Most important: Managing change is more important than provoking it, and one manages change best by concentrating on people rather than on ideas. This is why Bush was so unpopular with the media and the intellectual classes while he was president: They wanted action, ideas, brilliant abstractions; whereas he focused on lots of personal phone calls to world leaders even when there was no crisis, so when a crisis came he had them in his pocket.
To wit, when the Chinese Communists killed large numbers of students at Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989, the Bush Administration reprimanded Beijing, which angered the Chinese. But because Bush decided not to break or permanently downgrade relations with Beijing, that angered the intellectuals in New York and Washington. But it was Bush’s middle path that safeguarded change in China and helped prevent a more sustained crackdown that might have set China back years. Indeed, by not humiliating Beijing, he encouraged the continuation of economic reforms that would transform the face of China — and Asia — for the better. And the Chinese leaders respected his views not only because he was the president but also because of the many years he had already spent in consultation with them while serving in other government positions (as the U.S. chief liaison to China and head of the Central Intelligence Agency).
Because of the way the Communist empire in Europe collapsed — suddenly, and on the whole peacefully — it is assumed that this was natural. It wasn’t. The Kremlin allowed its empire to collapse because of two overarching reasons: the particular moral character of Mikhail Gorbachev and the calculated restraint of the Bush White House that was careful not to beat its chest over the fall of the Berlin Wall and thus provoke a Soviet military reaction. Bush’s greatness was in the dog that didn’t bark.