WASHINGTON – President Bush has made plans for war against Iraq without moral qualms because he is convinced that to do otherwise would create a far greater danger to the United States in the long run, supporters say.
"The [Iraqi] regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends and it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of Al Qaeda," Bush said in his ultimatum speech on Monday night.
"The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security. That duty falls to me as commander-in-chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep."
The White House won't say when the president will give his speech announcing that the military has started bombing Iraq. However, officials are discouraging speculation that the president will wait as long as 17 days, the amount of time he waited between the time he announced action would be taken against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the time troops actually began taking action.
The president said Monday that Saddam Hussein and his sons had 48 hours to get out of Iraq, but White House officials refuse to say if the president plans to speak at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday, which is the end of that period.
Barring some miracle, military force won't be long in coming, in part because the president has other factors playing against him by delaying action. Over time, those factors, including diminished morale among troops stuck in the desert and rising anti-Americanism in nations who think the United States is merely bullying Iraq, become increasing liabilities.
The administration also is concerned that delaying action will increase the potential for the spread of nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction, a fear that has motivated the White House since Sept. 12, 2001.
Emphasizing the risk of another terror attack, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently described the imminent dangers of allowing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of those who would do harm to the United States.
"They are available and they are being developed in terrorist states, and the terrorist states have relationships with terrorist networks," Rumsfeld said. "The threat that poses is of such considerably greater lethality than anything that has been experienced in the earlier periods."
Failing to prevent those weapons from being transferred to terrorists by Saddam is the administration's worst nightmare, Bush supporters say. And while critics say the president is exaggerating the rhetoric in order to drive public support for war, no one wants the president to be proven right.
And to anyone who thinks Saddam is merely a blowhard, one Iraqi exile source with excellent lines of communication into Baghdad told Fox News that Saddam has no compunction about turning his citizens into pawns.
"[A] few days ago Saddam's forces captured most of the Kurd[ish] young men in Kirkuk City. Also he is pulling his troops around the Kurdish region, making the people afraid that he might [soon] be using chemical weapons against them. And also, since four days ago, the regime closed all the roads around Baghdad city in order not to allow anybody to leave the city," the source said.
On top of that, senior Defense officials say numerous intelligence reports continue to point to a Republican Guard unit in the southern city of Al Kut being armed with chemical weapons — artillery shells filled with VX, sarin or mustard gas — proving what U.N. weapons inspectors couldn't, that Saddam does indeed have stockpiles of chemical agents.
That leaves the president, who now has a majority of Americans backing an attack on Iraq, with no choice but to take action soon.
In doing so, the president may also capitalize on several opportunities. For one, the president can complete a job — removing Saddam — that many say should have been finished by his father, then-President George H.W. Bush in 1991.
Taking the window afforded by a lull in Palestinian-Israeli violence, the president can bank on the goodwill of many Gulf nations, who have come to accept a U.S.-led strike and are offering basing. When the conflict in Iraq is over, the White House can also begin focusing on its "road map" for peace in the Middle East.
A quick and clean outcome would also allow the president to pay more attention to North Korea, which is bent on developing nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems for them.
By developing a coalition of the willing, the president has created a new alliance that can be useful in future conflicts when the U.N. Security Council is again immobilized. Already 30 nations have publicly stated their support, many of whom are new NATO members and former Soviet bloc nations. Others are seeking greater relationships with the United States.
"The prospects of quick success are greater if we involve the international community and the risks are greater if this is essentially a U.S.-British coalition," warned Sandy Berger, former President Clinton's national security adviser.
And finally, the president can begin focusing again on the U.S. economy, which has barely eked out plus signs in the last year. Many analysts suggest that war will be good for the nation's economy, not only because it will drive down oil prices but because it will increase investor confidence.
"The market expects the war to go well, for Saddam to be vanquished, energy prices lower and few casualties," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com. "If that script isn't followed closely, I think the markets will be roiled, the economy will struggle and in all likelihood we will be in recession."
If the economy gets back on track, the president may also bank another success of getting passed the tax-cutting stimulus measures that many lawmakers say they are loathe to support until the cost of war is determined.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.