- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

President Bush has made up his mind that military action to topple Saddam Hussein is the way to solve the Iraq problem, but he has not chosen an option nor made a final decision to order strikes.
This assessment comes from interviews with military and administration officials who base their belief on discussions with White House personnel and on public statements made recently by Mr. Bush and his close confidante, Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
"I think he personally has made up his mind," said one military official. "He's going to see how far he can take things."
Said another military official with access to the Bush inner circle, "The president knows what direction he wants to go. There will be no final decision until he knows who is with him and who is not."
Mr. Bush last week kicked off a concerted public relations campaign to convince allies, Congress and the American public that military action against Saddam may well be necessary.
Officials said the White House believes it needs the support of Congress before starting an attack on Baghdad. Aides express confidence they can win the vote there once Mr. Bush and other administration officials publicly reveal more evidence on Iraq's weapons program. Aides acknowledge a defeat in Congress would likely end talk of a U.S. invasion.
That is one reason the administration is urging Congress to act before the end of the year on some type of resolution backing action.
But Bush aides, while saying backing from the United Nations is preferable, believe they would be justified in attacking Iraq based on the existing 1991 cease-fire. That U.N. resolution, which Saddam accepted, called for the unconditional dismantlement of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Since Baghdad has repeatedly broken the agreement, the resolution itself is authorization to resume hostilities, the Bush camp believes.
Administration officials also say the six-member Joint Chiefs of Staff, while not unanimously enthusiastic about a new war, support an attack to assure Saddam does not obtain nuclear weapons. "The president is not going to have any problem from the chiefs," said a senior official.
This official said that in recent weeks, most of the talk of Iraq inside the Pentagon is not "whether," but "how" the operation would be done.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said on ABC TV Sunday that the military will do a lot better job of destroying Iraq's Scud missile launchers this time than it did in 1991. During Desert Storm, Iraq launched missiles into Saudi Arabia and Israel, using mobile launchers the allies were never able to find.
"If it ever came to that, if the president ever decided we had to take action against Iraq, that would be job number one," Gen. Myers said Sunday of hunting Scud launchers.
Publicly, the administration's position is that Mr. Bush is still weighing options, one of which is military action.
On "Fox News Sunday," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described the process: "How would you do it? What would the after look like? And how would you deal with the after? How would you put together a better system than that which you are replacing? But the president is considering all of these things, and we've spent a great deal of time talking about the political options, the diplomatic options, the military options."
On needing U.N. backing for a new war, Mr. Powell said, "I think there is a sound legal argument that the president, if he felt it was necessary to do something now, can find the authority within existing U.N. resolutions, but I'm not saying that that's the way he would go."
The administration has sent plenty of signals from high-powered officials that military action is the president's choice.
In his speech last month to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Mr. Cheney dismissed the idea of renewed U.N. arms inspections as a waste of time as Saddam practices his "cheat and retreat" strategy.
Mr. Cheney then talked of how the United States would help rebuild Iraq after an attack, as it rebuilt Germany after World War II and is rebuilding Afghanistan.
"In other times the world saw how the United States defeated fierce enemies, then helped rebuild their countries, forming strong bonds between our peoples and our governments," the vice president said. "Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region."

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