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Commentary: President Bush May be Trying to Avoid Appearances of Wobbling on his Iraqi Stance

All Things Considered: September 4, 2002

Going 'Wobbly'



DANIEL SCHORR:

At dinner last Saturday at that Aspen ranch of Henry Catto, former ambassador to Britain, he recalled the daylong meeting of President Bush Sr. and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in his house on August 3rd, 1990, the day after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

NPR News analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: The president had said before leaving Washington that, `We're not discussing intervention. I am not contemplating such action.' Thatcher told him, `George, this is no time to go wobbly.' At the ensuing joint press conference, Bush, his spine stiffened, said he was considering steps to end the naked aggression, and thus he started down the road to war.

Today, Bush Jr. agonizes about how not to be perceived as going wobbly if he does not soon make good on his many suggestions, a forceful action to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein. Bush has so far not presented convincing evidence of an imminent threat nor proof of Iraqi support for the al-Qaeda terrorists. That makes it difficult to assemble decisive congressional, public and international support without which military action is somewhere between difficult and unfeasible.

So now with Secretary of State Colin Powell for the first time openly acknowledging a split in the official family, the president seems to be embarked on an effort to back off his limb of pre-emption. He is soliciting the advice of Congress, the American people and the international community. After his meeting this morning with congressional leaders, he stressed a wish for open dialogue about our future and how to deal with it. He said that in his speech to the United Nations on September 12th, he will talk about ways of making sure that Saddam Hussein, who has been stiffing the world, can be made to fulfill his obligations. No mention of armed action or even regime change, which, in any event, would not survive a veto in the Security Council.

His retreat, if that's what it is, will have to be carefully orchestrated if it is not to cause him political damage. He could embrace the Powell idea of revived weapons inspection as a first step without giving up the idea of military action as an eventual recourse. The question is how to carry this off without being labeled by the hawks as `wobbly.' This is Daniel Schorr.

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