Facts are stubborn. Legacies are malleable and almost invariably created partially on facts but largely on spin. On August 1, 1991, President Bush spoke to the Verkhovna Rada of Soviet Ukraine. Here is a particularly damning excerpt of what he said:
Some people have urged the United States to choose between supporting President Gorbachev and supporting independence-minded leaders throughout the U.S.S.R. I consider this a false choice. In fairness, President Gorbachev has achieved astonishing things, and his policies of glasnost, perestroika, and democratization point toward the goals of freedom, democracy, and economic liberty.
We will maintain the strongest possible relationship with the Soviet Government of President Gorbachev. But we also appreciate the new realities of life in the U.S.S.R….
Freedom requires tolerance, a concept embedded in openness, in glasnost, and in our first amendment protections for the freedoms of speech, association, and religion — all religions…
Yet freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.
And so, President Bush did not support Ukrainian independence. In fact, on December 1, 1991, more than 90% of the population of Ukraine voted in favor of independence, but President Bush held back. There was no support for independent Ukraine. Finally on Christmas day, December 25, 1991, President Gorbachev resigned de jure dissolving the USSR after the meeting of the three presidents, Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich two weeks earlier had dissolved it de facto. Only then did President Bush recognize Ukrainian independence.
Recently a new book was published entitled George H.W. Bush and American Foreign Policy Transforming Our World, edited by two close associates of the former president, Andrew S. Natsios and Andrew H. Card Jr. who today are employed by the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the George & Barbara Bush Foundation respectively. On the topic of this August 1, 1991, speech by the former president, they write:
Bush’s refusal to endorse Ukraine’s independence movement-for which he was widely criticized-was a consequence of intelligence reports that a coup attempt against Gorbachev might be orchestrated by the old order in the Kremlin. . Had Bush pressed for Ukrainian (and other parts of the Soviet Union) independence, the coup attempt that eventually did take place against Gorbachev might well have succeeded earlier and a reactionary cabal reasserted control in the Soviet Union, which would have ended Bush’s efforts at remaking the international order.
Believe it not, if more publications about President Bush the elder pick up this version of history, this will become a part of accepted history and President Bush’s legacy of a wise architect of an international order that helped President Gorbachev bring about a new international order will be forever preserved.
The facts however are different. Firstly, President Bush might have shared his intelligence with his friend. President Gorbachev was vacationing in Crimea at the time of the attempted coup. Had he known he certainly would have prepared for it. It strains credulity that President Bush knew of the imminent coup and failed to advise his friend and ally.
Secondly, more than four months after the aborted coup, four months after Ukraine proclaimed independence and three weeks after an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians voted for independence, all as noted, and after half the world had recognized Ukrainian independence, President Bush recognized reality. This was hardly the effort of a President favoring Ukrainian independence, but reluctant to do so at a time when a coup appeared to be imminent.
Why disparage President Bush, essentially a good man, by insisting upon the truth. Because otherwise society has no need to study history, its lessons become irrelevant, and the nightmarish world of George Orwell’s 1984 becomes reality. The truth after all must have a place in our world. Otherwise, we have nothing. There is no God, no morality, no good over evil. It becomes a world created not by an omnipotent being but constructed by historical criminals like Hitler, Stalin and Putin today. We must be better than that.
September 20, 2021 Askold S. Lozynskyj