A couple of days ago we passed the tenth anniversary of Operation Desert Fox, when U. S. Air Forces, under then president Bill Clinton, tried to take out Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
Of course, there probably were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) then. We learned that when the next president, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. But, at the time, that was irrelevant to me. I never for a second thought that the invasion had anything to do with WMD. As far as I was concerned it had always and only been about Saddam Hussein.
In 1998, while Operation Desert Fox was underway, I was talking to George W. Bush regularly on the telephone, I told my wife that if he became president we would have another war with Iraq.
Years before, in 1987-88, I reported directly to George W. Bush. He was helping his father’s presidential campaign. I ran some of the coalitions. And when George W. went out on the road I was often his traveling companion. He loved his father. Well, it was probably a love- hate relationship but he wouldn’t have known that. He was also intimidated by his father. His greatest fear was to be diminished or humiliated in front of his father. Believe me, I could tell you stories.
And then, when the Bush family was out of power, after the White House years were over and Bill Clinton was president, and the dad, the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush, was invited for a triumphant visit to Kuwait, the country he had defended against Saddam Hussein’s aggression, there was a terrible moment. We learned that Saddam Hussein had dispatched a team to assassinate him.
The Bush family felt so helpless. It is a scary thing to be a target of a head of state. A state has resources that the richest people in the world don’t have.
And what did President Bill Clinton do? How did he respond? He fired off a cruise missile to take out an anti-aircraft battery in Baghdad.
After 9-11, when they asked President George W. Bush what he was going to do about the terrorist attack, he told a group of Senators, “I’ll tell you what I’m not gonna do. I’m not gonna fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”
That’s how Clinton had responded when Saddam Hussein had tried to kill Bush’s father. It had seemed to the family like a pretty pathetic reaction. Not much of a deterrent.
I remember going out to eat with one of the Bush sons during the first Gulf War. We ate at Maxims in Paris. His wife, the president’s daughter in law, was going to Madrid the next day. And she wanted to take one of the kids with her because if one of the president’s grandkids went along, she would have Secret Service protection. But the kids wanted to stay in Paris with the dad, the president’s son.
I will never forget what was going on at that table. There was fear. I hadn’t expected that. But I could feel it in the conversation. And then I realized how vulnerable they all were. And this was when the father was president. How much more vulnerable they would be out of power when none of them would have protection except the former president, himself.
The Bush family knows more than most first families. They know what it feels like to be in power but they also know what it feels like to be out of power once you have had it. How helpless you are.
That’s why I told my wife that George W. Bush would invade Iraq if he became president because it would be his one chance to take out Saddam Hussein, the man who tried to kill his father, but also because he wanted to make the world a safer place for his daughters too. They would have no protection after the White House, unless the law was changed. Having a second chance at power, George W. Bush would not waste it. He would take care of business.
Bush the younger was always strong, always tough. In 1987 a reporter asked me to describe him and I said he was the sort of guy who could kill Old Yeller. You remember Old Yeller? That was the dog in the Disney movie who was beloved by the family but had turned rabid. Someone had to kill him. But they all loved him. George W. Bush would say, “Old Yeller, I love you, son, you been loyal, but you gotta go.” Bang! And he would sleep like a baby that night.
And then, remember. I was doing my study of presidents’ children. This was ongoing for almost 20 years. And presidents’ kids had a way of seeking the approval of the parent by “completion” that is, doing the thing that the father hadn’t done.
For example, Theodore Roosevelt confessed to his wife that his greatest disappointment in life was that after all his heroics in battle he hadn’t won the Medal of Honor. Well, his sons went out there, risking their lives, one died in his twenties in World War One, two others were seriously wounded. And finally, one of them, TR, Jr. won the Medal of Honor for valor in World War Two.
It is called completion. And it happened over and over among all sons of presidents.
So I wasn’t surprised when George W. Bush bought his ranch in Texas. His father had been accused of being a phony Texan. His real home was Kennebunkport, Maine, they said. He just kept an address at the Bayshore Inn in Texas so he could vote there. But the son proved that Bushes were real Texans.
And the father broke his pledge. “No new taxes.” And the people were irate. But the son kept his pledge. He never raised taxes. He bankrupted the country and printed billions of new dollars, which devalues the money people have in their pockets, he nationalized the insurance industry and banks, but he didn’t raise taxes.
The father wasn’t re-elected. The son was.
And, of course, the father left Saddam Hussein standing. The son took him out. It’s called completion.
Paul O’Neil, the Secretary of Treasury for George W. Bush says that at the first Security Council Meeting of the new George W. Bush adminstration, there was a discussion that Saddam Hussein had to go. No one asked why now? What is this all about? And Bob Woodward describes a cabinet meeting just before the invasion of Iraq when Bush asked around the table, one by one, “Is this personal? Is this personal? Is this personal?” And everyone said, “No.” What a weird moment. Why would it be personal to anyone? Except the president, himself?
Just before the war in Iraq, Uday Hussein issued a chilling statement. “Let not he who attacks us think that his mother or children will be safe.”
I was watching television when I heard this. And at that moment I knew that not only would Saddam Hussein die, but both of his sons would die as well. Bush, himself, was a son and he knew how dangerous it would be to leave the sons living.
When U. S. forces invaded Baghdad, they occupied the palace of Uday Hussein. And in a room in a basement they found a large collection of pornography. Plastered on the wall was a poster of the Bush twins. The president’s two daughters.
I am not saying that Saddam Hussein is a good man. But I am not convinced that so many others had to die to avenge a father. Ironically, there are WMD in North Korea. And there will be WMD soon in Iran. But George W. Bush never considered war against either country.
“Remember,” Bush said, in a rare moment of transparency, just before the invasion of Iraq, “This man tried to kill my dad.”