Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

David H. Culbert


George Bush entered the presidency constantly compared and contrasted with his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. Lacking Reagan's eloquence and adept use of the media, Bush was lambasted by the press as Reagan's "lapdog" and labeled a "wimp." The press pushed Bush to establish themes to match policy goals and to use the bully pulpit to lead the national debate on issues. His refusal prompted journalists to characterize the Bush presidency as lacking an agenda. Reagan's success with the media and Bush's failure have produced a misconception about the successes and failures of each president's policies. Thus, the period usually is referred to as the "Reagan-Bush years," indicating that Bush's term can best be explained as Reagan's third term. This distinction is partly a result of the misconception that the Cold War was basically over by the end of the Reagan administration and that Bush merely signed agreements Reagan had already negotiated. This ignores the instability of the Soviet Union, as well as the potentially explosive situation in Central and Eastern Europe, that still existed when Reagan left office. This dissertation explores how differences between Ronald Reagan and George Bush affected the end of the Cold War, examining Bush's use of the media, the restructuring of the National Security Council, the subsequent fundamental shift in foreign policy approach to the Soviet Union, and the use of personal diplomacy in the reunification of Germany and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Bush led a transition: a transition from the Cold War to a post-Cold War world. Bush's diplomatic strengths proved as great as his media skills and domestic agenda were weak. Bush and his advisors managed the end of the Cold War, helping it end not with a bang, but a peaceful whimper. This dissertation is funded by a Peter and Edith O'Donnell Grant from the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and is based on interviews with Bush administration officials such as Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Colin Powell, Marlin Fitzwater, and Jack Matlock, plus many recently declassified documents.