WASHINGTON – If President Bush orders military action against Iraq, he will clearly explain to Americans his decision to try to remove Saddam Hussein from power, a White House aide said Sunday.
"President Bush also understands if we go forward, if he decides that we need to take action to minimize the threat that he now poses, that he will do so in a way that will clearly be articulated to the American people, clearly articulated our friends and allies," the president's communications director, Dan Bartlett, said.
"And you'll find, because of the abysmal record of Saddam Hussein and the threat that he causes in the region, and to us as well, that we will have support.
"The president hasn't asked for support because he hasn't made up his mind. But I think you'll find many people rallying to such a noble cause."
Also on Sunday, White House officials said Vice President Dick Cheney was a late addition to the participation list for the military planning summit Bush is convening Wednesday at his Texas ranch, where he is vacationing.
Cheney, reportedly hawkish on military action against Saddam, will join Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers and others at the meeting. White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the session is not meant as a war-planning huddle on Iraq, but as a chance to update plans for military transformation, missile defense and the Pentagon budget.
The Bush administration accuses Iraq of supporting terrorism and of rebuilding its banned weapons of mass destruction program. Many U.S. allies are resisting the push to oust the Iraqi president, arguing that an invasion cannot be justified without firm proof that Iraq is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under the first President Bush, told Fox News Sunday he did not believe a regime change in Iraq is "legitimate policy at this stage, unless the president can demonstrate to all of us that Saddam has his finger on a nuclear, biological or chemical trigger and he's about to use it."
But if intelligence bears that out and "Bush gets up and tells us all that that is what the intelligence shows us, I'll believe him. ... But I need to know — we all need to know, I think — what the purpose is, why is it that we have to do it now," he said.
Bush has said he has no timetable for deciding on a military strike or "for any of our policies in regard to Iraq." A decision may not come this year. He has pledged to consult with Congress and U.S. allies.
"This is a threat that we must take seriously. We must do so in a way that is responsible and deliberate. ... President Bush is committed to make sure that we make the world a more peaceful place," Bartlett said on ABC's This Week.
"We think that the people of Iraq deserve better leadership. They've been treated horribly."
Bush has said he will make up his mind "based upon the latest intelligence, and how best to protect our own country plus our friends and allies."
Congressional hearings this month examined various ways to achieve the U.S. government's stated policy of seeking a regime change in Baghdad, and a steady stream of news reports has suggested the administration is actively reviewing various war plans.
Some fellow Republicans have in recent days strongly counseled Bush against military action.
Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Bush's father and President Ford, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week: "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken."
In Congress, there is growing unease about the wisdom of taking pre-emptive military action against Iraq without just cause.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said support from American allies was crucial.
`"We need to have our NATO allies. This is going to require heavy lifting," Lugar, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on NBC's Meet the Press. "Unless we plan this carefully, we're likely to destabilize other countries in the Middle East."
But Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, urged action soon.
"We're wringing our hands right now. We're going to have do something," he said on NBC.
The president, who is vacationing at his Texas ranch, planned weekend meetings with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visits for a meeting that aides said would focus on plans for missile defense and the Pentagon budget.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.