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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Bush seeks to avoid father's mistakes

By Tom Carver
For BBC News Online, Washington

US President George W Bush
The US president is hoping to maintain his popularity

When the war began, United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's confidence seemed like bluster.

But he was proved right.

The Americans reached Baghdad with one division light, with minimal US casualties, without any chemical weapons being fired, without an attack on Israel and without Turkey - and in half the time it took for George Bush's father to occupy Kuwait.

Political asset?

If history were to stop now, it would be seen as an extraordinary military victory.

But the true view of this war can only be judged by what happens in the months and even years ahead.

Can the Americans get out and leave Iraq in a better state than the one they found it in?

We do not yet know the answer to that question.

Nor do we know whether this war will prove to be a political asset for this president.

Fallen statue of Saddam Hussein
The war to topple Saddam Hussein has gone well

The parable of his father is well known. Bush senior came home from the first Gulf War with approval rates in the 90s only to be thrown out of office 18 months later.

James Carville's famous dictum, "it's the economy, stupid" said it all.

Americans did not believe that George Bush senior appreciated the depths of their economic woes.

And he alienated his own conservative base by raising taxes after promising that he would not.

Today, his son is in a similar pickle.

Tax cuts

While his approval rating is at 73%, he gets only 46% for his handling of the economy.

But he's not taking a leaf out of his father's playbook - in fact his strategy is exactly the opposite.

George Bush junior believes passionately in cutting, not raising, taxes - to a point of folly many think.

Last week a Republican congress reduced his tax cut by half.

They have also blocked much of his domestic agenda - oil drilling in Alaska, his faith-based initiatives and his welfare for the elderly proposal are all stalled.

But no one can accuse him of not focusing on the economy.

As soon as the war ended this week, he sent 25 senior officials around the country to win over sceptics to his tax cuts.

Can the Americans get out and leave Iraq in a better state than the one they found it in?
BBC correspondent Tom Carver

On the military front, George Bush senior discovered to his dismay that the warm afterglow of success can be very short lived.

After ejecting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, there was plenty of time for disillusionment to set in before the election came around.

But 12 years on, his son has declared a much less well defined war and convinced most Americans that it could last for years.

So, unlike 1992, national security is likely to be a big factor in the next election.

The White House can use it as an excuse for running a budget deficit and parade the president's credentials as commander-in-chief.

And it presents a challenge for the Democrats.

Bush's dilemma

"The big difference is that the first Gulf War ended. This administration will never end the war," one senior Democrat told the New York Times.

But a state of permanent war only works so long as the electorate think it is genuine.

If they suspect that the White House is trying to "wag the dog" and carry on the war to hide the problems at home, the policy will backfire.

So here is George Bush's dilemma: When is one war too much war for the American people?

The election is still a long way off and future events could change everything.

But one thing we know already. This is not the remake of an earlier Bush movie.




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