For the love of Laura: does murder plot explain why Bush wants Saddam sorted?

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GEORGE Bush’s opinion of Saddam Hussein has long contained an element of the personal. As he told a Republican fund-raising audience in Houston last year, the Iraqi dictator was "a guy that tried to kill my dad".

This somewhat childlike reference to Saddam’s 1993 attempt to kill the first president George Bush while on a valedictory visit to Kuwait, has left the leader of the United States open to accusations that it is not just the presidential policy of protect and pre-empt which is behind his impending attack on Iraq.

But with war apparently just days away, it has only now emerged quite how personally "Dubya" may have felt the assassination attempt had it succeeded - for along with his father, his mother Barbara, and his brother Neil on the trip to Kuwait was Laura Bush - his wife and now First Lady.

Only now, a decade after the failed attempt on Bush snr and the Emir of Kuwait, has Mrs Bush been identified as a target.

Mr Bush has said: "The fact that he tried to kill my father and my wife shows the nature of the man. He’s cold-blooded. He’s a dictator, and he’s a tyrant."

Despite protestations that his Iraqi policy is not personal, anti-war campaigners could perhaps be forgiven for wondering whether the president’s judgement has been clouded even a little by a bomb plot which could have shattered the very core of his private life. The attempt on the wife of the then plain George Bush, a man yet to be elected to the Senate, came in 1993, when George Bush snr was invited to Kuwait to receive official thanks for leading the coalition which liberated the Arab state from neighbouring Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war.

Operation Love Storm saw Mr Bush snr paraded through the streets of Kuwait City in one of the most spectacular processions its people had ever seen, with sword dancers, dancing maidens and air scented with 96 bottles of perfume donated by a grateful merchant.

It has transpired that the woman old Mr Bush calls "our Laura" - but not her husband, busy back home with baseball matters - had accompanied her father-in-law on the trip to Kuwait, in a move which could have taken her life. A week after the Bush party returned to the US, Kuwaiti intelligence reported Saddam had hired a mercenary band of petty criminals to place a 175lb bomb of plastic explosive in a Toyota Land Cruiser. The device was to be detonated either when the Bush family arrived at Kuwait airport or when Mr Bush spoke at Kuwait University.

Should this plan fail, one of the plotters was in possession of an explosive belt and was under instruction to rush the former president.

In the event, neither plan came to fruition - the vehicle did not get near the Bush contingent and the belt was said to have been discarded in the desert. Members of the gang were arrested.

Sceptics have since questioned whether an attack was ever planned or whether it was simply an episode of Kuwaiti propaganda. However, it seems there is no doubt in Dubya’s mind that the woman to whom he has been married for 25 years could have been killed.

The first couple have often spoken openly of the closeness of their relationship. Mrs Bush has described her husband as a "windshield cowboy", revealing how they take romantic drives into the riverbeds and creekbeds near their ranch in Crawford, Texas, adding: "He adds a lot of excitement to my life. He still makes me laugh a lot."

The president, once better-known for his drunken habits and high jinks around the bars of Texas than for his political interests, has made no secret of the fact Mrs Bush is the rock of his life.

He once told a Republican gathering in Philadelphia: "No matter what else I do in my life, asking Laura to marry me was the best decision I ever made."

Whether a desire to defend the woman he loves so much and so publicly has played a part in the toughest decision of his career so far can only be open to question.

Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in leadership psychology at the University of Manchester, said the significance of Mrs Bush should not be underestimated. He said: "People in high-profile jobs often need the solace and the support of a spouse, who may be the only person they feel they can truly trust, if they are to make unpopular or difficult decisions."

Prof Cooper also suggested there was an element of unfinished business from 1991 in the president’s war plans. He said: "I think it may be that he wants to finish what his father started, because he feels the problem is still there in Iraq so many years later. Maybe he is trying to live up to his father."

Yet Prof Cooper, who is originally from Los Angeles but has lived in the UK for 35 years, said he thought the president’s reasons for an Iraqi war were broader than taking revenge for an attempt to kill his family.

"The president takes advice from a range of experts, he is subjected to lots of checks and balances," he said.

"George Bush simply would not be allowed to take personal revenge in this way. I think he is acting as a president, not a husband.

"He knows he has to be seen to do something. But terrorism is so elusive, how can he do this? I think that he and Blair have focused on Iraq because they feel it is something tangible - they cannot get directly to bin Laden, or to all the would-be terrorists, so they focus on what they regard as a terrorist state."