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Is Bush Turning Back the Clock for Iraq Help?

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Is Bush Turning Back the Clock for Iraq Help?

Politics

Is Bush Turning Back the Clock for Iraq Help?

Is Bush Turning Back the Clock for Iraq Help?

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Despite White House denials, many in Washington think it looks like President Bush is turning to his father's old political team for help with the issue of Iraq.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

If you need advice on a tough situation, you could do worse than to ask your dad. And if that doesn't seem like a good solution for you, maybe you could call on your dad's advisers. President Bush met yesterday with the Iraq Study Group. That's the bipartisan panel examining U.S. strategy. It's led by James Baker, who was secretary of state to Mr. Bush's father. Now, advisors to the first President Bush have always played some role in this administration, but rarely so much as now.

Here's NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE: For quite a while, the plot line had people who had worked for President Gerald Ford playing the big roles in the current U.S. policy in Iraq: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, who was Rumsfeld's deputy, all worked for Ford. But these days, a new plot line is developing. If you look at the cast now shaping Iraq policy, a good number used to work for this man.

President GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Kuwait is liberated. Iraq's army is defeated. Our military objectives are met. Kuwait is once more in the hands of Kuwaitis, in control of their own destiny.

GREENE: President George H. W. Bush's team did include Dick Cheney, who was then defense secretary, and who then talked a very different line about Iraq. After Kuwait was liberated in 1991, Cheney spoke out against sending ground troops into Baghdad. He said it would be dangerous.

Vice President DICK CHENEY (Former Secretary of Defense): They would get mired down inside Iraq, in a conflict that's been raging for generations, in the interest of trying to dictate who's going to govern in Iraq. That is not something that we are prepared to see American forces do.

GREENE: That was in a 1991 interview with NPR, in which Cheney also said:

Vice Pres. CHENEY: For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who's going to govern in Iraq, strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire.

GREENE: The secretary of state back then was James Baker. After the U.S. decided not to remove Saddam Hussein in 1991, Baker took a lot of criticism for leaving Kurds and Shiites in Iraq exposed to Saddam's brutal vengeance. He responded with sympathy, as in this interview onboard a helicopter in the region.

Mr. JAMES BAKER (Former Secretary of State): It's very important that there be a massive international effort to address the suffering and the emergency nature of the plight of these people.

GREENE: Fifteen years have passed, but now the elder Bush's foreign policy team is coming back. The elder Bush's CIA Director Robert Gates has been nominated to be secretary of defense after serving several months on the Iraq Study Group. If confirmed by the Senate, Gates is expected to bring some of the thinking of the study group to his new job. The group's chairman, James Baker, has been a critic of current policy, saying the U.S. should have kept the Iraqi army from disbanding and done more to secure weapons after Saddam's fall.

Mr. BAKER: I think we've learned that if we're going to do this, we could not do it on the cheap. And of course, that's one of the reasons that back in 1991 in the first Gulf War, we really never seriously entertained the idea of taking down the regime, which would have involved going to Baghdad, occupying that big Arab country.

GREENE: That was Baker last month on the NPR program FRESH AIR. The man who succeeded Baker as the first President Bush's secretary of state was Lawrence Eagleburger. Now he's back, too, taking Gates' place on Baker's panel. The current President Bush met with the Iraq Study Group yesterday and said it was a good session.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I was impressed by the questions they asked. They are - they want us to succeed in Iraq, just like I want to succeed.

GREENE: His Press Secretary Tony Snow, meanwhile, was taking questions about whether dad's advisors have been brought in to turn around an unpopular war.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): This is not bringing in people, willy-nilly, from his president's administration, quote, "to save him." Wrong.

GREENE: By the way, Tony Snow's first tour of duty at the White House was as a speechwriter for President Bush's father.

David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

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