WASHINGTON – The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment that a U.S. military strike on Iraq could trigger a terrorist response is all the more reason for Congress to pass a resolution allowing the president to force Iraq to disarm.
"If Saddam Hussein holds a gun to your head, even while he denies that he actually owns a gun, how safe should you feel?" asked White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Fleischer said that CIA Director George Tenet's letter to lawmakers released Tuesday revealed that the more Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein builds his arsenal, the higher the chance that he will use them.
Tenet's letter said that for now, Saddam "appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons" but he might use those weapons for terrorist purposes if provoked by an imminent U.S.-led attack.
Tenet's deputy then told a congressional committee that the threat of Saddam attacking is "very low."
"The only person who has sure knowledge of whether Saddam Hussein will use those weapons is Saddam Hussein. And you have to be aware of the fact that to suggest that as a result of unknowns the president cannot defend the American people, that relies us on trusting Saddam Hussein," Fleischer said.
The White House denied any discord with the CIA because of the letter, but said that CIA guesses are "just that" since they are based on estimations using widely-gathered intelligence.
Tenet's letter coincided with congressional debates on whether to give the president the authority to use military force if needed to prevent Saddam from building his weapons of mass destruction.
At the same time, the president is seeking a resolution from the United Nations ordering Saddam to disarm and allow weapons inspectors unfettered access to official sites, including the eight presidential palaces with all of their combined buildings.
So far, veto-holding members on the Security Council, France and Russia, have objected to a new resolution, or have said that a new resolution should not allow immediate use of force for non-compliance.
At home, the House seemed set to pass a resolution by a wide margin on Thursday, and the Senate was going to go ahead by next week, though Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., threatened to use parliamentary tactics to slow down a vote. Byrd argues that only the Congress can declare war and that power should not be handed over to the president.
While Byrd was unlikely to stop the forward momentum -- particularly since Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid of Nevada signed on to the president's plan Wednesday -- the letter's suggestion that the United States would trigger a terrorist attack has stopped some legislators in their tracks.
But Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said Tenet's report suggested that an attack on Iraq "could trigger the very things that our president has said that he is trying to prevent, the use of chemical or biological weapons. In view of this report, the policy of a pre-emptive strike is troublesome."
But Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said that the United States cannot just sit back and wonder if Saddam will use his weapons.
"Based on evidence, broken promises, the nexus with terrorists, we can't afford the risk to humanity," she said.