WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is casting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a menace who cannot be appeased and suggesting that it may not wait for full allied support before launching an attack.
``It's less important to have unanimity than it is making the right decision and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome,'' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
After President Bush met at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, with Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush told the Saudi ambassador he had not yet decided whether to attack.
``The president made very clear again that he believes that Saddam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace,'' Fleischer said. The Saudis strongly oppose U.S. military action.
In a lively exchange with Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Rumsfeld predicted that most U.S. friends and allies would support American U.S. military action against Iraq if that is what Bush decides is required to deal with the threat of being attacked with weapons of mass destruction. So far no allies have voiced firm support. Many have raised great doubts or outright opposition.
``Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters,'' Rumsfeld told members of the 1st Marine Division, who peppered the defense secretary with numerous questions about war against Iraq.
When a Marine asked whether Rumsfeld thought victory in Iraq would take long to achieve, he refused to answer directly. ``The frenzy on this subject, it seems to me, is not useful,'' he said.
On a day when Bush administration officials told friends and allies around the world it is not rushing to war against Iraq, two key Arab allies — Egypt and Saudi Arabia — voiced their objections to U.S. military action against Iraq. In a diplomatic offensive, Iraq sent top officials to China and Syria to press its case.
Bush has not decided how to try to remove the Saddam regime, ``and therefore there are no war drums to beat,'' State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Tuesday.
In Iraq, U.S. fighter jets attacked an air defense command facility Tuesday near the southern city of Nukhayb and a military radar site near the northern city of Mosul. In both cases, U.S. officials said, the U.S. planes were responding to Iraqi provocations while they patrolled flight-interdiction zones in effect since the Persian Gulf War.
In his remarks at Camp Pendleton, Rumsfeld stressed more than once that Bush had yet to make a decision about Iraq. He said America and its allies need to think carefully about 21st century security threats, especially the unpredictability of terrorists in possession of weapons of mass destruction.
``We do need to take some time and think these things through and consider them,'' he said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, said in Cairo that ``if you strike at the Iraqi people because of one or two individuals and leave the Palestinian issue (unsolved), not a single (Arab) ruler will be able to curb the (rising) popular sentiments.''
The Saudis, which strongly backed the United States in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, warned that a U.S. strike could have grave consequences, including the breakup of Iraq with Kurdish and Shiite states emerging.
``There is no country I know of supporting force at this time,'' Adel el-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, said in an Associated Press interview. Abdullah is the Saudis' de facto ruler due to King Fahd's chronic illness.
El-Jubeir advised the Bush administration to rely on the United Nations to persuade Iraq to reopen suspect weapons sites to unfettered international inspection.
Vice President Dick Cheney took U.S. war rhetoric to new heights in a speech Monday.
After calling Iraq a mortal threat, he said: ``We will not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve.''
Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, kept up pressure demanding that Bush seek congressional approval before sending U.S. troops against Iraq.
In Nashville, Tenn., Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said it is ``absolutely necessary'' that Congress approve any action beforehand. So far, Skelton said, too many questions are unanswered.
``This is the great unanswered question: What do you do with Iraq once you topple Saddam Hussein?'' he said.