This story originally appeared in the December 31, 1990, issue of U.S.News & World Report.
President Bush sat down with U.S. News Senior Editor Kenneth T. Walsh to reflect on his war of nerves with Saddam Hussein, on the meaning of sending young Americans into combat and on the lessons of recent military encounters. Here's what he said:
On Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to believe he faces war. I still think he doesn't get it. And I don't know how he could not understand. But it's not just me that says that. Other world leaders make the same point, including the President of Turkey just last week. I really think that the best way to find a peaceful resolution is to have him understand that the alternative is real and it would be devastating. And so it's not kind of a macho beating of the breast. It is trying to make the man understand reality.
On Hussein's confusion about the American war debate. I think some of it is that there's a question mark in his mind as to whether the United States will do its part to implement the resolution of the [U.N.] Security Council. He listens to the debate. People tell me that he stays glued to the reporting from CNN. And as he listens to these experts that are called into service for a 30-second sound bite, he probably wonders who is speaking for the administration. Is his view of the Constitution such that the President has his hands tied? I think part of the problem is that our wonderfully open system is confusing to a man who is a totalitarian dictator.
On his no-concessions policy. It can't drag on with indecision, and it can't stop short of the U.N. mandate [that Hussein completely leave Kuwait]. See, that argues very forcefully against some of these scenarios that call for somebody to compromise: We'll give him something for this, give him something so he saves face. That is not in the books.
On deciding to go to war. On this question, I've got it boiled down very clearly to good vs. evil. And it helps if you can be that clear in your own mind. And I'll tell you another thing that's reinforced my view: That is this Amnesty International report [detailing Iraqi human-rights abuses in Kuwait], which is devastating, absolutely devastating. It helps one come to a recognition that the right must prevail.
On ending Hussein's military might. I don't think withdrawing by itself is going to solve all problems. At least certain sanctions would go on, and you'd have certain international peacekeeping functions spring up, and you'd have a determination on the part of all of these nations to see that he not go forward with his unconventional-warfare capabilities in three categories: Biological, chemical and certainly nuclear. Everybody I talk to around the world is very concerned about his getting a nuclear bomb, if you want to put it in crass terms.
On the stakes of the showdown. I think what's at stake here is the new world order. What's at stake here is whether we can have disputes peacefully resolved in the future by a reinvigorated United Nations. Or will the United Nations, its peacekeeping function having been elevated to its most promising height since 1948, be sent back into the Dark Ages because we failed to fulfill its mandate?
The lessons of Vietnam. Never fight a war with a hand tied behind your back. Never send a kid into battle unless you're going to give him total support. Don't send him in underequipped. Don't send a mission in undermanned. Don't send them in where you tell commanding officers what they can't do.
The lessons of the Iran hostage crisis. Don't let hostages change the fundamentals of your policy, no matter how brutal or how horrible it is to have a man's or woman's freedom denied.
The lessons of bombing Libya in 1986. I think it is very clear that when [Muammar] Qadhafi got tagged for having his fingerprints on killing Americans in a Berlin discotheque, he was punished for that.
The lessons of invading Panama. The United States was able to protect the lives of American citizens and give democracy a chance, surgically remove a person who obviously had aborted the will of the people. But that can't be seen without understanding how I felt about the threat to American lives down there. So I'm not sure there's too good a parallel except: In, out, do it, do it right, get gone. That's the message.