First blow aimed at Saddam for symbolism, psychology
By Chuck Raasch
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON The first blow was aimed at Saddam Hussein.
The long-awaited, strategized and feared war in Iraq began with high political symbolism and attempted psychological impact. It came in a predawn strike today, reportedly aimed at the Iraqi leadership. In the struggle for world public opinion over the past tumultuous months, President Bush had insisted that Saddam's regime and the alleged weapons of mass destruction he controlled were the reasons the United States was risking war. Not a lust for oil, or regional domination or religious hatred, as Bush's critics have claimed.
By focusing an initial salvo of missiles and bombs on a "target of opportunity" reportedly a gathering of Iraqi leaders the United States was putting an opening exclamation mark on Bush's claims.
"We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people," Bush said in a terse prime-time address after the initial attack.
Initial damage assessments were unclear, and reports from the theater were imbued with the usual caution and confusion of war.
Saddam was shown on Iraqi television at 8:30 a.m. today, but it was impossible to tell if it was live or taped. There was no specific reference to the initial bombing.
"The criminal junior Bush committed he and his aides his crime he was threatening with Iraq," Saddam said, according to a CNN translation. Saddam several times referred to the "Zionist" coalition led by the United States.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the strike was "a no-cost roll of the dice" after intelligence had suggested Saddam's leadership had gathered in a Baghdad location.
Bush also warned that the struggle could be more difficult than the pundits were widely predicting.
After the first bombs fell, Bush clearly tried to define the aims to the Iraqi people as much an American audience.
"We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice," Bush said in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office. "We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people."
Bush's brow was furrowed, his shoulders straight and stiff as he stared directly into the camera during his four-minute address. Helping Iraq achieve a stable world after Saddam, he said, "will require our sustained commitment."
While it was only a short address delivered in Bush's clipped style, it incorporated many of the themes that have underpinned his anti-terrorism policies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
He has argued that confronting Saddam was an essential part of that war on terror because Saddam could deliver weapons of mass destruction to terrorists who would use them in the United States.
Bush had a moment of eloquence in the grim pronouncement of war when he referred to the losses of Sept. 11.
"We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, 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.
Judging by some of the punditry of recent days, it will be far harder to win back support of allies in an increasingly sour environment of global public opinion than it will be to topple Saddam's regime. Polls released this week indicated that support for the United States had plummeted throughout Europe and Asia, but those same polls also showed that many of the doubters also believed the world would be better off without Saddam.
The opening stages of war are notorious for their fog and bluster and false reports. But, even before the masses of American troops on the border to Iraq had invaded, by aiming an initial volley at the Iraqi leadership, Bush was hoping to begin winning back global public opinion, too.