President George H.W. Bush Answers Student Queries
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
President George H.W. Bush agreed to answer seven questions from Scholastic students shortly after leaving office in 1993; these were selected from several hundred questions.
When you were a kid, what were some of your hobbies? -- Caitlin Christian, Mrs. Clark's 2nd Grade, Chipeta Elementary School, Colorado Springs, Colorado
President Bush: As a kid, I loved the outdoors. During the summer, one of my favorite activities was going out on the ocean to fish with my grandfather. I also loved sports — including soccer, baseball, and tennis. These days, I'm more fond of horseshoes and golf — but every once in a while, I still get out on the tennis court.
What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your administration? -- Miss Bohnett's 8th Grade, Centerville Jr. High School, Fremont, California
President Bush: It's difficult to limit it to one because so much historic change took place during my four years in office — from the West's victory in the Cold War to the revolution of freedom and democracy that spread across Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere.
But if you'll let me cheat on this one, I'd have to say two accomplishments stand out: The first is the way we put together a historic international coalition in conducting Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Working with more than 30 nations from around the world, we restored the rule of international law and ejected a brutal tyrant, Saddam Hussein, from Kuwait. He was wrong to invade Kuwait, and we were right to make him leave.
The second is a treaty I signed with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in January of 1993. It was the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty our country had signed with Russia, so it was called START II. We put a lot of hard work into it, and our joint efforts committed the United States and Russia to dismantling thousands of nuclear weapons which previously were aimed at each other.
I have grandchildren your age, and it was for you and for them that I wanted to help to make the world a safer place to live. This treaty, in my view, goes a long way to accomplishing that purpose.
In your opinion, what was the toughest decision you had to make as President? -- Bradyn Breon-Drish, Shawn Smith, and Katherine Sullivan, Mrs. Mefford's 5th and 6th Grade, Horace Mann Elementary, Ottumwa, Iowa
President Bush: The toughest decision I made occurred on the three separate occasions I committed American troops to combat (Panama, the Persian Gulf, and Somalia). It was very difficult for me to send someone else's mother or father, brother or sister, or son or daughter into harm's way. I don't mind telling you that, like other Presidents faced with similar situations, I found great comfort in prayer.
Sometimes doing the right thing isn't easy, but our Nation has a heritage of standing up for principle and fighting for good. I hope that will never change.
During the Gulf War, why didn't the United States go all the way and stop Saddam Hussein? We are concerned because he seems to be able to still cause problems. -- Bebe Oh, Newington Forest School, Springfield, Virginia
President Bush: We did not "go all the way" in Desert Storm because at no time was that the purpose of the mission. It's complicated, so let me tell you why.
When our diplomatic efforts to convince Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait were not successful, the United States and our coalition partners obtained explicit authorization from the United Nations to remove the Iraqi military from Kuwait by force — but not to eliminate Saddam Hussein or to change the government.
As I mentioned before in Question 2, our coalition consisted of more than 30 countries — some of them were from the Arab world. Iraq is an Arab country, and a number of those coalition partners never would have supported the U.S. and other Western nations overthrowing an Arab government just because they don't like it.
Anyway, by the time we finished pushing the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, they were in such bad shape that most of their troops were, in effect, defenseless. The United States does not massacre helpless people simply to prove a point.
Furthermore, if we had gone into Baghdad to look for Saddam Hussein and to establish a government more favorable to our point of view, two things would have happened. First, our coalition would have shattered, and our Arab friends would have lost their trust in the United States. Second, American troops would have been bogged down in a very dangerous kind of urban warfare, and I was not going to let that happen to our people.
The UN Resolutions were limited for a purpose. I believe that because we respected and adhered to them the way that we did, we gained a great deal of goodwill and credibility that later enabled us to restart the peace process between Israel and her Arab neighbors. So a lot of good has come from it.
It's a complicated matter — diplomacy usually is — but I am convinced we did the right thing when we stopped the war. (1)
Do you miss being President? -- Mrs. Helene Saul's 6th Grade Girls, S.A.R. Academy, New York, New York
President Bush: I am very happy as a private citizen now, but there are a few things that I miss about my previous job. First and foremost, I miss working with our great military — the dedicated men and women who serve in uniform.
I also miss working with leaders in our country and around the world to help solve problems. When you are president, you meet with a lot of people and get a lot of assistance to help you make good decisions. I was fortunate to have a lot of very talented and decent people working with me. We had a great team.
(Incidentally, Millie misses the White House because she had such a big yard in which to play!) (2)
My friend Brett sits and dreams of being a baseball player and wants to know if you thought about being a president when you were 10 or 11? Do you think that I could be a lady president when I grow up? Do you think that our country will accept women as presidents? -- Eva Lewis and Brett Anderson, 5th graders, Denver, CO
President Bush: I don't know when I first thought about running for president. I don't think it was during my childhood, though. It may have been sometime after I served as Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China.
To Eva, I think you or any young lady who puts their mind to it can become president. Today we have a number of very talented and respected women from across the political spectrum serving as governors and senators and elsewhere in government.
I remember working with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain. They called her the "Iron Lady." She was a strong leader, as well as a good friend to the United States.
So, yes, I think women can serve as President. I think when one does run who has the right ideas and character the American people are looking for, she'll be elected. Who knows — it may be sooner than you think.
How does it feel to have two sons involved in politics? What advice could you give a young person aspiring to be president today? -- Dream Lake Elementary, Apopka, FL
President Bush: It has been a great joy for Mrs. Bush and me to see our two sons — George W. in Texas (3) and Jeb in Florida (4) — get involved in public service. Both are good people, and they are going to be superb leaders. So you can put us down as two very proud parents.
I don't know if I have specific advice for anyone who wants to be president, but I will encourage you always to do your best at whatever you do. Be a doer, not a critic. Stand for something. If you don't like the way things are, get involved and help change them. Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Good luck to each and every one of you. Study hard, and listen to your parents, even if they tell you to eat your broccoli!