WASHINGTON -- President Bush has told his sensitive father, former President George H.W. Bush, not to pay any attention to the news, especially all those painful Bush-bashing reports.
In a recent interview with C-SPAN, the younger Bush said he is more concerned about his father "than I ever have been in my life because he is paying too much attention to the news."
"I understand how difficult (it is for someone) who loves somebody to see them out in the political process and to kind of endure the criticism," Bush said, adding this advice to his father: "Look, don't pay attention to it. I'm doing fine."
The president has said he doesn't read newspapers and has relied on his staff to keep him up to date on the news. But, apparently, that was in the past. His spokesman Tony Snow insists that Bush now reads the papers.
The protective relationship between the two Bushes long has been a point of speculation and their defensiveness is understandable. Bush described his dad in the interview as his "role model" and added: "I am who I am because of him."
But he also has said he listens to a "higher father" and it is quite clear the hard-edged neoconservatives who designed the disastrous attack on Iraq and still dominate his administration continue to have his ear, starting with Vice President Dick Cheney, the most ardent hawk in the Bush hierarchy.
There is little doubt that the elder Bush has tried to guide his son through surrogates and close friends, including former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, both advocates of activist diplomacy and supporters of overtures to Syria and Iran.
Baker was co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, with former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. Their report last December called the situation in Iraq "grave and deteriorating" and advocated diplomatic approaches to Iran and Syria.
At first, Bush summarily rejected the ISG recommendations with, according to some insiders, unprintable comments.
But he has had an epiphany and now has accepted an Iraqi "invitation" to attend a high-level regional meeting with neighboring nations, including the shunned Syria and Iran, starting March 10.
It was interesting to hear Snow's verbal gyrations as he sought to assure reporters that Bush was not acquiescing to the Baker-Hamilton suggestions to go the diplomatic route. But a rose by any other name ... .
Despite the Iraqi quagmire, Bush is still swaggering and anxious to convince the country he is the "decider" and that we are safer because of it. When he was governor of Texas, Bush put it this way: "I know how to lead. Leadership is about leading."
It's obvious when it comes to foreign policy advice, the president's more moderate father has been left out in the cold.
It's doubtful that the elder Bush, who served in a number of top government posts, would have condoned his son's unprovoked attack on Iraq.
But there is persistent belief in the country that Bush decided to invade Iraq as an act of vengeance, having once said of Saddam Hussein: "After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad."
The president shouldn't talk like that because it suggests that he went to war against a Middle East country -- causing an untold number of deaths -- for a medieval-style vendetta. Say it isn't so.
But Bush has ignored the veteran diplomats and taken his cues unfortunately from the fellows at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank for unemployed hawks who have far-right political axes to grind.
Family relationships are always complex, but the president should realize his father is wiser and more worldly on foreign policy than anyone in the current White House picture, especially himself.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: email@example.com.
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