NAPLES, Fla. — National politics and international terrorism took center stage as the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) wrapped up its annual meeting Friday at The Ritz-Carlton with appearances by former President George H.W. Bush and a former U.S. ambassador. Marlin Fitzwater, who served as press secretary to both former President Ronald Reagan and Bush, interviewed Bush before a packed ballroom, and their breezy, 45-minute conversation touched upon a number of topics, including the current economic recession. "I think there’s a good chance for growth instead of recession this year," Bush said. "Without being an expert, I’m confident there will be a recovery before the end of the year."
The bulk of Bush’s appearance focused on international affairs, and the former president said he doesn’t regret his decision not to attempt to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power during the Persian Gulf War. "I’m sorry he’s still there, [but] I’m not sorry that I didn’t send American kids in there to be an occupying army," he said. Bush added that an effort to remove Hussein would have drawn widespread international disapproval and would have wrecked the 26-nation coalition that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The session concluded with Fitzwater asking Bush his impression of several of the foreign heads of state that Bush dealt with during his presidency.
The conference’s final day began with an early-morning speech by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Consulting, who spent 23 years in diplomatic service. In 1983, former President Reagan appointed him as the U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, and three years later as the ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism.
Bremer said the United States is employing a two-phase strategy in the war against terrorism. The first phase consists of driving the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. The second phase will consist of destroying al Qaeda cells in 50 to 60 other countries and addressing other states that actively support terrorism, such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Yemen. "I feel that we will have to go to war with Iraq," Bremer said. At the conclusion of his speech, Bremer said that the war on terrorism will mean higher transaction costs for American businesses as goods moving across countries’ borders will undergo more intensive and time-consuming security examinations.