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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 01:36 GMT 02:36 UK
President Bush's Iraq war record

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online in Washington

George W Bush (c) in meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney (l), CIA Director George Tenet (second left) and Chief of Staff Andy Card (right)
Relying on his team for victory

As President Bush draws a line under the Iraq war and stakes his place in history, a picture of the president as a war leader has begun to emerge, both behind the scenes and in public.

President George W Bush never appeared to have any doubts that he was right to go to war with Iraq.

But his final speech of the war on the aircraft carrier, heavy with history and emotion, showed how far he had travelled from the anxious first days of the conflict.

On the eve of his first broadcast to the nation, giving Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to disarm, he punched his fist in the air, relieved that the tense period of diplomacy was over.

Because of you, the tyrant is fallen and Iraq is free
President George W Bush aboard USS Abraham Lincoln
Forty-eight hours later, in the White House situation room, he gave the go-ahead orders to General Tommy Franks by video link after polling his war advisors known as the "principals", including Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Within a few hours, however, the president changed the plan after receiving intelligence suggesting that the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein had become known.

Mr Bush later told NBC's Tom Brokaw that he was hesitant to approve the surgical strike on Baghdad, fearing that the first pictures of the war would be "the wounded grandchild of Saddam Hussein, the death of young children."

But he hastily re-arranged his speech for that evening, wrong-footing much of the press who had been assured that nothing would happen that night, as the bombs and cruise missiles fell on Saddam's bunker.

Mr Bush now argues that this decision, plus the move to put special operations troops into the oilfields straight away, fundamentally affected the character of the conflict.

Team leader

Mr Bush spent much of the first week of the war out of public view, content to leave the day-to-day running of operations to his trusted team of advisors, who also appeared on the weekend talk shows to reassure the public.

He spent most weekends at the Camp David retreat in Maryland, and took a longer break during Easter at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

US President George W Bush
Preaching the morality of the war
In the first days, when Mr Bush says "the fighters were a lot fiercer than we thought", it was his faith that sustained him.

He said that the day the five Americans were taken prisoner was "a tough day for the commander-in-chief, who committed these young soldiers into battle in the first place".

He told Mr Brokaw that it was his wife Laura who was his source of strength and inspiration during this time, and his belief in the wartime experience of the "principle".

Cheerleader

Mr Rumsfeld told the president only the bare details about the rescue plan for POW Jessica Lynch, and he accepted that was right because "he didn't want any information to get out that might have jeopardised the operation".

Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups, and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction, is a grave danger to the civilized world, and will be confronted.
President George W Bush abroad USS Abraham Lincoln
Nevertheless, the "joyous" rescue - which was widely seen as a turning point by the media - corresponded with the president becoming much more visible to the public.

In the next two weeks, Mr Bush travelled to military bases around the country, praising the troops and rallying support for the war.

His poll ratings rose, as did his confidence in the idealism of his cause.

"The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity," he told troops at Tampa.

Victory in the war

Early on, the press had been surprised to learn that the president, unlike the rest of the US population, was not watching the war on television.

But he was watching - with Secretary of State Colin Powell - in an aides' room on the morning that the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad by US Marines and Iraqis.

Mr Bush was elated and relieved by the scenes of victory, and the rapid collapse of the regime - with such light casualties - but dismayed the by press portrayal of the looting that followed.

"I wasn't surprised. It was vengeance, because it's like uncorking a bottle of frustration," he said.

But, again managing expectations, there was no quick proclamation of victory.

Rather, Mr Bush moved to stress the need for post-war reconstruction, meeting with Iraqi dissidents at the White House and then travelling to Dearborn, Michigan to meet the Iraqi community in the United States.

"Soon," he told the Iraqis who were hoping to return to a post-Saddam Iraq.

Politics

And, appearing to learn the lesson of his father's war, he also made two appearances at defence plants - where he appealed to Congress to pass his tax cut plan.

Mr Bush's task now is to translate his military victory into a lasting political settlement.

Mr Bush has always seemed most comfortable in his role as commander-in-chief, as the relaxed scenes as he toured the aircraft carrier showed.

And he has no doubt that the victory in Iraq means that he can pursue the broader war on terror with renewed vigour.

The biggest gamble of his presidency had been successful - and now the politics of the next election campaign were beginning.




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