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Elder Bush defends record on Iraq, bristles when son called warmonger

Bush speaks in Stamford, Connecticut, on Monday night.
Bush speaks in Stamford, Connecticut, on Monday night.

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STAMFORD, Connecticut (CNN) -- Former President George Bush on Monday night defended his decision not to go into Baghdad 12 years ago during the Gulf War and also defended his son, President George W. Bush, against charges of being a warmonger.

Critics since the Gulf War have said the elder Bush made a mistake by not sending forces into Baghdad to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power after quickly liberating Kuwait.

"I believe we would have lost faith back then with our allies if we'd said we were just kidding; we're now going to march into Baghdad," Bush said.

The former president said Saddam's ability to hold on to power defied the collective wisdom of America's allies, who said he couldn't hang on following the beating his forces took.

"We underestimated his brutality," Bush said. "We underestimated the cruelty to his own people" to hold on to power.

For those who would call his son a warmonger, an emotional Bush bristled, saying the critics just don't understand that the toughest decision a president has to make is when he decides to send someone else's sons and daughters into harm's way.

"I would tell you from the bottom of my heart that the president is giving peace a chance," Bush said. "The president does not want war, but at the end of the day he is determined to use whatever means necessary to stop Saddam Hussein's insidious threat to the rest of the civilized world."

During his speech, the former president charged that Iraq has made a mockery of the United Nations by evading its resolutions since the end of the Gulf War.

"If the U.N. is to have any realistic role of value in shaping this world of ours in the 21st century," Bush said, "someone needs to step forward to hold Saddam to account, and the United States led by our president is prepared to do just that."

The senior Bush found no promising signs in Monday's interim report to the U.N. Security Council by weapons inspectors.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council that Iraq has yet to reach a "genuine acceptance" of its obligation to disarm.

"It makes very clear that [Saddam] has no intention ... of complying," Bush said.

"Saddam's been given a chance to stop seeking weapons of mass destruction and rejoin the community of civilized nations, and he's rejected that."

Bush was in Stamford to receive the Altschul Award from World Affairs Forum. The group honored Bush for his leadership during the end of the Cold War.

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