National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Bush-41 Defends Bush-43

WASHINGTON — With Iraq falling apart, it’s getting lonely at the top for President Bush.

His hawkish neo-con advisers are deserting him. He had to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Democrats have won control of Congress. U.S. allies are angry at his Iraq policies.

And even Henry Kissinger — one of Bush’s foreign policy advisers and a key architect of the Vietnam debacle — has decided that Iraq is a can’t-win situation. He earlier had told Bush that "the only exit strategy is victory."

Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, has come to his defense. It’s Bush-41 rushing to rescue Bush-43.

 It’s widely assumed that when Bush named his father’s close friend and confidante — James A. Baker — as co-chairman of a bipartisan 10-member Iraq Study Group, he was looking for a diplomatic retreat from the Iraqi dilemma. After all, Baker was secretary of state in the Bush-41 administration and knows his way around the Middle East. Both he and the senior Bush have hobnobbed together in the region representing the Carlyle Group, the privately-owned conglomerate that sells weapons, among other items.

In the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, Baker and Brent Scowcroft, Bush-41’s national security adviser, warned against the war, triggering speculation that the duo were surrogates for the senior Bush who did not want to publicly take issue with his son — especially on such an important issue.

That public loyalty was on full display last Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Republics, when the former president was confronted by a female Arab critic during a question-and-answer session after he spoke at a leadership conference.

She bluntly told him: "We do not respect your son. We do not respect what he is doing all over the world."

An Associated Press account said that Bush appeared stunned at the attack and the hostility of the audience which "whooped and whistled in approval."

The nettled Bush replied: "My son is an honest man.

This son is not going to back away. He’s not going to change his view because some poll says that, or some heartfelt comments from the lady who feels deeply in her heart about something.

"You can’t be president of the United States and conduct yourself if you’re going to cut and run. This is going to work out in Iraq. I understand the anxiety. It’s not easy."

A father’s sensitive defense of his beleaguered son is understandable. But Bush senior is also a seasoned politician and knows the stunning upset of the Republican regime in the Nov. 7 mid-term election is a mandate for change that is being read as a public call for withdrawal from the war.

The elder Bush, an eminently more cautious president who held off liberating Kuwait in 1991 until he had the backing of a 28-nation coalition and a half million military men and women in the Persian Gulf, has generally refrained from discussing the current war. And he had the good sense not to carry the first Gulf War to Baghdad after kicking the Iraqis out of Kuwait.

Despite his father’s experience and foreign policy expertise, the president has said he only seeks the advice of a "higher father."

Whatever advice Bush is following has led this country into a quagmire of intolerable carnage.

Don’t expect any dramatic recommendations from the Iraq Study Group led by Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind. The nine men and one women on the panel are cautious Washington insiders who got picked for the job because of their don’t-rock-the-boat reputations. After all, they might want to get asked again, sometime in the future, to serve on another White House commission.

This is unfortunate because the dire mess in Iraq demands bold action by the U.S. The real solution is a cakewalk out of Iraq tomorrow. The world would stand in shock and awe.

All it takes is courage.


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