Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, and President George H.W. Bush was assembling an international coalition to counter him. But for two days in November 1990, the leader of the free world was stuck listening to nearly three dozen world leaders deliver speeches in Paris at a meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. (Bush had attended mainly to try to meet one-on-one with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.) John H. Sununu, then Bush’s chief of staff, recounts in his new book how the president managed to pass the time:
Bush went above and beyond the demands of diplomatic protocol. He sat calmly and politely through all thirty-five of the speeches, some of them excruciating in their length and tedious in their depth. He passed some of the time creating limericks, some of them quite bawdy, about a few of the speakers on the podium. He passed them back to [National Security Adviser] Scowcroft and me with a serious look on his face as if they were important instructions, and we all shared knowing glances. I made sure to destroy all the notes. The only lines I clearly remember, or maybe the only ones I am subconsciously willing to divulge, were one that started, “There was a big Chancellor from Bonn. . .” and another than ended “Only Dennis, her husband, could catch her.”
At the time, the West German chancellor was Helmut Kohl, while the husband of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher — note the last name rhymes with “catch her” — was Sir Denis Thatcher.
Apparently the president was not the only top official in the George H.W. Bush administration with a poetic bent. In an oral history with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, then-Deputy National Security Adviser Robert M. Gates recalls a White House meeting during the Gulf War in which secretary of state James Baker was similarly inspired:
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life was the night the SCUDs were launched into Israel we’re all sitting there in Scowcroft’s office and Baker is writing obscene doggerel to ease the tension. And he’s posting these little limericks around the room. And I’ve kicked myself so many times for not grabbing several of those, because I sure as hell would have put them in my book, because they were really funny. I mean, there we are, with a great danger of the coalition shattering if Israel retaliates. Israel has never not retaliated in an attack and we’re eating pizza and Baker, the secretary of state, is writing limericks.
John H. Sununu’s book, “The Quiet Man: The Indispensable Presidency of George H.W. Bush,” will be published by Broadside Books on June 9.
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