- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, says he expects President Bush to lay out plans on invading Iraq in a U.N. speech this month.
While the White House insists that the president has not decided on military action against Iraq, Mr. Hagel told CNN that he does not believe that Vice President Richard B. Cheney "would go out and make two very declaratory defining war speeches on why we must invade Iraq, unilaterally if we must, without the knowledge and approval of the president of the United States."
Mr. Hagel, who has expressed reservations about a U.S. military assault on Baghdad, made his comments in an interview that aired yesterday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields."
"I note that the president is scheduled to speak to the United Nations General Assembly maybe the day after September 11. I would suspect that he will then lay out, at that point, the case to invade Iraq," said Mr. Hagel, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Asked what Mr. Bush will discuss in the U.N. speech Sept. 12, an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday, "The speech hasn't been written yet."
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Bush will use the speech "primarily to hold international support behind the war on terrorism." It also said White House advisers were debating about how much the speech should address "allies' objections to any military campaign in Iraq" and how much should be devoted to making the case to Americans about the threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Hagel said he believes that Mr. Cheney's tough words last week were "part of an orchestrated effort to probably position the president [for] when he is ready" to disclose his plans.
Twice last week, in separate veterans events in Nashville and San Antonio, Mr. Cheney made the case for military action against Saddam. On Thursday, Mr. Bush responded to critics of Mr. Cheney's remarks by saying he hasn't made a decision on whether to attack Iraq.
But Mr. Hagel said he thinks a decision has been made.
"I have to believe that this is part of some larger plan here. Those were very important speeches [by Mr. Cheney]. And, by the way, August is the month for all veterans organizations to have their annual conventions," the senator, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, said in the interview, which was taped Friday.
"I think this was very preordained and pre-positioned, and this was the beginning of a rollout public relations strategy in the United States that will roll into September before the United Nations," Mr. Hagel added.
Asked about Mr. Hagel's assertions, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "The vice president didn't say anything the president and other administration officials haven't said before."
In his speeches to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and to Korean War veterans, Mr. Cheney said Saddam has developed weapons of mass destruction to "inflict deaths on a massive scale." In addition to the chemical and biological weapons Iraq has now, it will have nuclear weapons "fairly soon," he said.
Mr. Hagel said he does not believe that Saddam possesses a nuclear capability. "Is he attempting to do that? You have to assume he is. But to scare the American public by saying this guy is a couple of months away from not only possessing nuclear weapons, but a ballistic missile to deliver them, that's dangerous stuff here," he said.
Mr. Hagel went on to say Saddam is a "problem" and a "threat," one "we're going to have to deal with."
"That isn't the issue. The issue is how, when, where, with whom. And then the big question. Who comes after him? Do we further stabilize our efforts in the Middle East, and in Central and South Asia if we do this alone?" he asked.
Mr. Hagel is one of a number of leading Republicans worried that the White House is rushing into a war with Iraq without carefully weighing all the issues and not having the backing of other countries.
The skeptics include former Secretaries of State Lawrence Eagleburger and James A. Baker III as well as former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. Mr. Hagel noted that these men, along with others who have expressed reservations, such as retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, "were involved in the architecture of the very successful 1991 Persian Gulf war."
"And the point they have been continuing to make is, run the diplomatic high ground first. Be part of the United Nations efforts here," Mr. Hagel said.
In the CNN interview, he cited another former Republican official, James Webb, who was Navy secretary during the Reagan administration. He recently sent Mr. Hagel a letter in which he pondered whether war buffs have "thought through, if we invade, how long we would be there." Mr. Webb suggested in his letter that it would take "many years" for nation building to be successful in a post-Saddam Iraq.
Like other skeptics, Mr. Webb also raised questions about the cost of such a war, the extent of the loss of life and potential damage to U.S. prestige in the war on terrorism. He suggested that the war could "turn maybe the entire Muslim world against us if we don't do it right."
Mr. Bush has insisted he does not mind the criticism from fellow Republicans. He has said he is optimistic that everyone will be on board once he decides upon his strategy for ousting Saddam.
In the television interview, Mr. Hagel said Mr. Bush "must" come before Congress to make the administration's case for invading Iraq. "I understand they've agreed they will do that," Mr. Hagel said.


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