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Bush's Unfinished Business in Baghdad

By Ciro Scotti At the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, Ann Richards, then treasurer of the state of Texas, gave a guffaw-filled keynote address in which she ridiculed the GOP's candidate, George Herbert Walker Bush, as having been "born with a silver foot in his mouth." Mockery of his malapropisms always seemed to roll off Poppy Bush's back like a cold Maine rain on a yellow slicker, and he soldiered on, roundly defeating Michael Dukakis for the Presidency that November.

The elder Bush continued to speak like a garbled Western Union message. But his son, George W. Bush, never forgot Richards' derisive jibes.

The younger Bush eventually exacted his revenge upon Richards, whose speech helped catapult her to governor of Texas in 1990. To do so, young George had to transform himself (kinda like the Terminator) from a failed, hard-living oilman and gregarious baseball executive into a successful, values-laden politician. In a how-sweet-it-is upset for the Bushes, young George scared off other probable contenders for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1994 and then showed the sassy, brassy Richards what-for in the general election. There's a lesson here that might be of interest to Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein right about now.

THE POLITICS OF LOYALTY. Dubya was always known around the first Bush White House as the family enforcer. Having studied politics at the elbow of legendary Republican political operative Lee Atwater, George II was the drill instructor who taught the troops that the first -- and possibly only -- word in the Bush political vocabulary is "loyalty."

Not the fawning loyalty demanded by another Texan, Lyndon Johnson, who was once quoted as defining loyalty as something close to "kissing my ass in Macy's window and telling me it smells like roses." No, loyalty for the Bush dynasty is more subtle. It is marked by knowing your station in life, by not rocking the boat too wildly, and, most of all, by not embarrassing or making a Bush -- any Bush -- look bad.

Bush senior's Chief of Staff, John Sununu -- the former governor of New Hampshire who had helped Poppy win the Granite State primary in '88 -- learned about Bush loyalty the hard way. By late 1991, the arrogant Sununu had alienated Cabinet members. As Bill Minutaglio writes in First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, the chief of staff bent the rules about personal use of government jets and limos. More important, Minutaglio writes, "there had been rumors and bits of evidence that [Sununu] was too independent, a distraction, no longer blindly faithful." The Terminator came to Washington from Texas and told Sununu it was time for him to leave.

All the denials in the world won't change the fact that young George took his father's 1992 defeat at the hands of a small-time, low-class Arkansas governor rather badly. He laid low in Austin during the second half of the hurly-burly Clinton Years, but when he got the chance, Dubya challenged and whupped Bill Clinton's Lurch-like surrogate, Albert Gore.

WHY STOP WITH OSAMA? All of which explains why the War on Terror ain't over until the fat guy in Baghdad sings. To the Terminator, Saddam isn't just an America-hating, chemical-weapons-building, vicious dictator, and sponsor of all manner of global terror. He's the man who put a bunch of doubts into folks' heads about the validity of the Persian Gulf war triumph. Saddam was behind a failed assassination attempt on Bush's father in 1993, U.S. intelligence agencies say. Saddam is a bad man.

So don't get confused by all the smoke Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was blowing at The New York Times on Jan. 8 about not going after Saddam right away in order to avoid conflict with Arab and European allies "leery about taking on Baghdad."

President Bush reinvented himself yet again after September 11. Terrorist-hunting wears well on him. He knows what needs to be done, and he's good at it. Folks like it. He likes it. They like him now. So why stop? Especially when the next name on your to-screw list done messed with your Poppy. Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BusinessWeek Online

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