Did 41 disagree on Iraq?


Geraldine Sealey
April 7, 2004 1:51AM (UTC)

The New York Daily News today quotes a new book on the Bush family, which says President George H.W. Bush opposed his son's decision to invade Iraq. The book, released today, is "The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty," by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, who were apparently given unheard-of access to the Bush family, including President Bush the elder.

The book cites a summer 2002 interview with the older Bush's sister, in which she says her brother had expressed his "anguish" about the administration's preparations for war. "But do they have an exit strategy?" the former president reportedly asked.

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From the Daily News, which added its own reporting: "'Although he never went public with them,' the authors assert, 'the President's own father shared many of [the] concerns' of Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser and a leading war opponent Close friends and associates said the older Bush, while fiercely proud and protective of his son, nevertheless harbors concerns about the war and its aftermath. These sources told The News that aside from his 'exit-strategy' fears of a prolonged, bloody conflict, the ex-President is troubled that the war fractured the international coalition he painstakingly assembled to expel deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. One close associate said the older Bush feels Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may have pushed President Bush too hard for a preemptive strike One well-placed Bush colleague said the older Bush recently acknowledged, 'I'm having trouble with my boy,' referring to Iraq."

But just last week, President Bush the elder gave what has been described as a "tearful speech" to the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association annual convention, in which he condemned the "elites and intellectuals on the campaign trail" who dismiss the "progress" Iraq has made since the overthrow of Saddam. Bush 41 called the progress in Iraq "a miracle" and the inability to recognize this progress "deeply offensive and contemptible."

"Iraq is moving forward in hope and not sliding back into despair and terrorism," he said. (He spoke before the mutilation of Americans in Fallujah last week and the violent insurrection in Sadr City over the weekend.) Complaining about the media coverage of his son as "something short of fair and balanced," the former president reportedly fought back tears.

Needless to say, journalists would be derelict in their duties if they did not scrutinize the unstable situation in Iraq, the administration's failure to find WMDs, pre-war intelligence and so forth. These are blunders of historic proportions, and chronicling and questioning them does not constitute unfairly attacking the president. But it must be difficult for a parent to watch, of course, especially if said parent did not agree with the decision to go to war in Iraq to begin with, as the Schweizers claim.

In the N.Y. Daily News, though, a top Bush aide denied the allegations in the Schweizer book, saying that Bush the elder supported his son on the war in Iraq without reservations "from the very first day." It's always possible the authors got it wrong. But the Schweizers come from a unique position, they interviewed Bush relatives, friends and former aides without preconditions, and according to the review on Publishers Weekly as reprinted on Amazon, their book puts a positive spin on the history of the Bush family. Given the Schweizers' access and general friendliness toward their subjects, it won't be as easy for the Bushes to diminish their reporting like the other "elites and intellectuals" who say things they don't want to hear.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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