In the Bush administration's first explicit acknowledgment that it may have misjudged the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, presidential national security adviser Brent Scowcroft said Sunday that Iraq's brutal attack against the Kurds took the White House by surprise.
``We did anticipate that there would be a lot of chaos and that the winning of the war would not solve the problems of that region by any stretch of the imagination,' Scowcroft said on ABC's ``This Week with David Brinkley.'But, he added: ``One of the things perhaps we did not anticipate was the severity of (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein's attack against the Kurds, with possibly the intention of solving his Kurdish problem by driving them out.'
The tragedy has cast a shadow over the stunning allied victory against Iraq. The coalition forces stopped short of overthrowing Saddam, thus leaving in place a leader whom President Bush repeatedly compared to Adolf Hitler.
Bush had urged the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam, but when the Kurds attempted a rebellion, it was quickly crushed by Saddam. Up to 1.2 million refugees - many of them starving - are believed to have fled Iraq for Iran and Turkey.
The administration has come under increasing criticism for having been too slow in responding to the Kurdish crisis, and Bush's approval rating has plunged from where it was just after the war ended.
Scowcroft noted Sunday that the United States had stocked some border areas with refugee supplies. ``What we could have done is, perhaps, pre-positioned more supplies in Turkey,' he said.
But he asserted that given the harshness of the terrain, ``it is hard for the people to survive now at those altitudes. We could, perhaps, have marginally improved that,' he admitted, ``but only marginally.'
Scowcroft insisted that it would have been a mistake to carry the war further to remove Saddam from power. ``That would have changed the whole character of the situation,' he said.