ABC News reports:
Former president George H.W. Bush forcefully defended his son's handling of the Iraq war Thursday, saying critics of the current president have forgotten the "extraordinary brutality" of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?" the elder Bush told USA TODAY in a rare interview. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? I don't know what they are talking about here. Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"
Bush, 83, was interviewed in a replica of the White House Situation Room at his remodeled presidential library. The Bush Presidential Library and Museum, on the grounds of Texas A&M, is reopening Saturday after an $8.3 million renovation. The added features include the Situation Room and an interactive computer program that allows visitors to consider options Bush weighed during the Gulf War.
In one key decision, Bush rejected calls to topple Saddam, instead declaring the war over after Iraqi forces withdrew from Kuwait. The program calls the idea of going to Baghdad "very tempting" but says it "would have been a disastrous decision," splintering the international coalition and leaving U.S. and possibly British troops on their own in Iraq.
"It's not second-guessed quite so much today, but it was second-guessed" at the time, Bush said of his judgment that combat should end. "But the coalition was formed with my word to the various international leaders, 'The objective is to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait,' " not some further-reaching goal.
Bush dismissed a question about whether his son should have used similar reasoning before invading Iraq in 2003. Saddam fled into hiding, was captured and executed after a trial. About 165,000 U.S. troops remain deployed there during the war's fifth year.
Other analysts have made the comparison, however. "Historians, I believe, will say he made a wise judgment on what could be expected if we went into Iraq," presidential historian Robert Dallek says. "By contrast, Bush 43 has found his presidency ruined, one might say, by this Iraq war."
The elder Bush reacted testily when asked about criticism of his son. "I don't reminisce with … my friends like you about what my son does or doesn't do," Bush said. But "I think we forget even today the extraordinary brutality of Saddam Hussein."
Including his plans to assassinate the elder Bush?
"Well, that didn't endear him to me at all," he said.
The former president rarely agrees to interviews, although he appeared on Fox News Sunday this week and taped an interview with C-SPAN Thursday to talk about his revamped library. Questions like those raised by USA TODAY are one reason he generally eschews the press, he said.
"You're here to talk about the library," he said, not about the current president. "He has my full, unequivocal support. I feel about him great respect for what he's doing and tries to do, and I think much of the criticism is grossly unfair. … That's a father caring about his son and his president."