WASHINGTON -- President Bush says he sheds tears for those who die in battle and is revolted by the mistreatment of American prisoners of war. But he says he does not anguish over the decisions that send these young men and women to their fate.
"I know what I've got to do," Mr. Bush said yesterday during a White House news conference. "I've got very good people helping me do it. I really don't lose sleep."
Although he acknowledged that his next decision -- whether to send U.S. troops into a ground war in the Persian Gulf -- would be "difficult," he said, "I feel rather calm about it."
Ever since he got tagged with the "wimp" label during his 1988 race for the presidency, Mr. Bush has eschewed any appearance of weakness. He sets a work-hard, play-hard standard for his staff -- a standard that earned them the reputation for being, as one aide put it, "the all-night White House."
Further, Mr. Bush has said he always admired Ronald Reagan's refusal to become overwhelmed by the burdens of his office, and he tries to emulate that.
"I don't feel any . . . loneliness at the top," he insisted.
The president said he was not unaffected by the loss of young lives in the pursuit of his war objectives.
"It works on my mind every day," Mr. Bush said. "I can't tell you I don't shed a tear for families of . . . those who might be lost in combat. We have had very few losses, and yet I've got to tell you, I feel each one."
But rather than making him shrink from battle, Mr. Bush said the combat losses and apparent abuse of prisoners by Iraq drive him harder.
"You see these prisoners paraded, and it just turns my stomach," the president said. "It just says something about the brutality of this person [Saddam Hussein] -- and that's what really motivates me."