War absorbs most of Bush's energy WAR IN THE GULF

January 23, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A small television in the presidential study off the Oval Office is always on now, broadcasting military news briefings and on-the-spot war reports.

Printed bulletins with the latest classified updates on Operation Desert Storm are rushed in from the White House situation room several times a day.

There are personal briefings from National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and telephone calls to and from strategic locations around the world.

George Bush keeps insisting that "life goes on" in the wartime White House. But aides say the president is devoting 70 percent to 80 percent of his energies to monitoring and managing events in the Persian Gulf -- and is preoccupied with it virtually round-the-clock.

"This is on his mind a good bit of the time," said spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.

After nearly two years of 15- or 16-hour days, seven days a week, his travel and advance staffs are taking the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep and the backlog of paperwork, a senior administration official said.

Mr. Bush passed the midterm of his presidency last Sunday. He's scheduled to deliver his third State of the Union address Tuesday night and release a budget proposal for the new year shortly after.

But these traditionally landmark events are going by all but unnoticed as the president joins the rest of the nation and the world in a near obsession with the latest twists and turns of the U.S.-led drive to evict Iraq from Kuwait.

Unlike some of his predecessors, however, Mr. Bush's preoccupation does not extend to an effort to orchestrate the military action from here, aides say.

After approving an overall military plan, Mr. Bush has left specific decisions on how to carry it out to his commanders in the field and has not insisted on calling the shots in advance, Mr. Fitzwater said.

In his briefings, the president has asked for reports on how well the military objectives have been achieved, without dwelling on details, Mr. Fitzwater said.

In fact, Mr. Fitzwater said, the president doesn't know much more than has been released publicly about the progress of the war so far.

Once he made the decision to fight, the president's most direct part in the management of the war so far has been as a political influence, such as making phone calls to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir when the United States was desperately trying to keep Israel from responding to Iraqi missile attacks.

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