President on Inexorable Course
By Ann Devroy
But Bush's closest aides had said from the outset that he suffered from no doubts about the rightness of his course, was in no way tortured about using American military might, and saw the conflict in stark, moral terms.
From the beginning, Bush described Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as an evil man who had to be stopped. In his first speech to the nation on the war, Bush, a veteran of World War II, compared this period facing America to the 1930s, when Hitler came to power and Europe looked the other way.
Throughout the crisis, Bush was the hawk in his own administration. When aides drafted a speech for him to deliver in Rhode Island in August, he rewrote parts of it on Air Force One, toughening the language attacking Saddam. At the end of October, when Bush suddenly escalated his rhetorical assault on Saddam in an effort to refocus public attention on the gulf crisis, a chagrined adviser privately acknowledged that the president had gone even farther than aides had intended.
In ordering what he last night called "the final phase" of the war against Iraq, Bush turned aside the final chance to settle the conflict on lesser terms than those he set when he launched the air attack on Jan. 16. He made clear that the only acceptable end result was total withdrawal without conditions, the restoration of the government of Kuwait and a new stability for the region.
While yesterday's launching of the ground war against Iraq was a dramatic moment in the Bush presidency, the atmosphere inside the White House reflected the inevitability of a decision already made, a study of daily management of a war leading inexorably from one step to the next. It was the launching of the air war five weeks ago that had the feel of history.
That was the week when Bush brought the Rev. Billy Graham to spent the night and pray with him on the eve of hostilities. But once the war had begun, the White House, and the president, returned in many ways to at least the appearance of routine operations, this week offering an energy package and a budget presentation, with Bush attending a series of ceremonial events and heading off to Camp David for the weekend.
Bush, the president who entered office pledging to manage the peace that the collapse of the Soviet empire would bring, instead has now authorized and managed two wars -- the short conflict in Panama and the commitment of a half-million U.S. troops to the largest conflict since Vietnam. He has turned upside down the conventional wisdom that he would provide a cautious contrast to President Ronald Reagan, who had the image -- not necessarily reflected in reality -- of a "warmonger."
When Bush first called on the nation last August to support the U.S. moves in the gulf, he said that at times in the life of a nation, its people are called on to "define who we are and what we believe." The world, he said, would turn away from the new era of peace at which it was poised if Saddam's "aggression" were not thwarted. "No one," Bush said, "should underestimate our determination."
That Bush was determined both to reach his goals, and to chart each step along the way, was clear over the last six months. His passionate interest in foreign policy and lack of interest in domestic policy, obvious to most of his close aides over the past two decades, was on daily display.
The president ran the big-picture part of the policy, making dozens upon dozens of phone calls and hosting numerous meetings, visiting the allies himself, and sending Secretary of State James A. Baker III on a string of missions. Bush said he would leave the daily progress of the war to the military, and no evidence has emerged to contradict that.
At times over the past six months, according to his aides, Bush has been exhausted, and at times energized. But he has never shown regret from the launching of the effort that led to yesterday's final chapter, the order to "use all forces available, including ground forces, to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait."
© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post