- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

ST. LOUIS President Bush said yesterday that U.N. weapons inspectors have failed to live up to their job title and vowed, "when Iraq is liberated," to punish Iraqi soldiers who use weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam Hussein has "asked for more time so he can give the so-called inspectors more runaround," Mr. Bush said in a marked escalation of rhetoric against Baghdad.
"He wants to play a game," he added in a speech to small-business owners and employees of a shipping firm in St. Louis. "For the sake of peace, we must not let him play a game."
Mr. Bush urged the international community not to be fooled by Saddam's actions on a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding disarmament, citing the dictator's long history of flouting such mandates.
"We must not be fooled by the ways of the past," the president said. "After all, we've just discovered undeclared chemical warfare in Iraq," referring to a cache of empty warheads found by inspectors last week.
"That's incredibly troubling and disturbing evidence of a man not disarming."
Mr. Bush yesterday also spent more time than usual discussing scenarios involving U.S. engagement in combat inside Iraq. He issued a warning, as well.
"Should that path be forced upon us, there will be serious consequences," he said. "There will be serious consequences for any Iraqi general or soldier who were to use weapons of mass destruction on our troops or on innocent lives within Iraq."
In laying out the specifics of the warning, the president appeared to suggest that war with Iraq was a matter of "when," not "if."
"Should any Iraqi officer or soldier receive an order from Saddam Hussein or his sons or any of the killers who occupy the high levels of their government, my advice is, 'Don't follow that order,'" he said. "Because if you choose to do so when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal."
As Mr. Bush tried to shore up international support for a possible attack on Iraq, his aides worked furiously to counter news stories about erosion of domestic support. A senior administration official cited a raft of polls showing that the majority of Americans favor military action.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer also denounced Saddam in the wake of an administration report, titled "Apparatus of Lies," that details a history of deceptive actions by the dictator.
"One day after issuing the 'Apparatus of Lies,' describing Saddam Hussein's willingness to lie to the Iraqi people and to the world, Saddam Hussein this morning lied to the Iraqi people and the world," Mr. Fleischer said yesterday.
"Iraq claimed to have shot down a Predator this morning," he added, referring to an unmanned U.S. spy plane. "There is no truth to the Iraqi claim. They couldn't even wait 24 hours to show the world that they, once again, lie."
In a rebuttal of criticism from liberals that Mr. Bush is too eager for war, Mr. Fleischer pointed out that "there are a number of conservatives who think that the president should have moved already against Iraq."
The spokesman suggested that the majority of Americans in the political middle believe Mr. Bush is proceeding at the right pace.
"The American people see the threat the same way the president does," Mr. Fleischer said. "And I think that's overwhelmingly reflected in all the survey data that is out there.
"A strong majority of the American people are willing to support military action if it comes down to that. And if the president makes that case to the American people, I think you will see even more of the country supporting."
In his St. Louis speech, Mr. Bush also parried the issue by saying that he wants a peaceful solution and is not trigger-happy.
"I take seriously the commitment of any troop into combat," Mr. Bush said. "I desire peace.
"But in the name of peace, in the name of securing our future, if Saddam Hussein will not disarm, the United States of America and friends of freedom will disarm Saddam Hussein."
Although the Bush administration frequently says it ignores polls, a senior presidential aide yesterday cited specific poll numbers by Fox News Channel, the Pew Research Center, CBS, as well as Newsweek and Time magazines, to demonstrate public support for Mr. Bush's handling of the Iraq situation.
"The fundamental question is: Does the country support the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein?" the official said. "And on the other issues, such as timing, etc., it really comes down to whether or not the country trusts President Bush's judgment, knowing that he knows a lot more than the country knows."
The official added sardonically: "But we don't pay attention to polls."
The remarks were made to reporters aboard Air Force One as it ferried Mr. Bush to St. Louis for a speech on his economic stimulus package. Before the event, the president met with wealthy business owners "who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes," Mr. Fleischer said.
"This is because the president believes that all Americans who pay income taxes deserve income tax relief," he added.
The White House also made a pre-emptive response to the traditional Democrat accusation that Mr. Bush favors "tax cuts for the rich," pointing out that wealthy owners of small businesses keep the economy going by employing workers.
"My question to the Democrat critics is: How can you be for the employee if you're so against the employer?" Mr. Fleischer said. "Where do employees come from? They come from employers who create jobs and are willing to hire."

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