Bush to Saddam: Get out of Dodge

In a terse speech to the nation and the world, the president stopped just short of a declaration of war.

Published March 19, 2003 6:00AM (EST)

President George W. Bush issued one final declarative ultimatum Monday night: Saddam Hussein and his two sons, Odai and Qusai, have 48 hours to leave the country, and if they don't, their failure to act "will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing."

Bush didn't have to make the comparatively trifling complaint that the leadership of Iraq was in material breach of last November's United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. No, in his address to the world -- given on the day that the U.S., United Kingdom, and Spain finally withdrew the second, stillborn resolution urging United Nations military intervention against Iraq -- Bush pointed out that Saddam was in fact in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions 678 and 687, from November 1990 and April 1991, respectively, passed before and after his father's Gulf War and still in effect today.

"The United States and our allies are authorized to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction," Bush said. "This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will." Reaching back 12 years seemed to be another way for Bush to show that the U.S. has the will to disarm Saddam while others -- "members of the Security Council [who] have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq" -- do not. It was a pointed rebuke of Russia and, especially, of France.

Standing in the Cross Hall of the White House and sporting the combination of serene confidence and deer-in-the-headlight panic that has become the his singular mien at times of crisis, Bush said that war was necessary because of clear and present danger to the country.

"The danger is clear," Bush said. "Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other."

With approximately 235,000 American and 45,000 British troops currently in the Gulf, assuming pere et les fils Hussein don't get out of Dodge within the proscribed time, another 48-hour time period then becomes significant: the Pentagon's announced two-day "shock and awe" bombing campaign.

Three thousand cruise missiles and satellite-guided bombs could begin falling at any moment beginning Wednesday evening, preempting CBS's "Survivor" with a much more horrific and un-ironic offering of reality television.

While the president was polishing up his speech with aides such as wordsmith Mike Gerson and pit bull Karen Hughes on Monday, U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Central Command, was in Kuwait meeting with Army Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, his land forces commander.

In anticipation of war, more than 350 U.N. employees -- both weapons inspectors and relief aid workers -- were ordered out of the country on Monday by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Others have been told to leave, but just in case they hadn't read a paper in a few days, President Bush kindly suggested that "all foreign nationals -- including journalists and inspectors -- should leave Iraq immediately." Other individuals were going the other way, into Iraq, as Bush announced the expulsion of those "with ties to Iraqi intelligence services" from this country and others. In recent days, the State Department has told American citizens, nonessential embassy personnel and the families of U.S. diplomats in Gaza, Israel, Kuwait, Syria, and the West Bank to leave. It strongly suggested that those who didn't have to travel to Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia refrain from doing so.

The speech wasn't inspiring, or all that long, even. Its overall message: Duck!

And this was not just to the Iraqis and those abroad, but here at home as well. The president warned that "possible" but not necessarily inevitable "terrorist operations against the American people and our friends" might be in store. Immediately after the speech, the Homeland Security Council returned the national threat level to Code Orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack, and fired up something called "Operation Liberty Shield" to protect U.S. infrastructure, with extra Border Patrol officers, security over the food supply, an increased National Guard presence at public facilities, "additional security of our airports, and increased Coast Guard patrols of major seaports," Bush said.

The FBI has also increased surveillance on Iraqis and others it deems fishy. The Washington Post reported Monday that 5,000 FBI agents were being drafted to specifically guard against terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, with headquarters in D.C. and all 56 field offices staffing 24-hour command centers working with the nation's 66 joint terrorism task forces.

The president's 1,769-word, 14-minute speech, was concise but clear. He had tried to work diplomatically for the last four and a half months, he said, but the rest of the world just isn't serious about disarming Saddam. "The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours," he said. At another point Bush said that "the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war."

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken on Friday and Saturday indicates 2-1 U.S. support for sending U.S. ground troops to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Fifty-seven percent agreed that the Bush administration has made a convincing case for taking military action. A CBS News poll from the weekend indicated that 48 percent of the American people like the way the president talks about his strong religious beliefs when discussing the possibility of military action against Iraq, while 38 percent said that it bothered them somewhat.

The president's friendlier rivals -- both domestic and international -- raised questions about such a belief. While arguing that "Hussein has brought military action upon himself," Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said that "the administration's handling of the run-up to war with Iraq could not possibly have been more inept or self-defeating." Voicing support for the troops and the general goal of disarming Hussein, another Democratic presidential wannabe, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, reiterated his "deep concerns about this president's management of the crisis, mistreatment of our allies and misconstruction of international law."

Somewhat inexplicably, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told a union audience that he was "saddened, saddened, that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to go to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country." The administration's diplomatic stumbling aside, it was unclear how getting a larger multilateral coalition together to fight a war would have prevented war or saved a life.

Asked at a Monday news conference about diplomatic missteps, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "you can always look and say you should have done this, should have done that." That said, he felt the Bush team had put forth a valiant effort, but just couldn't "persuade the council that what they were seeing was not compliance. What they were seeing was passive cooperation."

French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin -- who a week ago managed to find the time to hop to Guinea, Cameroon and Angola in Africa to urge three Security Council swing votes to block the U.S. effort, but somehow didn't manage to make it to Iraq to urge Saddam to disarm -- issued a typical statement against the U.S. move. "France regrets a decision that nothing justifies today and that risks turning out to have serious consequences for the region and the world," de Villepin said.

With yet another nyet heard 'round the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin called anything other than a peaceful resolution "a mistake," according to the Interfax newswire, while Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said such action would be illegal. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told his Parliament that "if military action proceeds without a new resolution of the Security Council, Canada will not participate."

On the other hand, in a Tuesday cabinet meeting, Australia agreed to have the 2,000 troops it has in the region join the U.S.-led coalition, and there were reports that Turkey was reconsidering its vote against allowing U.S. troops into the country.

In Baghdad, Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri said that "the only option is the departure of the warmonger No. 1 in the world -- the failing President Bush who has made his country a joke in the world."

In a blow for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former foreign secretary Robin Cook, the government's leader in parliament, resigned in protest of Blair's pro-war stance. In a speech to the Parliament, Cook mentioned that "if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way, and Al Gore had been elected," the world would not now be on the precipice of war.

That seems a century ago, when Bush was a completely different man. Sept. 11 transformed us all, of course. But at times the differences between Bush the candidate and Bush the president are so stark you start to wonder if they're indeed the same man. "If we are an arrogant nation, they will resent us," he once proclaimed about U.S. relations with other nations. "If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us."

And then there's Bush new take on the pending war as a human rights issue.

During the second presidential debate in 2000, Bush was asked about the Rwanda tragedy, the 1994 Hutu-led genocide of 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis. That happened on the watch of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and he was later accused of impeding U.N. action to end the genocide. Human Rights Watch eventually charged the Clinton administration with "objections and foot-dragging [that] caused critical delays in the deployment of African peacekeeping forces which might have saved tens of thousands of Rwandan lives."

During the 2000 debate, moderator Jim Lehrer posed the question: "There was no intervention from the outside world. Was that a mistake not to intervene?" Bush's reply: "[T]he administration did the right thing in that case ... It was a horrible situation. No one liked to see it on our -- you know, on our TV screens." But "the administration made the right decision."

At another time, candidate Bush said: "We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside our strategic interests ... I would not send the United States troops into Rwanda."

On Sunday, however, speaking at a summit in the Azores, Bush cited the U.N. as impotent and cited its inaction in Rwanda as proof of its inhumanity. "Remember Rwanda, or Kosovo," he said. "The U.N. didn't do its job."

In any case, MP Cook's argument seems iffy. On Monday, Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., also running for president, issued a statement in strong support of the president's goals, if not his skills.

"This is a day to face facts," Lieberman said, citing as facts that "Saddam has weapons of mass destruction ... in direct violation of the commitment he made at the end of the Gulf War," that Saddam "has a history of aggression against his neighbors and a clearly stated desire to dominate the Arab world ... has been brutal to the Iraqi people, causing the death of more than a million of them ... (and) frequently says he wants to avenge the United States for his humiliating defeat 12 years ago." Lieberman agreed with Bush that "if we do not disarm Saddam now, he will inevitably use his weapons against us or give them to terrorists who will."

In "A World Transformed," the foreign policy memoir that the first President Bush co-wrote with his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush wrote that "Senator Joseph Liebermann" (sic) was one of a handful of Democrats who "seemed to understand the gravity of the situation and told me they were ready to support force." Lieberman and Gore were two of 10 Democrats who supported that resolution.

In the Persian Gulf, the president's speech was being translated into Arabic, so almost one-fifth of the address was aimed at them. To Iraqi civilians, he said that any war would be "directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you," and that food, medicine, prosperity, freedom, liberation and self-government were around the corner. As were an end to "wars of aggression against your neighbors," torture chambers, poison factories, execution of dissidents, and rape as an instrument of repression. Bush urged Iraqi soldiers to surrender and permit "the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction."

Sounding as if the war had already been fought and won, Bush also instructed the Iraqi people to refrain from destroying oil wells, committing war crimes, or obeying "any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone." Senior defense officials have reported that intelligence indicates the possible distribution of chemical weapons among Iraqi soldiers.

"When the enemy opens the war on a large scale it should realize that the battle between us will be waged wherever there is sky, earth and water anywhere in the world," Saddam told a cluster of military officers in an address broadcast on Iraqi TV. "Who appointed America the unjust judge of the world?"

Around the world, Bush seemed to be answering Saddam's question. "Free nations have a duty to defend our people by uniting against the violent," he concluded. "And tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility."

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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