Symbol of a lost order

The passing of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, from 1989 to 1993, is an occasion to contextualise the current turbulence in the world, especially in liberal democracies. Three events — the first Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union — that occurred on his watch set in motion a global churn that remains with us. It was his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who gave a rhetorical flourish to America’s pursuit of global dominance in the 1980s with his depiction of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”, and his call to “break that wall”.

Bush, his Vice President and then successor, was not known for any rousing oratory, but one phrase he coined, a “new world order”, turned out to be defining, initially for its triumph, and now for its decline. “A new era, freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace…

Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we’ve known,” he said before the war that evicted Saddam Hussein’s invading army from Kuwait. His address in 1990 before a joint session of Congress was on September 11, a date that would become a haunting symbol of the world that we now live in, new but not in the manner that Bush had hoped.

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