(01-18) 15:50 PST HOUSTON, CA (AP) --
Written By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press
Associated Press January 18, 2011 03:50 PM
Former President George H.W. Bush said Tuesday he has no regrets about his administration's handling of the Gulf War, which began 20 years ago this week, including the decision pull out American forces even with a vanquished Saddam Hussein retaining power in Iraq.
During an interview with The Associated Press, Bush said he is comfortable that the war is considered the defining moment of his presidency and is relieved the loss of American lives was minimal after critics warned "thousands of body bags" would be needed.
Bush said the objective was always to drive Saddam's forces from Kuwait, not force the Iraqi leader from power.
"I don't think we could have done anything differently," Bush said. "I would have liked to see Saddam Hussein do himself in in some way, but that wasn't our objective."
Bush said if he had pushed to oust or kill Saddam, he would have risked losing support from many other countries that backed the war after the invasion of Kuwait.
James A. Baker III, Bush's secretary of state, joined Bush in his office during the interview. Baker said changing the mission midstream would have been disastrous.
"We would have been breaking our word to the rest of the world," Baker said. "You would have been turning a war of liberation into a war of occupation."
Bush, Baker and other members of the administration involved in the war effort are planning to commemorate the anniversary of the 1991 conflict Thursday at Texas A&M University, home of Bush's presidential library about 100 miles northwest of Houston. Among those scheduled to join them were former Vice President Dan Quayle, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, former Joints Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell and Bush's national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft.
The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber al-Sabah, was among Kuwaiti dignitaries scheduled to attend.
Bush said while he runs into his former colleagues from time to time, the reunion would be a first for a close team that accomplished "a real pristine job of going in there, doing what we said we would do and then come home."
Notably absent would be Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces, whose health is preventing "a great hero" from attending, Bush said.
Bush said he believed Rev. Billy Graham was in the White House the night of Jan. 16, 1991, when the air assault began. They watched TV coverage.
"And we heard them say bombs were going off," Bush said. "There was great apprehension that a lot of kids would die. And some did. But thank God it wasn't near what had been predicted.
"I think any time a president has to commit somebody else's son or daughter into harm's way it is a tough decision. You worry about it. But we were convinced ... that we had to do this. We had to send a message we were going to enforce the UN resolutions and liberate the country."
Bush and Baker recalled the struggle to convince a Democratic-controlled Congress the war that would be dubbed Desert Storm was the right decision after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
"Comments that thousands of body bags were being made right now, and just on and on it went, arguing that this was going to be a bloodbath for many, many people," Bush said.
"They were beating up on us so much." Baker recalled. "How can you do this? How many thousands of people going to be killed? But not only that, how can you spend the resources of the country on this adventure when people are going hungry and our domestic situation and blah, blah, blah."
He said at Bush's direction, he and other administration officials "went around the world with a tin cup," securing $15 billion from the Kuwaitis, another $15 billion from the Saudis, and billions elsewhere.
"We got this war paid for to a large extent by the people whose bacon we were saving," Baker said. "This was the first and only war in the history of the country we got other people to pay for."
The U.S. tab was "$10 billion for a war that ended up costing $70 billion," Baker said. "Yes, we paid our share and we lost 370 brave young Americans. You can't put a price on that, but this is the first and only war in the history of the country we got other people to pay for."
Bush said he remembered New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wondering why he would waste "American blood on sheiks living in a hotel." Baker said French President Francois Mitterrand responded to his pitch by asking: "How in the world can I spill French blood for a man who has 13 wives and grows roses?"
"Democrats were saying some worse things," Baker said. "But this was the first time since Vietnam America had gone to war in the substantial way we did. And it really ended the Vietnam syndrome."
Bush and Baker said some opponents later would acknowledge their criticism was wrong.
"It was far better than we had feared," Bush said of the outcome. "We feared it would go badly. But it went far more clean ... far more quickly, far less loss of our lives and Iraqi lives, than we worried about. It was very rewarding.
"We said what we were going to do, did it, took a moral message around the world, liberated a country, and sent a message in the process that the United States was willing to use force way across the world, even in that part of the world where those countries over there thought we never would intervene. And I think it was a signature historic event."
"It doesn't seem like 20 years," Baker said.