DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – SMU Professor Jeffrey Engel says as president, George H.W. Bush helped prevent the world from melting down at the end of the Cold War.
Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at SMU, says he came to that conclusion after obtaining declassified documents from Mr. Bush’s presidency.
He says the documents surprised him and shaped his new book, “When The World Seemed New,” which took him ten years to research and write.
Engel says, “The overall headline of the book, and the entire Bush Presidency is: this was a much, much, more dangerous, tumultuous, and chaotic period than we even knew. And that it took a calm, prudent, quiet, experienced president to keep the peace.”
He says the documents give details not reported at the time, between 1989 and 1991, of just how President Bush was able to keep the peace after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. “What we didn’t know was all the late night, two hour phone calls between President Bush and Margaret Thatcher of Great Britian, between President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev essentially to work through these ideas quietly behind the scenes to work out all the really complex issues.”
Among the thousands of memos he discovered, one written to the President by then National Security Advisor Brent Scrowcroft saying, “We are about to enter into the most crucial period for American diplomacy toward Europe since the formation of NATO in 1949.”
Engel says Scowcroft and President Bush believed the only way to keep Europe peaceful was to keep American troops in Germany. “So Bush essentially cuts a deal with Chancellor Helmut Kohl that the U.S. would support unification which is what Kohl wanted, if Kohl gave them back a promise that Germany would remain in NATO, essentially in the Western camp. That way America would know they too could play in Europe to keep the peace going forward.”
He says it is a lasting legacy of peace when you consider Russia today. “If we think Vladimir Putin is reckless and rambunctious now, imagine what he would do if American troops were 8,000 miles away and not 80 miles away.” Jack Fink: “The world would look very different.” Engel: “The world would look like a much more dangerous place.”
Engel says even if Americans realized how much President Bush worked behind the scenes to keep world peace, he says he doesn’t believe that would have changed the outcome of the 1992 election.
The professor says he had to know which documents to request. “We had more documents under review for declassification in our cue than at the rest of the presidential libraries combined.”
He says he is still waiting for tens of thousands of documents that he requested. “The truth of the matter is the American declassification system is completely broken. Our country has a national fetish with secret documents and classified documents and there is every incentive in the world from our government agencies to keep things classified because you never get into trouble.”
But even after Engel finally receives the documents he requested, he says he won’t write a second book.
Review declassified documents:
Watch the full interview with Professor Engel: