WASHINGTON – Leading Republicans are trying to slam the brakes on what they fear could be President Bush's rush to war with Iraq.
Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, House Majority Leader Dick Armey and top foreign policy voices have all warned against unilateral moves to attack Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that they believe could undermine the war against terror, destabilize the Middle East and create an ungovernable post-war Iraq.
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to former President George H.W. Bush, made the case for containing, rather than routing the Iraqi dictator and his suspected stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Scowcroft said, "(Saddam) is unlikely to risk his investment in weapons of mass destruction, much less his country, by handing such weapons to terrorists who would use them for their own purposes and leave Baghdad as the return address. While Saddam is thoroughly evil, he is above all a power-hungry survivor."
"I think Scowcroft has done us all a great favor by his article saying don't do it," former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said Friday. "My own personal view is that basically Gen. Scowcroft is correct. Unless the president can make a very compelling case that Saddam Hussein has his finger on a weapon of mass destruction and is about ready to use it, I do not think that now is the time to go to war against Saddam Hussein."
And former President Richard Nixon's former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged Bush to push for new weapons inspections.
A Kissinger op-ed in the Washington Post said in part, "The objective of a regime change should be subordinated ... to the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from Iraq as required by the U.N. resolutions. It is necessary to propose a stringent inspection system that achieves substantial transparency of Iraqi institutions. A time limit should be set. The case for military intervention then will have been made in the context of seeking a common approach."
For his part, the president said again Friday that Iraq has defied U.N. weapons inspection rules.
"There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that this man is thumbing his nose at the world," Bush said from his ranch in Crawford.
Hagel and others say that is not good enough.
"I don't think that Saddam Hussein thumbing his nose theory is quite good enough to set that in motion," Hagel said in reference to war-like action.
Analysts say the intra-party squabbling is better than the alternative.
"If some Republicans disagree with others I don't think that's a serious problem rather than having them stand like Pavlovian dogs," said Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former member of the National Security Council.
Of all the dissenters, top Republicans in Congress see Scowcroft as the key. They say they believe his opinion reflects that of Bush's father, whom they suspect is also counseling caution when it comes to Iraq.