Is Bush Continuing His Dad's Iraq Policy?

With the United States carrying out a sudden airstrike in Iraq today, it appears President Bush is carrying on the work of his father.

"Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed after Desert Storm," Bush said today, referring to the conclusion of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The 43rd president has previously said he would be willing to exert some "American muscle" against Iraq.

And the strikes on radar systems near Baghdad, coming in the first month of Bush's term, make it seem as if he is pursuing a course of action intended to finish up the foreign-policy business begun by his father, George Bush, the 41st president.

It was under the command of the elder Bush that the United States fought the Gulf War of 1991, routing Iraq after it had occupied Kuwait. But Saddam remained in power after the end of the war, despite the U.S. victory, and George Bush was subject to criticism in some quarters for not driving him out.

Since then, the United States has maintained that Saddam has violated the terms of the 1991 cease-fire, in which he pledged to surrender all weapons of mass destruction and refrain from conflict with neighboring countries as well as Iraqi civilians.

Bush: 'I'd Take Him Out'

Saddam's activities led to strong words on the part of the younger Bush during the 2000 campaign.

"If I found in any way, shape, or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I'd take him out," Bush said. "I'm surprised he's still there. I think a lot of other people are as well."

Many of Bush's high-level advisers are the same people charged with executing the Gulf War, and have spent a significant amount of time considering what course to take as a follow-up policy regarding Iraq.

Indeed, it has been widely noted that Bush's foreign-policy team is a virtual re-constitution of the key foreign-policy leaders that former President Bush used to carry out the Gulf War.

Bush's highly influential vice president, Dick Cheney, was secretary of defense during the first Bush administration, while Gen. Colin Powell, currently secretary of state, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War. The current national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, served as an foreign-policy adviser to the elder Bush as well.

But some foreign-policy experts say today's raid was simply an extension of U.S. objectives maintained throughout the last decade by both Republican and Democratic institutions.

"It represents continuity with both Bush and Clinton," says Michael O'Hanlan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's very much in the spirit of previous administrations."

And other Middle East analysts dismiss the idea outright.

"I don't think it has anything to do with his father," says Judith Kipper, co-director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Kipper also argues that the Bush foreign-policy team's extensive dealings with Iraq will not affect the substance of their policy decisions.

"Are they a little more passionate about it? Probably," says Kipper. "But mostly American policy is consistent."

Today's bombings were the most extensive the United States has undertaken since raids in December 1998, and had the same objective: to contain Iraqi military defense capabilities.

"Since 1991, our country has been enforcing a no-fly zone," said Bush this afternoon. "It's a routine mission and we will continue to enforce the no-fly zone until the world is told otherwise."

What Course of Action to Pursue?

While the current president may strongly hope to see Saddam removed from power in Iraq, his administration is still sorting out the exact line of action it wishes to pursue.

In recent weeks, political observers have noticed a split in Bush's inner circle of foreign-policy advisers over Iraq.

Cheney and some high-ranking Pentagon officials favor supporting the Iraqi National Congress, the main opposition group, as a means of chipping away at Hussein's internal support.

Some INC representatives even met with administration officials in Washington earlier this month, and came away with assurances of financial support.

But Powell and others in the State Department favor a more limited engagement, focusing on sanctions.

Bush may have no choice but to play a waiting game, with future military actions such as today's possible.

"For all the talk about changing Iraq policy, it turns out that it's very difficult to do," says O'Hanlon.