Newly released files show Hussein tried to broker last-minute peace deal
(COLLEGE STATION, Texas – MSNBC) — Former President George H.W. Bush defended the decision to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War on Thursday and said his own adviser's criticism of his son's policies and invasion of Iraq in 2003 didn't bother him.
Bush said disagreements on policies "go with the territory" as president.
Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser under the elder Bush, maintained in the run-up to the invasion that it wasn't clear that Hussein was part of the global terrorism network
"You can't worry about that," Bush told NBC News anchor Brian Williams in a roundtable discussion on the 20th anniversary of the start of the war. "You can't worry about the differences. They're bound to happen, bound to take place."
Former President George H.W. Bush, Scowcroft and and other key members of his foreign policy team gathered at Texas A&M University before an expected audience of several thousand people, including Gulf War veterans, to discuss the conflict, which started Jan. 17, 1991.
Asked about the selling of the war, and the opinions of some that it was about protecting oil supplies, Bush told NBC News it was a moral war.
Morality of war
"I think (economics) was vitally important, but I don't think that was the whole message by a longshot," Bush said. "It was the immorality of a big country — with the fourth-largest army in the world — taking over a member state of the U.N., just brutally taking it over."
James Baker, secretary of state under Bush, said it was "appropriate to use all the arguments" in favor of the war. "We were doing the right thing," he said.
Bush said there was never a thought of extending the war by going into Baghdad after Hussein, and no one in leadership advocated it.
"We had an objective. The objective was to kick this guy out of Kuwait and we did it. And we formed a coalition to help conceive that. It didn't enter my mind that we should do more."
Colin Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the elder Bush and secretary of state under George W. Bush, said the attacks on 9-11 "fundamentally changed the calculus by which you measure Saddam Hussein and what capabilities he might have."
"From my perspective I looked at Saddam Hussein differently after 9-11 and before 9-11," reiterated Dick Cheney, defense secretary during Gulf War I and vice president during Gulf War II. "I was bound and determined as was the president for whom I worked, that that was never going to happen again on our watch."
New documents detailing conversations former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had with members of his inner circle as the ground assault began on Feb. 24, 1991, were released Thursday by the National Defense University in Washington.
Hussein called Bush 'enemy of God'
The transcripts released for the 20th anniversary show Hussein tried to broker a last minute peace deal with the help of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but at the same time remaining defiant, calling the coalition forces "treacherous and cowardly" and describing Bush as "the enemy of God and humanity."
Along with Bush, the reunion included former Vice President Dan Quayle, then-Defense Secretary Cheney, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Powell, former Secretary of State Baker and then-National Security Advisor Scowcroft.
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces, will not be there for health reasons.
The war was prompted by Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, its small, oil-rich neighbor. The Kuwaiti dignitaries expected at the event Thursday include the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
The United States Security Council warned Iraq that if it didn't withdraw its troops from Kuwait by Jan. 15, 1991, a U.S.-led coalition would be authorized to drive them out. The Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, began two days later with air attacks against Iraqi targets.
The ground assault that started about a month later lasted only 100 hours. Kuwait was liberated and Iraqi troops were driven back to their home country. Of the more than 540,000 Americans deployed at the peak of the fighting, 148 were killed and 467 were wounded.
The documents released Thursday showed that as coalition troops began their ground assault, Hussein was exchanging letters with Gorbachev, asking the former Soviet leader to help broker a peace agreement. Gorbachev had apparently been able to get Iraq to agree to withdraw its troops from Kuwait within 21 days.
Appeal to Gorbachev
"Even though we will keep our promise, Mr. President, we do know that the Americans, especially their president, have no honor and we do not trust them; therefore, we are working only with your peace proposal," Hussein wrote to Gorbachev.
Gorbachev replied that Bush had not agreed to the proposal, having been upset by Iraq's burning of oil fields in Kuwait. Gorbachev urged Hussein to write to Bush directly and promise to withdraw his troops not in 21 days, but in nine or 10.
By that point, however, the ground attack had begun. The documents show Hussein's frustration at Gorbachev.
"He tricked us; it is a trick!" he said of the Soviet leader's efforts.
Bush said this week he has no regrets about his administration's handling of the war, including the decision to pull out American forces and leave Hussein in power.
The Iraqi leader was ousted in 2003 during the Iraq war, which started under Bush's son, former President George W. Bush. After being convicted of crimes against humanity, Hussein was hanged in December 2006.
Texas A&M is about 100 miles northwest of Houston and home to Bush's presidential library.
The Associated Press, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.