There's a lot of stuff in this new biography of George H. W. Bush, especially about his relationship with and opinions of many of the people who would later shape his son's administration. But mostly, this has got me thinking about his own administration, and my growing suspicion that with another few decades, he may be looked back on as a surprisingly good, and underappreciated, president.
Some of the things which happened on his watch, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, were clearly not things for which he could claim the lion's share of credit. But as one of the major secret hands moving the latter days of the Reagan administration (remember that, before being Vice President, Bush I was head of the CIA; thus the name of the CIA's current headquarters building, which always raises eyebrows, the George Bush Center for Intelligence), he certainly was a significant player in the latter days of the Cold War.
Of course, this includes a lot of pretty mixed stuff; he was almost certainly one of the major actors, if not the major actor, behind the entire Iran-Contra Affair (the investigation into which miraculously dried up just after he was elected, just before it would have reached the highest levels of the conspiracy). His invasion of Panama was rather overtly a cleanup after CIA operations.
But on the other hand, his war in Iraq was a strategically subtle move, first luring Hussein into an attack and then countering it in a way which mostly returned to the status quo ante, but which created an opportunity for long-term US positioning in an extremely strategic area of the world. And he leveraged the alliance he created for that to achieve a number of other goals – not least, in being the real force behind the start of the peace process in Israel. (Whose ultimate failure I can't blame on him at all; he gave it the best start that anyone possibly could have.)
The histories of five decades from now will probably dig up considerably more dirt, and remember the Bush I presidency as a time of extremely complex, foreign-policy–driven conspiracies and covert actions, with net results which were positive largely insofar as the conspiracies were conservative: that is, they didn't go for grandiose aims ("Democratize the Middle East!"), but rather aimed for well-defined, although not always obvious, tactical goals.
I don't think he'll be remembered as one of the great presidents by any means, but I suspect that our analysis of his presidency will, in the long term, be considerably more positive than many people today (or even more, in the aftermath of his 1992 electoral defeat) may guess.
(His son, on the other hand, is fairly likely to be remembered as a member of that other rather rarefied stratum of US Presidents, together with such luminaries as Zachary Taylor, Herbert Hoover, and James K. Polk: people that we are somewhat embarrassed were ever allowed anywhere near the reins of power. Some kinds of foolishness, overweening pride first among them, do not lead to good memories upon sober re-examination.)