Magazine article Newsweek

The Bushes' Saddam Drama

Magazine article Newsweek

The Bushes' Saddam Drama

Article excerpt

Byline: Howard Fineman

Evil was on the loose in the world, President George W. Bush had told the country, and on his first Thanksgiving in office--November 2001--he was on his way to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to dine with newly trained troops heading out to fight the (evil) Taliban in Afghanistan. In the conference room aboard Air Force One, we talked about evil. "Is Saddam evil?" I asked. Glancing across the table at his aides, he demurred. I asked again; again, a demurral. We went on to other topics. Several exchanges later, Bush interrupted an answer to blurt out a declaration: "By the way, Saddam is evil!"

When the history is written, the saga of the Bushes and the Butcher of Baghdad will be a central thread of the family's story--and of America's at the millennium. It is not personal in the literal sense; neither President Bush ever met Saddam. True, intelligence sources (not all of them necessarily reliable) said Saddam tried to have Bush 41 killed in 1993. And in 2002, drumming up support for the approaching second gulf war, Bush Two called Saddam the "guy who tried to kill my dad." Still, there is no evidence that the Bushes loathed Saddam, and I am told that Dad remains skeptical about the purported assassination plot. "It's not like 'the Hatfields and McCoys'," says a family friend who doesn't want to risk his relationship being quoted by name.

But it is "the Realists and the Neocons." For both Bushes, dealing with Saddam became a way to measure presidential manhood--and to express profoundly different views about the world.

For Bush One, manhood meant a hard-boiled (critics said cynical) restraint. He always made it his business to know all things geopolitical, long before--and certainly after--he took over as head of the CIA. As Ronald Reagan's vice president, he hewed to the CIA view of Saddam, which was that, as sadistic as he was, he had his uses as a counterweight to fundamentalist Iran. …

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