WASHINGTON -- Advice from the first President Bush to the second on confronting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein: "Sometimes in life you have to act as you think best -- you can't compromise, you can't give in, even if your critics are loud and numerous."
The elder Bush's words are a dozen years old, contained in a letter to his five children just before the Persian Gulf War. They stand out now as the younger Bush heads down the same path -- and seeks to profit from his father's experience while not repeating his mistakes.
Some administration critics, though, contend that the father had it essentially right on Iraq -- and that the son needs to be careful to avoid pitfalls his father dodged.
"The American people know my position, and that is that regime change is in the interest of the world," the president said recently. As to how and when, Bush said only, "I'm a patient man."
On many fronts, the younger Bush has steered clear of behavior that brought criticism to his father. He has aggressively courted conservatives, made a show of keeping his attention on the economy, installed a highly skilled political operation at the White House and remained firm on his tax cut pledges.
Now he has a chance to right what many hawks see as a crucial foreign policy error of his father: ending the Gulf War with the Iraqi president Hussein still in power.
He has surrounded himself with his father's old war council: Vice President Dick Cheney, then the defense secretary; Secretary of State Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, then a White House aide.
But other luminaries from his father's administration -- former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger -- are counseling from the sidelines against an invasion of Iraq. Scowcroft contends toppling Saddam "would not be a cakewalk" and could undermine the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Such skepticism from within his own party may be complicating the president's job of rallying international support. It also appears to have contributed to a recent toning down of White House rhetoric.
What current advice the elder Bush may have for his son remains private.
But those familiar with the father's thinking say his views are generally closer to those of Scowcroft, a longtime friend, and that the elder Bush has exhibited little enthusiasm for a go-it-alone U.S. invasion.
On Dec. 31, 1990, just 16 days before the U.S.-set deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, the president sat down at Camp David and wrote a soul-searching letter to sons George W., Jeb, Neil and Marvin and daughter Doro.
The decision on whether to send U.S. troops into combat "tears at my heart," Bush agonized. "They say I don't concentrate on domestic affairs, and I expect that charge is true. But how can you when you hold the life and death of a lot of young troops in your hand?"
He told his children he would "do what must be done," calling it matter of good versus evil. "Saddam cannot profit in any way at all from his aggression."
A quick and successful operation would enable all to take credit, while any drawn-out engagement would feed criticism, possibly even resulting in calls for his impeachment, the elder Bush cautioned.
"So, dear kids, batten down the hatches," he wrote.
He included parts of his letter in "A World Transformed," a 1998 book he wrote with Scowcroft.
Some of the steps the father took could serve as guideposts for the son, suggest those who contend the current administration is rushing too quickly toward a military solution.
They cite the elder Bush's painstaking marshaling of international and congressional support, his massive positioning of U.S. troops in the region, his setting of clear goals and giving Saddam a deadline.
"I don't think the first President Bush made many mistakes on Iraq," said Ivo Daalder, a national security aide in the Clinton White House. "But the present administration hasn't made clear what its policy is. It has said Saddam needs to go, but hasn't said how, why or when."
But conservative commentator Bill Kristol, who worked in the first Bush administration, said times are different and threat of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction a real one.
"The key is not Saddam, the key is Sept. 11," Kristol said. "The current President Bush has made a fundamental attempt to come to grips with Sept. 11. I think Scowcroft and the previous President Bush are still in the previous world."
(Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.)
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