- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

A political drumbeat is building from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill in support of a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq, but Bush administration officials are split on how to proceed and on whether Congress must first approve an attack.
While Bush officials have assured key lawmakers no U.S. attack on Iraq will occur before the November elections, the issue has moved center stage as the administration seeks to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's terrorist group, al Qaeda.
"Things have definitely ramped up recently, both at the Pentagon and Congress," one Bush official said. "But that doesn't mean we're any closer to action."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld last week said he believes there is a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, but added the United States cannot be sure because troops are not on the ground in Iraq.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, also said last week he suspects members of bin Laden's group are in Iraq.Establishing that connection matters because some are arguing that the president can act without Congress' backing for a military campaign because lawmakers have already authorized Mr. Bush to pursue al Qaeda. "The jury is still out on that issue," the Bush official said.
But Bush administration lawyers reportedly have concluded linking Iraq to the group responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks would provide the legal justification the administration needs to launch a strike without congressional approval.
A Senate resolution passed Sept. 14 authorizes the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided" in the attack.
An al Qaeda link also could allow the administration to bypass the United Nations.A U.N. Security Council resolution passed Sept. 28 affirms "the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense" by nations faced with the threat of terror attack and the need "to combat by all means" threats to international peace and security posed by terrorists.
Mr. Bush also remains committed to seeking the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"The policy of this administration is regime change," he said Friday after a White House meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah. He reiterated his stance yesterday while vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine.
"Nothing's changed," Mr. Bush told reporters. "I'm a patient man. I'll use all of the tools at our disposal" to deal with Saddam.
Speaking earlier yesterday at a political fund-raiser, Mr. Bush said: "We owe it to the future of civilization not to allow the world's worst leaders to develop and deploy and therefore blackmail the freedom-loving nations with the world's worst weapons."
The New York Times earlier this month reported the Bush administration planned to launch air strikes and commando raids from Jordan against neighboring Iraq once Mr. Bush gave the order.
Jordan immediately denied it, even escorting journalists on a tour of a desert air base to show it was not being upgraded to serve U.S. forces.
The continuing threat posed by Saddam has taken new prominence with congressional hearings this week. On Wednesday, two former top U.N. weapons specialists told a Senate panel the threat from Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons arsenals grows daily.
"The current leadership in Baghdad will eventually achieve a nuclear weapon in addition to their current inventories of other weapons of mass destruction," said Charles Duelfer, former deputy executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq.
Democrats and Republicans alike used the hearings to call for the administration to seek approval from Congress before launching a strike.
"If President Bush determines that large-scale offensive military action is necessary against Iraq, I hope he will follow the lead established by the previous Bush administration and seek congressional authorization," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, referring to President George H.W. Bush's actions before the Persian Gulf war.
In an interview yesterday on CNN's "Novak. Hunt & Shields," Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he also believes Mr. Bush should seek congressional authorization .
"The president should clearly get congressional support for this," said the Michigan Democrat. "There's too much at stake. There's too much of a potential for significant casualties. The resources involved are huge. And the impact on the [Mideast] region and our own security are so large that the president" should ask for Congress' approval.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont went further, introducing a resolution Tuesday opposing the use of force against Iraq without clear congressional approval.
But Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, offered a different opinion last week.
"What do they want us to say? 'Oh, Mr. Saddam Hussein, we're coming, we're coming. Get ready. You can expect us two weeks after Election Day. And, by the way. here's the way we're coming. But before we do that, we'll have a huge debate,'" he said.But Bush officials and military advisers realize any military action against Iraq would be very different this time than in the 1991 war.
Some are arguing that the element of surprise is crucial to success of any U.S. strike and may be more important in the long run than building a worldwide coalition of support, as Mr. Bush's father did.
Vice President Richard B. Dick Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld are reportedly pushing hard for a first strike on Iraq, while Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and many senior military men oppose such a move. They advocate aggressive enforcement of no-fly zones established after Iraq invaded Kuwait and renewed Navy enforcement of sanctions.
The options range from deploying 250,000 soldiers to sweep in from Kuwait to using a fraction of that manpower, instead relying on strategic strikes by special forces units and an internal force of Iraqi rebels who oppose Saddam.
The Bush administration has invited the leaders of six of the largest Iraqi opposition groups to Washington Friday for meetings on the future of Iraq.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the spate of scenarios appearing in newspapers — which he said come from officials who "don't know anything about what they're talking about" — may have an unintended benefit.
"I think that if Saddam Hussein picked up America's newspapers and read them, he'd be really confused right now — not a bad outcome," he said.
Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.

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