama and his wife Michelle.
By Agence France-Presse