As a showdown with Iraq looms, former Vice President Dan Quayle still believes his administration made the right choice in ending the Persian Gulf War when it did, leaving Saddam Hussein in power.
"Looking back on it, it was made in the heat of the moment and, we could be a little more clairvoyant with hindsight, but it was a good decision then and I think it's the correct decision now," Mr. Quayle said Thursday at a fund-raiser for U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, held at the home of Augusta attorney John B. Long.
"There was some wishful thinking on our part that somebody in Iraq would take things into their own hands and ... get a new leader. That hasn't happened. Too bad," said Mr. Quayle, who was part of the Bush White House from 1989 to 1993.
But if President Clinton is going to tangle with the Iraqi leader, he needs to shore up the 26-nation coalition that defeated Saddam the first time, Mr. Quayle said.
"It is absolutely imperative that he keep that coalition together because if the coalition splits, then Saddam Hussein has a chance of prevailing," Mr. Quayle said. "He is thumbing his nose at the world. (And) it looks to me that the coalition is not as strong as it once was. Where's France? Where's Russia? Where's China? (President) Jiang Zemin comes over here from China and gets every single thing he asks for. Do you think we in return might be able to get some cooperation from China on this very important issue?"
The incident with American weapons inspectors being first detained then ordered out of Iraq calls to mind the horror Mr. Quayle felt in 1991 when the United States learned how close Iraq was to creating a nuclear weapon.
"Our CIA totally missed this," Mr. Quayle said. "They told us 10 years. When we got there, it was six months. What Saddam Hussein is doing (now) is going ahead with chemical and biological (weapons)."
But to have invaded Baghdad during the war would have cost "tens of thousands" of lives and left the United States as an occupying force, Mr. Quayle said.
"Colin Powell would be mayor of Baghdad now," Mr. Quayle said.
What Mr. Clinton needs is a plan for any move Saddam makes, Mr. Quayle said. And he needs to rally the rest of the world around that response.
"You tell them this is Saddam against the world (and) if Saddam gets away with this, who is going to be the next tinhorn dictator who's going to be able to flaunt international law?" Mr. Quayle said.
Mr. Quayle's appearance Thursday night may be part of a campaign to position himself to replace Mr. Clinton after 2000.
"We're seriously considering it. Obviously, an announcement won't come until 1999. But I intend to be in the thick of things," Mr. Quayle said.
Asked if he could beat Vice President Al Gore, the man who stands now where he stood during the crises in 1991, Mr. Quayle laughed. "Absolutely," he said.