March 3, 2003

Bush Is Undeterred by Opposition to Using Force Against Iraq


WASHINGTON, March 2 — The political and logistical obstacles to realizing President Bush's goal of ousting Saddam Hussein within weeks seem to keep mounting.

Billions of dollars in promised aid have not yet persuaded Turkey to open its bases to American troops. Most members of the Security Council are still demanding both more time for inspections and better evidence that Mr. Hussein cannot be contained except by war. And Mr. Hussein himself — just as the White House predicted — has begun blowing up a few Al Samoud missiles in hopes of averting an American invasion.

And yet Mr. Bush not only sounds more certain than ever that he is about to lead the United States into war — he also talks almost as if Mr. Hussein has already been deposed.

In a deliberate and risky strategy, Mr. Bush appears to be dropping out of the public debate over whether there is value in further inspections or any alternative to ousting Mr. Hussein, or sending him into exile.

"The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government," Mr. Bush said in his Saturday radio address, skipping past the question of how he plans to remove the current one.

It was one of many phrases, one of his senior aides said this weekend, that "reflect the leapfrog strategy," an effort to jump over French, German and Russian objections, Turkish intransigence, North Korean provocations, anxiety from the Arab League, and hand-wringing by Americans who are nervous about a go-it-alone approach.

"In his mind, the old debate about whether Saddam will disarm is over," one of Mr. Bush's senior aides said late last week. "We're on to the next phase, even if everyone else isn't there yet."

There is some sign of movement in Mr. Bush's direction. The United Arab Emirates this weekend broke the Arab silence, publicly called on Mr. Hussein to step down and won backing from Kuwait and Bahrain. But even if Mr. Bush was beginning to win allies there, he was losing Turkey.

All last week, Mr. Bush's aides expressed no doubt that within days American tanks and troops would be taking up positions along Turkey's long border with Iraq.

When the Turkish Parliament narrowly rejected the deal on Saturday, White House officials were stunned. Word arrived today from Ankara that Turkey's leaders might give their Parliament a second chance to approve the troop deployment, and White House officials described their best hope of resurrecting the deal as a huge plunge in the Turkish stock market on Monday morning caused by investors realizing that large amounts of American aid may not materialize.

But no one at the White House suggests — either on the record or off — that Mr. Bush will be deterred for a moment by the prospect that the military will not be able to divide Mr. Hussein's forces along two borders, north and south.

"There is apprehension but no panic," one senior official said today.

"There's a Plan B," the official said. "It's messier. It's more complicated. But it's not likely to slow the president."

At the United Nations, the diplomatic risks loom larger yet. Mr. Bush sought last week to short-circuit the argument about whether Iraq's disarmament to date proves that inspections are succeeding in containing Mr. Hussein by simply saying that disarmament is not enough and that it must be combined with the Iraqi leader's ouster.

Mr. Bush's opponents cried foul.

A change of government, the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said in an interview broadcast by ABC News today, may be Mr. Bush's goal, but it is not the objective of the United Nations.

"If we were going to pursue regime change all over the world," he said, "there's so many countries that would be included, so many dictators we would like to have out of the country. Where would we begin? Where would we stop?"

Speaking on "This Week," Mr. de Villepin dismissed Mr. Bush's most recent arguments that taking Mr. Hussein out of the equation will create a more stable Middle East. The French minister cited the destruction of the missiles as evidence that disarmament could be forced upon Iraq.

And, after a week in which the Bush administration focused determinedly on the good things that could emanate from an Iraq after Saddam Hussein, Mr. de Villepin reminded Americans that war means bloodshed. "How many boys, American boys, are going to die in Iraq?" he asked.

Mr. Bush and his aides have never really addressed the question of casualties, cost or even how long a war in Iraq might last.

When challenged last week in Congress about the potential costs, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz dismissed reports of an estimated $95 billion price tag, but declined to give his own figure. One of Mr. Bush's top security aides said recently that it was not possible to tell, even now, whether any war would last "three days, three weeks, three months or three years."

White House aides argue that the president cannot talk about casualties without scaring Americans. If, however, either the war or — after the presumed American victory — the occupation of Iraq goes badly, such a failure to hint at the problems may come back to haunt the president.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bush has been relentlessly optimistic. In his speech last Wednesday and again on Saturday, he talked of an occupation that would resemble the American liberation of Germany and Japan. But both of those were well-defined nations before their conflict with the United States.

Iraq is not — and could blow apart. "Of course, in our internal discussions we raise the Yugoslavia analogy," one administration insider said.

"We talk about what happens if there is score-settling. But this isn't the moment for the president to be talking about that risk."

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