"The decision on the war cannot finally be made by a committee or by a general. It must be made by one person-the President," the former president tells Sidey.
Sidey reports Bush Sr. regards Saddam Hussein and his military establishment as far less powerful now than when Desert Storm was launched. But he believes Saddam is surely far wiser about the strength of the U.S. "He had no respect for our military then," says the elder Bush. "He felt that we could not fight. Now he knows."
Sidey writes that Bush, who will be 80 this year, is concerned "not about the rightness of the cause in Iraq or the ability of the President to lead the country in this dangerous time. It is that of a father who sees his son on a lonely and difficult march and knows he may be the only other person on the planet who can completely understand what the President is going through."
Bush Sr. spoke to Sidey, who writes of their conversations in his column, "The Presidency," which appears in Monday's TIME. The headline is, "'He Had No Respect for Our Military Then.' The President's father on Saddam, the first Gulf War and what his son faces now."
Bush Sr. tells Sidey, "It is the toughest decision a President has to make, to send the sons and daughters of Americans into harm's way." He recalls that before he sent these "wonderful young" troops into battle in Panama, the anxiety was terrible. "The night before I could not move my neck or arms. The tension had taken hold, the responsibility for those lives, even though I had been in combat myself."
Sidey has written about the American Presidency for more than 40 years and has authored TIME's column "The Presidency" since 1966. George W. Bush is the 10th President about whom Sidey has written. Sidey was the only reporter aboard Air Force One returning the President to Houston when he left office. In 1998, Sidey was elected President of the White House Historical Association.