The war between Bush and Bush

In matters of foreign policy and war, it's like father, not so like son.

Published August 2, 2006 5:29PM (EDT)

When it comes to matters of global conflict, tales of ideological and strategic fault lines between father and son have been woven into a kind of mythology in the years since the junior George Bush took office. The latest installment arrives in today's New York Times, where Sheryl Gay Stolberg, like many others, leans on an anonymous source to deliver the inside dope. "When they first met as United States president and Israeli prime minister, George W. Bush made clear to Ariel Sharon he would not follow in the footsteps of his father," Stolberg reports. "The first President Bush had been tough on Israel, especially the Israeli settlements in occupied lands that Mr. Sharon had helped develop. But over tea in the Oval Office that day in March 2001 -- six months before the Sept. 11 attacks tightened their bond -- the new president signaled a strong predisposition to support Israel. 'He told Sharon in that first meeting that I'll use force to protect Israel, which was kind of a shock to everybody,' said one person present, given anonymity to speak about a private conversation. 'It was like, Whoa, where did that come from?'"

Stolberg goes on to say that the president's embrace of Israel "represents a generational and philosophical divide between the Bushes," evident in comments from the elder Bush's coterie of advisors and loyalists. Richard N. Haass, who counseled the elder Bush on the Middle East and later served as a senior State Department official during George W. Bush's first term, said of the White House's handling of Israel and Hezbollah, "The current approach simply is not leading toward a solution to the crisis, or even a winding down of the crisis."

In a speech Monday in Miami, Bush reiterated the reasoning behind sitting back while Israel continues to escalate its assault on Hezbollah inside Lebanon, a campaign that now includes a large-scale ground invasion. "The current crisis is part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East," Bush said, returning to the never-distant theme he has used to define not only his foreign policy but his presidency: "For decades, the status quo in the Middle East permitted tyranny and terror to thrive. And as we saw on September the 11th, the status quo in the Middle East led to death and destruction in the United States, and it had to change."

Notwithstanding the mirage of weapons of mass destruction, that may have been a more candid acknowledgment of why he chose to invade Iraq, rather than hew to his father's policy of containment of Saddam Hussein. Of course, Bush's top lieutenants have played a key part, too -- which is perhaps why the elder Bush allegedly mounted a secret campaign earlier this year to oust Donald Rumsfeld from the helm of the Pentagon. As Salon columnist Sidney Blumenthal reported in June (citing an unnamed source himself), Bush's father "went so far as to recruit Rumsfeld's potential replacement, personally asking a retired four-star general if he would accept the position." But his attempt was "apparently rebuffed by the current president."

However accurate the various depictions of ideological infighting among the Bushes -- Dad was no stranger to military adventurism -- the carnage darkening the geopolitical landscape in the time of George junior is undeniable. Any responsible father would be seriously worried. And concerned citizens, Republican and Democrat alike, may well find themselves longing for the other side of that generational divide.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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