|THE first President Bush has told his son that hopes
of peace in the Middle East would be ruined if a war with Iraq were not
backed by international unity.
Drawing on his own experiences before and after the
1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli
relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored
the will of the United Nations.
He also urged the President to resist his tendency
to bear grudges, advising his son to bridge the rift between the United
States, France and Germany.
"You've got to reach out to the other person. You've
got to convince them that long-term friendship should trump short-term
adversity," he said.
The former President's comments reflect unease among
the Bush family and its entourage at the way that George W. Bush is ignoring
international opinion and overriding the institutions that his father sought
to uphold. Mr Bush Sr is a former US Ambassador to the UN and comes from
a family steeped in multi-lateralist traditions.
Although not addressed to his son in person, the message,
in a speech at Tufts University in Massachusetts, was unmistakeable. Mr
Bush Sr even came close to conceding that opponents of his son's case against
President Saddam Hussein, who he himself is on record as loathing, have
legitimate cause for concern.
He said that the key question of how many weapons
of mass destruction Iraq held "could be debated". The case against Saddam
was "less clear" than in 1991, when Mr Bush Sr led an international coalition
to expel invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Objectives were "a little fuzzier
today", he added.
After the Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr steered Israel and
its Arab neighbours to the Madrid conference, a stepping stone to the historic
Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords, in much the same way that the present
President has talked about the removal of Saddam as opening the way to
a wider peace in the region.
In an ominous warning for his son, Mr Bush Sr said
that he would have been able to achieve nothing if he had jeopardised future
relations by ignoring the UN. "The Madrid conference would never have happened
if the international coalition that fought together in Desert Storm had
exceeded the UN mandate and gone on its own into Baghdad after Saddam and
Also drawing on the lessons of 1991, he said that
it was imperative to mend fences with allies immediately, rather than waiting
until after a war. He had been infuriated with the decision of King Hussein
of Jordan to side with Saddam rather than the US, but while criticising
the Jordanian leader in public and freezing $41 million in US aid, he also
passed word to King Hussein that he understood his domestic tensions.
Mr Bush Jr, who is said never to forget even relatively
minor slights, has alarmed analysts with the way in which he has allowed
senior Administration figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary,
aggressively to criticise France and Germany.
There are, however, signs that Mr Bush Sr's message
may be getting through.
Father and son talk regularly and it was, in part,
pressure from Mr Bush Sr's foreign policy coterie, that helped to persuade
the President to go to the UN last September.