Bush Sr. defends his son

Filed on November 22, 2006

ABU DHABI — Former US president George H.W. Bush was forced here yesterday into a defence of his son, current US President George W. Bush, whose Mideast policies were derided by a hostile audience.

“My son is an honest man,” Bush told the delegates attending a leadership conference here. “He is working hard for peace. It takes a lot of guts to get up and tell a father about his son in those terms when I just told you the thing that matters in my heart is my family.”

Bush added: “How come everybody wants to come to the United States if the United States is so bad?”

Although former leader, who served as president from 1989-1993, claimed to have faced tougher audiences, he conceded that attacks on his sons hurt more than those on him. As curiosity mounts regarding the advice James Baker, the senior Bush’s secretary of state,

Bush Sr defends son is giving Washington on the war in the Iraq, the former president declined to reveal how he had counselled his son on the conflict.

The Gulf used to be safe territory for former president Bush, an oil man who brought Arab leaders together in a coalition that drove Saddam Hussein’s troops out of Kuwait in 1991.

But gratitude for the elder Bush, who served as president from 1989-93, was overshadowed by the foreign policy of his son, whose invasion of Iraq and support for Israel are deeply unpopular here.

“We do not respect your son. We do not respect what he’s doing all over the world,” a woman audience member bluntly told Bush after his keynote speech.

Bush appeared stunned as the audience of young business leaders whooped and whistled in approval.

The retired president had just finished a folksy address on leadership by telling the audience how deeply hurt he feels when his son the president is criticised.

“This son is not going to back away,” Bush said, his voice quivering. “He’s not going to change his view because some poll says this or some poll says that, or some heartfelt comments from the lady who feels deeply in her heart about something. You can’t be president of the United States and conduct yourself if you’re going to cut and run. This is going to work out in Iraq. I understand the anxiety. It’s not easy.”

The elder Bush told the audience that its derisive hoots were mild compared to the reaction he got in Germany in the 1980s, after persuading the country to deploy US nuclear missiles.

The elder Bush, whose single term as president capped a decades-long career in politics, brimmed with pride as he told the audience — including dozens of women in black robes and headscarves — of his two sons, George, the US president, and Jeb, the governor of Florida.

“I can’t begin to tell you the pride I feel in my two sons,” Bush said. “When your son’s under attack, it hurts. You’re determined to be at his side and help him any way you possibly can.”

One audience member asked the former president what kind of advice he gives his son on Iraq, a military matter the elder Bush is widely thought to have handled with more wisdom.

Bush said the presence of reporters in the audience prevented him from revealing his advice, or, for that matter, what policies the bipartisan Baker Commission ought to urge the president to follow in Iraq.

“I have strong opinions on a lot of these things. But the reason I can’t voice them is, if I did what you ask me to do — tell you what advice I give my son — that would then be flashed all over the world,”

Bush said. “If it happened to deviate one iota, one little inch, from what the president’s doing or thinks he ought to be doing, it would be terrible. It’d bring great anxiety not only to him but to his supporters.”

Bush said he’d spoken with his secretary of state recently — the two are neighbours in Houston — but preferred to reminisce about old times than discuss what America ought to try next in Iraq.

“In the early 1960s, Jim Baker and I were the men’s doubles champions in tennis in the city of Houston,” Bush said with a grin.

“If were to suggest what they ought to do, it just would not be constructive and certainly would not be helpful to the president. It would cause grief to him.”

Another hostile audience member, a college student in Abu Dhabi, told Bush that US wars were aimed at opening markets for American companies. He said globalisation was contrived for America’s benefit at the expense of the rest of the world. Bush was having none of it.

“I think that’s weird and it’s nuts,” Bush said. “To suggest that everything we do is because we’re hungry for money, I think that’s crazy. I think you need to go back to school.”

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