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Analysis: President Bush's Speech Last Night To Drum Up Support For Military Action Against Iraq

Morning Edition: October 8, 2002

UN Considers Plan on Iraq Weapons Inspectors

BOB EDWARDS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

President Bush is urging Congress and the United Nations to pass tough resolutions dealing with Iraq. He said the world has every reason to assume the worst about Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein. The 30-minute speech from Cincinnati occurs the same week as Congress is expected to grant the president power to use military force if necessary. The president issued a warning to Saddam Hussein to take steps to avoid an attack by the US and its ally. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA reporting:

The president fully expects to win congressional backing of his call to action against Iraq, but he wants that victory to be overwhelming so as to send a message to the rest of the world, a message that the United States is speaking with one voice on the issue. So last night's speech, unlike the United Nations address almost a month ago, was delivered in prime time with the president attempting to answer what he described as legitimate questions that many Americans have raised.

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH

President GEORGE W. BUSH: First some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place.

GONYEA: And that sort of Q&A was the format of the speech. There wasn't much new, simply a methodic restating of the case against Saddam, often with the president citing a question and giving his answer. For example, `Why now?' the president asked. `Because the danger is already significant and that it grows worse with time.'

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH

Pres. BUSH: If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today--and we do--does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons.

GONYEA: The president pointed to intelligence and to statements from Iraqi defectors indicating that Iraq is trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. But he said he doesn't know how close Saddam actually is to success in developing such a weapon. Perhaps, he suggested, it could happen within a year if Iraq managed to produce, buy or steal even a portion of enriched uranium a little larger than the size of a softball. President Bush described thousands of tons of chemical agents he says Iraq has produced and cited Saddam's past use of such weapons on his own people. He also attempted to draw a line connecting Saddam with al-Qaeda, saying they share a common enemy, America, and citing an unnamed, quote, "very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year." He said that Iraq has taught al-Qaeda members to make bombs and poisons and said there's a real risk that Saddam would share chemical or biological weapons with terrorists.

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH

Pres. BUSH: Terror cells and outlaw regimes building weapons of mass destruction are different faces of the same evil. Our security requires that we confront both and the United States military is capable of confronting both.

GONYEA: The president said that if the demands of the civilized world are to mean anything, then the world must stand up to Iraq. He said he hoped military action could be avoided, but at the same time warned Iraqi military leaders that if they followed orders and unleashed chemical weapons against US troops, they could be tried for war crimes.

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH

Pres. BUSH: If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible. We will plan carefully. We will act with the full power of the United States military. We will act with allies at our side and we will prevail.

SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE

GONYEA: And the president spoke of the future Iraqi citizens could have once Saddam is gone.

SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH

Pres. BUSH: Freed from the weight of oppression, Iraq's people will be able to share in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy and create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.

GONYEA: It's not clear the president's speech actually changed any minds. Some Democrats are still calling for the US to act only after it has won the backing of the United Nations. Senator Edward Kennedy told the Senate yesterday that a first strike against Iraq can't be justified and asked the president to use the kind of restraint the senator's brother, President John F. Kennedy, showed toward Russia during the Cuban missile crisis 40 years ago this month. Another skeptic, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, reacted this way to Mr. Bush's remarks.

Senator LINCOLN CHAFEE (Republican): There's still some questions that I have, particularly the difficulty of getting the international coalition in lieu of all these most dangerous threats as spelled out. I mean, the Turks right on their border, are opposed. The Saudi Arabians are still opposed to this military action. And so why is the danger so grave that even their closest neighbors are still hesitant to endorse this action?

GONYEA: Still, the president is anticipating strong support on Iraq in Congress. The House will vote on the resolution on Thursday, with approval assured. And the Senate may follow suit as soon as Thursday night. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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