Iraq: Taking The Debate Public

Even when he's engaging in political warfare, Gen. Brent Scowcroft is courteous. Last week, the day before his op-ed titled "Don't Attack Saddam" appeared in The Wall Street Journal, he faxed a copy over to national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice--his protegee when he held what is now her job under Bush the Elder. Rice already knew his views, but appreciated the heads-up--and maybe even the help.

For months the longtime Bush-family friend and discreet adviser has been privately worried about the direction Bush the Younger was heading on Iraq. His old friend Secretary of State Colin Powell's message of restraint seemed to be drowned out by hawks inside--and outside--the administration. With Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld heading to Bush's Crawford ranch on Wednesday to argue his case, Scowcroft went public. "A war fever has built up," explains Philip Zeli-kow, who sits on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which Scowcroft chairs. "Brent felt it was time to apply a cold compress."

Scowcroft joined other GOP heavyweights--from Sen. Chuck Hagel to former secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger--in circling the wagons around Powell. Former secretary of State Henry Kissinger took his case to the op-ed pages of The Washington Post last week. Kissinger was more receptive to a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein than Scowcroft was, but he wrote the piece, Kissinger told NEWSWEEK, "to encourage them to make their case." The day after the article appeared, Kissinger met with Powell for a previously scheduled appointment. Why? "He likes me," Kissinger joked, saying only, "He wanted my view on a number of issues"--including how to better influence the administration on Iraq. "The foreign-policy establishment wants to give ammunition to Powell to push back against the hawks," says one Bush No. 41 insider.

Poppy's friends seem to be ganging up on Bush No. 43--though Kissinger insists he did not coordinate with anyone. "Some very intelligent people are expressing their opinion about Saddam Hussein," Bush 43 said from his ranch. "It's a healthy debate for people to express their opinion." But he added--twice--that he'd make up his own mind based on the "latest intelligence." In other words, even his father doesn't see the current intelligence briefings on Saddam's evil doings. Meanwhile, one White House aide insists they "welcome the debate" over how to handle the Iraq situation. Rice, who sees her job as providing Bush with as many opinions as possible, may have even been happy about it. She and her mentor seemed to be working in tandem last week: while she gave a tough-talking interview to the BBC calling Saddam an "evil man," Scowcroft reassured our nervous allies that debate is still going on over Iraq. At least in the op-ed pages.