War looms as Bush issues final warning
By Dana Milbank and Mike Allen
WASHINGTON President Bush vowed yesterday to attack Iraq with the "full force and might" of the U.S. military if Saddam Hussein does not flee within 48 hours, setting the nation on an almost certain course to war.
Aviation Ordnance Specialist Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Keanaaina helps carry an AIM-120 guided missile from an F/A-18 Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf. Keanaaina is from Maui.
"The tyrant will soon be gone; the day of your liberation is near," Bush said in remarks he said will be broadcast in translation to Iraqis. Promising to rebuild an Iraq without oppression, he urged Iraqis to lay down their arms.
"It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power," he said. "It is not too late for the Iraqi military to act with honor and protect your country, by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction."
The ultimatum triggered a wave of offensive and defensive measures across the world. Bush declared a state of "heightened watch" for terrorist strikes in the United States. Vowing to fortify borders and patrols, U.S. officials raised the national terrorism alert to "code orange," the second-highest level of danger.
In the Persian Gulf region, about 300,000 U.S. and British troops prepared for action, while on Wall Street stocks rallied as the prewar uncertainty ended. In Britain, a senior member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet resigned in protest of the war while Parliament readied an anti-war vote. The likelihood of imminent hostilities also led government leaders in Turkey to revisit the legislature's earlier refusal to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish soil for an attack.
Bush's nationally televised speech, from Cross Hall in the White House, was tantamount to a war announcement in the view of administration officials, because Iraq has made it clear that Saddam will not accept exile. While the president said hostilities will begin "at a time of our choosing," a senior official said last night that Bush is likely to make a second speech to the nation after the ultimatum expires tomorrow night, announcing an attack.
Bush presented grim images of the danger of terrorist strikes on U.S. soil that could kill hundreds of thousands.
"We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities," he said. He spoke darkly of acting "before the day of horror can come."
The address included a recitation of the now-familiar history of U.S. and U.N. efforts to disarm Saddam since the Gulf War in 1991, and the dossier of the Iraqi leader's weapons programs. But, with the completion of the administration's diplomatic debacle at the United Nations, he added to his remarks a sharp condemnation of what he views as a feckless Security Council and the leading holdout, France.
"Some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq," Bush said. "These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it.
"Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace. And a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities. So we will rise to ours."
Earlier in the day, British and U.S. diplomats, facing certain defeat on the Security Council, withdrew a resolution that would have cleared the way for war. Though Bush on Sunday vowed another day of "working the phones," it quickly became clear that as many as 11 of 15 council members remained opposed and the effort was abandoned by 10 a.m.
The withdrawal of the resolution without a vote was a double climb-down for Bush. On Feb. 22, he had predicted victory at the United Nations, and on March 6 he said he wanted a vote regardless of the outcome.
President Bush yesterday vowed to attack Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not flee within 48 hours. Bush's declaration makes a war appear inevitable.
Last September, Bush called on the United Nations to confront Saddam, and two months later the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution saying the dictator would face "serious consequences" if he did not disarm. In October, Bush won votes from both houses of Congress authorizing him to use military force against Iraq.
But with U.N. weapons inspectors reporting halting progress in their work in Iraq, Security Council members, including France, Russia, China and Germany, were opposed to American efforts to cut off inspections and present Iraq with an ultimatum.
Instead, Bush issued the ultimatum on his own. "All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end," he announced. "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals, including journalists and inspectors, should leave Iraq immediately."
Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay, both in their late 30s, are described by U.S. intelligence as ruthless successors-in-waiting who have abetted torture and enforced his police-state tactics. The administration has said both should be tried as war criminals.
Bush defiantly asserted a right to attack Iraq, even without sanction from the Security Council. "The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security," he said. "The United States and our allies are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a question of authority. It is a question of will."
In a major passage of the speech directed at Iraqis listening on translated radio broadcasts, Bush urged soldiers to surrender to the U.S. soldiers' peaceful intentions. "I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services, if war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life," he said.
Bush committed himself to providing food and medicine in the short term, and democracy in the long run.
In Kuwait, Spc. Maurice Houssel, left, of Fayettville, N.C. and other soldiers filled out casualty cards that are to be placed in their helmets along with family photos.
In his remarks, the president also presented a concise articulation of his "pre-emption" doctrine allowing the United States to attack emerging threats.
"Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice in formal declarations," he said. "And responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now."
At a National Security Council meeting convened at the White House early yesterday, Bush finalized the decision to withdraw the resolution from consideration and prepared to deliver an address to the nation that had already been written.
Rather than calling doubters, he spent much of the day talking to committed allies, including the prime ministers of Britain and Spain, who co-sponsored the U.N. measure; Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha of Bulgaria, the only other council member to support it; Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who said Bush had asked him to send Australian troops to Iraq.
The speech had been in the works for weeks. A senior official described the final trajectory of Bush's decision as "a snowball picking up speed" ever since the previous Monday, when French President Jacques Chirac said he would veto any resolution threatening war.
The mood around the White House was mostly somber, with increased security around the grounds and on neighboring streets. One senior official spoke of a sense of relief that the diplomatic wrangling was over, saying, "Finally, after so many weeks, we're moving forward."
The White House has refused to offer official estimates of the cost of the war, and Bush provided none last night. Sources said he plans to ask Congress in coming days for about $80 billion for the combat phase and the initial reconstruction of Iraq.