Tuesday, January 02, 2007

How The Iraq Wars Shaped The Presidencies Of Father & Son

An interesting analysis and think-piece that explains why the theme of how the Iraq Wars shaped the presidencies of Bush Snr and Bush Jnr will fill bookshelves of new tomes set to arrive in time for the end of George W.'s White House stay and for years to come.

It's a remarkable historical fit : that a father and son could both become presidents of the United States, and both end up in dramatic, decisive wars with the same country, ruled by the same dictator.

From the Washington Post (excerpts) :

The day after he ordered a cease-fire and brought the Persian Gulf War to a close, President George H.W. Bush ruminated about the status quo he had left behind in Iraq.

"Still no feeling of euphoria," he dictated to his diary Feb. 28, 1991.

Saddam Hussein, he recognized, remained a threat. "He's got to go," Bush concluded.

It took nearly 16 years, but he's finally gone. And with Hussein's execution in Baghdad, so is the chief nemesis of the Bush family, a man who bedeviled father-and-son presidents and in different ways dominated both of their administrations. The long, tortured arc of the Bush-Hussein relationship that shaped recent U.S. history finally came to a close with the snap of a noose.

The cost of overthrowing Hussein and ending his reign of terror continues to mount, and few in Washington hold out faith that that will change anytime soon.

"The sacrifice has been worth it," Bush said at a year-end news conference nine days before the execution. A few moments later, he added: "I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out." He stopped himself. "I mean, I've questioned it -- I've come to the conclusion that it was the right decision."

...the history of animosity between the Bushes and Hussein is hard to ignore. The relationship actually began as one of pragmatic friendship in the 1980s, when Hussein was at war with the main U.S. enemy in the region, Iran, and George H.W. Bush was vice president in an administration that offered him help. A 1992 New Yorker article suggested that Bush, through Arab intermediaries, advised Hussein to intensify the bombing of Iran.

Hussein soon became too much to handle. "People came to understand him as someone who was much less stable and someone who could not be trusted," said Craig Fuller, chief of staff to the elder Bush when he was vice president. Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 proved a strategic miscalculation that put him and the Bushes forever on opposite sides.

The elder Bush wrongly assumed that Iraqis would overthrow Hussein, and his decision not to march to Baghdad after freeing Kuwait would haunt him and his son. An unbowed Hussein defied the international community, and in April 1993, when Bush went to Kuwait for a hero's welcome, a group of Iraqis crossed the border in what was called a thwarted attempt to kill him. President Bill Clinton launched 23 Tomahawk missiles against Iraqi targets in retaliation.

At Bush's first National Security Council meeting after taking office, he seemed to some aides to be ready to go. "From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary, later told CBS News. In Ron Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," O'Neill was quoted as saying that Bush told aides to prepare to remove Hussein: "That was the tone of it, the president saying . . . 'Go find me a way to do this.' "

Others on the inside came to a similar conclusion. In a memo in March 2002, Peter Ricketts, a top British official, sounded skeptical of U.S. motivations: "For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam."

That impression was fueled by both father and son that fall. "I hate Saddam Hussein, and I don't hate a lot of people," George H.W. Bush told CNN. "I don't hate easily, but I think he is -- as I say, his word is no good, and he is a brute. He has used poison gas on his own people. So, there's nothing redeeming about this man, and I have nothing but hatred in my heart for him."

Six days after that aired, his son mused about Hussein at a Texas fundraiser. "There's no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us," he said. "There's no doubt he can't stand us. After all, this is the guy that tried to kill my dad at one time."

Bush later talked with then-Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) aboard Air Force One about assassinating Hussein, saying he would repeal the executive order banning assassination of foreign leaders if intelligence gave him a clear shot. "The fact that he tried to kill my father and my wife shows the nature of the man," Bush told interviewers in March 2003. "And he not only tried to kill my father and wife, he's killed thousands of his own citizens." But he denied a vendetta. "Nah, no," he said. "I'm doing my job as the president, based upon the threats that face this country."

....in his White House study, the president keeps a memento -- the pistol taken from Hussein when he was captured. If there ever was a duel, it is now over.