Schwarzkopf, facing the press, defers to commander in chief

April 24, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf -- conqueror of the Iraqis, near-gainsayer of the president and outspoken scourge of anything he regards as "bovine scatology" -- showed yesterday he knew also when to shut up.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf was honored at lunch with President Bush and top aides at the White House following his homecoming Sunday.

On their way from the Oval Office, the group stopped for pictures on the steps leading to the Rose Garden, where an army of reporters and TV crews was gathered.

Resplendent in dark green dress uniform with medals, General Schwarzkopf outshone everyone but his immediate boss, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "First time I've had these on in eight months," he joked when a reporter teased that he had difficulty recognizing the general without the desert camouflage fatigues he wore during the Persian Gulf campaign.

President Bush rebuffed questions at first with his oft-stated, and oft-broken, rule about no questions during photo sessions. Instead, he drew General Schwarzkopf forward, saying: "Would you like to see how a guy should handle the press? C'mon, Norm . . . and don't change your style."

Beaming, the general answered that "if the president is not going to answer any questions, I damn sure am not going to answer any questions."

Such restraint was not entirely evident last month when he told TV

interviewer David Frost that the president's decision to stop fighting on Feb. 28 allowed part of the Iraqi army to escape a total rout. Political commentators seized on the remarks as a subordinate's reproof. But the White House -- and Mr. Bush himself -- hastened to assure that it was not taken that way.

If there was discomfort over the issue then, it was not evident in the Rose Garden yesterday. "What he and his troops did in terms of fulfilling our objectives was fantastic," Mr. Bush said of General Schwarzkopf. "What he and his troops did for the morale in the United States of America is unbelievable."

The 56-year-old General Schwarzkopf has said he will retire from the military this summer but has not announced further plans.

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