- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

President Bush last night told the nation he had begun a military assault on Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein and said the U.S. military would use "decisive force" and "accept no outcome but victory."
In a somber, four-minute address to the nation slightly more than two hours after his deadline for the Iraqi dictator and his sons to leave Baghdad, the president said the campaign may be "longer and more difficult than some predict," but pledged to lead America "through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace."
"Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half-measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory," Mr. Bush said from the Oval Office.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush had officially notified Congress that war with Iraq was imminent, clearing the way for a military strike.
Final precursor
In what was seen as the final legal precursor to war, Mr. Bush sent a three-paragraph letter to Congress asserting his authority for the "use of military force against Iraq."
Mr. Bush said he is "acting pursuant to the Constitution" and the requirements of Congress' October resolution that authorized the president to use force to strip Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction.
"Nothing that has occurred in the past twelve years, the past twelve months, the past twelve weeks, or the past twelve days provides any basis for concluding that further diplomatic or other peaceful means will adequately protect the national security of the United States from the continuing threat posed by Iraq," said an accompanying seven-page report that summarized the administration's legal and strategic rationales for war.
The president spoke last night after a handful of U.S. Air Force stealth fighter-bombers struck with about three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs against a site near Baghdad, where Iraqi leaders were thought to be, U.S. government officials said.
"My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger," he said.
"On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."
Giving the order
More than six months after pleading with the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions ordering Saddam to disarm, Mr. Bush said in last night's speech that the United States cannot risk the possibility that the dictator will join forces with terrorists and attack America.
"We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities," he said. "Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly. Yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and their friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."
The president gave the order to wage war near the end of a three-hour meeting last night with his war council including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Bush oversaw the final drafting of war plans, and the group reviewed weather forecasts and troop positions before the president made his decision to act.
The president said more than 35 countries are a part of the U.S.-led coalition, offering support ranging from the use of naval and air bases to help with intelligence and logistics to deployment of combat units.
"Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense," he said.
Brutality of Saddam
As he did earlier in the day, Mr. Bush last night spelled out the brutality of Saddam.
"In this conflict, America faces an enemy that has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality," Mr. Bush said. "Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military, a final atrocity against his people."
Contrasting Saddam's practices, Mr. Bush said in his speech that he wanted "Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm.
"We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice," he said. "We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people."
While he vowed quick victory, Mr. Bush acknowledged that the campaign comes with unknowns, including the future of a nation ruled for 24 years by Saddam.
"A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment," he said.
As the deadline for Saddam to avert war by fleeing Iraq with his sons passed, an air of edgy anticipation swirled through Washington. Mr. Bush got the word that Saddam had not fled Iraq when White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. called him just after he finished dinner in the residence with first lady Laura Bush.
The president reviewed his Oval Office address, which he had worked on with his chief speechwriter after deciding to give the war order, then headed back to the Oval Office to deliver the speech to a waiting nation.
The administration had spent the earlier part of yesterday warning of American casualties as the 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam expired.
"On the brink of war with Iraq, Americans should be prepared for what we hope will be as precise and short a conflict as possible," Mr. Fleischer said. "But there are many unknowns.
"It could be a matter of some duration we do not know," he said. "Americans have to be prepared for loss of life."
Yesterday morning, the Secret Service expanded a security perimeter around the White House, restricting access in front of the executive mansion to those with proper credentials.
National Park Service police closed Lafayette Park, evicting protesters and arresting more than two dozen who refused to move and instead knelt on Pennsylvania Avenue with life-size photos of Iraqi women and children.
The administration also issued a final warning to Iraqi soldiers to surrender.
"The president's message to Iraqi forces is: This is not your war," Mr. Fleischer said. "Don't follow the orders of the regime."
"The Iraqi people are the innocents who are caught in between," he added. "And the president would very much like to see the Iraqi people save their lives, the Iraqi military save their lives, by laying down their arms and by not following their orders."
But even before the first shot, the White House began to signal that wavering allies will pay a price for their lack of total support. The administration brushed off overtures by Turkey to play a last-minute role in the war.
"There are some important leading Turkish voices who have expressed their position that Turkey should grant flyover rights," Mr. Fleischer said. "But as a legal matter, the Turkish parliament has not yet voted on that."
The administration also claimed partial vindication for having argued for months that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. France, which has long downplayed U.S. concerns about such weapons, offered on Tuesday to help U.S. forces if Iraq resorts to chemical or biological weapons.
"We seem to have gone from a debate at the United Nations process where people said, 'You haven't proved he has weapons of mass destruction; the inspectors haven't been able to find where Saddam is hiding them,' to now rampant speculation that Saddam Hussein has chemical-biological weapons that he is getting ready to unleash on American forces," Mr. Fleischer said.
"If people now accept the premise that he does have weapons of mass destruction," he added, "the world cannot afford to let Saddam pick who he would use them on and when he would use them, especially if the world was not prepared to take countermeasures."
The president began his day with the usual briefing from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and CIA Director George J. Tenet. He also met throughout the day with his advisers, including Mr. Rumsfeld, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Mr. Bush also discussed battle plans via telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has sent 40,000 troops to the Persian Gulf.

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