George H. W. Bush: “Personal Diplomacy Can Be Very Useful and Productive”

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


china-diary-bush.jpg One week ago, George Bush told the Israeli Knesset that those who would negotiate with “terrorists and radicals” are akin to appeasers of the Nazis. It was a clear jab at Barack Obama and his stated willingness to sit down with leaders of rogue states. John McCain later echoed Bush.

Forget the fact that Bush once offered to sit down with the president of Sudan, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Forget that Israel is now negotiating with a rogue state, Syria. Forget that James Baker, a man John McCain once called “the smartest guy know,” said in 2006 that negotiation isn’t capitulation.

This may best all of those in the irony department. On the cover of a new book titled “The China Diary of George H. W. Bush: The Making of a Global President,” edited by Jeffrey A. Engel, our 41st president is quoted as saying, “I was a big believer then, and still am, that personal diplomacy can be very useful and productive.” That’s not a quote from the diary, which covers Bush’s time as the head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing from 1974 to 1975. It’s from a preface Bush penned specifically for this book.

In that preface, written in October 2007, Bush points approvingly to President Nixon’s willingness, in 1972, to be “the first American leader to speak directly with his Chinese counterpart, Mao Zedong.” The young Bush chose to go China, instead of London or Paris, in part because relations with China were still new. He could not formally be an ambassador because “we still did not have formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.”

He cites the personal relationship he cultivated with Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s as an asset in his presidency. “I took some hits for not being tougher on the Chinese,” he writes, “but my long history with Deng and the other leaders made it possible for us to work through the crises without derailing Sino-American relations, which would have been a disaster. I was a big believer then, and still am, that personal diplomacy can be very useful and productive.” At no point in the preface does Bush object to establishing relations with a tyrannical regime. Presumably his son, and the current Republican presidential candidate, would disagree.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest