- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

Most State of the Union addresses fade pretty quickly and are all but forgotten. But the chilling reverberations from President Bush's stirring call-to-arms speech on Iraq are still being felt both here and abroad.
His central message was not a clarion declaration of war, though he has moved the United States to the brink of war. Rather, it was the eloquent prologue to an unimpeachable indictment that Mr. Bush and his administration will repeatedly present in the coming weeks, meticulously exposing and condemning each of Saddam Hussein's evil deceptions and deceits.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and others in the chain of command will lay out new intelligence evidence before the U.N. Security Council and other bodies. Mr. Bush is to deliver a series of speeches that will build on that indictment.
Administration officials at the highest levels are confident of their case for war to end Saddam's regime. If there are any remaining doubts among our major allies about the danger Saddam poses, they will vanish for all but the most hard-core anti-war holdouts (such as France and Germany) when that case is fully made. One by one, Italy, Turkey, Jordan and others are jumping on board.
Mr. Bush's delivery changed dramatically in the second half of his address, when he steered the speech from the domestic issues to the threat posed by Iraq to our allies in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere.
His grim resolve wasn't an act.
A small group of journalists, including myself, attended a personal presidential briefing of the speech in the Oval Office the day before he spoke. There, Mr. Bush quickly ticked off the economic and other domestic initiatives he would talk about, giving them short shrift.
But when he turned to Iraq which consumed most of the background briefing he discussed at length what was at stake militarily, the risks that were involved, the evidence that was being amassed by our intelligence sources, the solemn obligation he had to defend America, and the brave soldiers who would have to shoulder the burden of war.
His voice was low, deliberate and steady when he talked about the awesome responsibility of sending troops into battle for a just cause. But the expression on his face turned cold, steely and determined when he said that if these brave men were sent into Iraq, they would be backed by "the full might of the United States military."
It was an unusual State of the Union address in that it was a tutorial for the American people on Saddam's many transgressions. There were the thousands of unaccounted chemical and biological weapons that have mysteriously disappeared. There was Iraq's continued resistance to the unambiguous U.N. resolution to reveal and destroy all of their weapons and the means of delivery. There were the torture chambers and the threats to the lives of Iraqi scientists if they dared to cooperate with the inspectors.
Members of Congress talked later about how quiet the House chamber was as Mr. Bush recounted the numbers of deadly toxins and chemicals that Saddam possessed, the torture of children while their families watched, the mutilations and rapes, and "the decisive days that lie ahead."
For those Americans, including the anti-war crowd, who do not see the need to stop Saddam and disarm him now, Mr. Bush told how this evil despot has been harboring al Qaeda terrorists, financing them and giving them the means to kill still more innocent civilians.
"Chemical agents and lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons, and other plans this time armed by Saddam Hussein," he said.
And if that image was not sobering enough, Mr. Bush added, "It would take just one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."
You could hear a pin drop.
Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech will not be forgotten because it was one of the rare presidential addresses before Congress that laid out the case for war if war is needed to prevent a growing threat to America's future safety and security.
And Mr. Bush left little doubt that war was now the only option to deal with this madman. "Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy and it is not an option," he said.
Even before Mr. Bush spoke, the political embers of opposition and criticism from the Democrats were rapidly cooling. Soon after Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut read the surprisingly tough indictment by Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, he issued an unequivocal statement saying he fully supported what Mr. Bush intended to do in Iraq.
The political noise about unilateralism is barely heard as more of our allies join us. Bipartisanship over Mr. Bush's war plans is growing. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and other top advisers are briefing lawmakers about the evidence they have accumulated, which one member calls "chilling."
Mr. Bush and his national security advisers hold out a faint hope that Saddam and his gang will flee the country in the end, or be overthrown by a coup, but they aren't betting on it.
The day of reckoning is getting closer.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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