President Bush called Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf on Thursday to tell him not to worry about an embarrassing incident in which the general claimed to have argued against ending the Persian Gulf war.
"The president is convinced they are on the same wavelength," White House deputy press secretary Roman Popadiuk said.Bush said on Wednesday, "there was total agreement in terms of when this war should end." He announced a conditional cease-fire on Feb. 27.
Yet, Schwarzkopf, the allied commander of Desert Storm, had told interviewer David Frost, "Frankly, my recommendation had been, continue the march."
Intent on ending the controversy, Bush called Schwarzkopf Thursday to express his full support and confidence in the general, Popadiuk said.
He said Schwarzkopf probably had felt awkward because of the spotlight on his remarks. "There is no ill will on this issue," Popadiuk said of Bush. "He supports him 100 percent."
Popadiuk said Schwarzkopf was "pleased and appreciative" of the call.
The embarrassing difference of opinion between the commander-in-chief and one of his top commanders was a jarring footnote in the triumphant conclusion to the war against Iraq. Whatever his intent, Schwarzkopf raised pointed questions about Bush's judgment in halting the fighting before Iraqi forces were vanquished.
"It's one of those ones that historians are going to second-guess, you know, forever," Schwarzkopf said in a public television interview. "Why, you know, why didn't we go for one more day vs. why did we stop when we did when we had them completely routed?"
In a clear rebuke to Schwarzkopf, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney disputed the general's account.
Cheney said Schwarzkopf and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were consulted on Feb. 27 and "made the recommendation to me and to the president that we had achieved our military objectives and agreed that it was time to end the campaign."
Further, Cheney said, Schwarzkopf "raised no objection to terminating hostilities."
The White House sought to minimize the controversy. "It's just one of those Washington flaps," presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
"He's a great general. He did a great job. But we want to set the record straight," Fitzwater added.
Asked whether the flap would dampen Schwarzkopf's chances of promotion to a fifth star, Fitzwater replied, "That's never been discussed, anyway."
Fitzwater said that on Feb. 27, both Powell and Cheney recommended a cease-fire to Bush.
"The president said, `Fine, but what does Norm think?' Powell walked over to the president's desk in the Oval Office, picked up the phone and called Schwarzkopf and asked if he thought that was feasible and appropriate, and he said `Yes.' Powell turned around to the president and said, `Norm says he can handle it,' ' Fitzwater said.
The general said Bush's decision "did leave some escape routes . . . for the (Iraqis), and I think it was a humane and courageous decision."
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