WASHINGTON – Both houses of Congress planned to open debate Tuesday on the long-awaited resolution giving President Bush the latitude he wants to confront Saddam Hussein.
The House and Senate expect to pass the resolution by Thursday night, which would authorize the White House to do whatever it deems necessary to relieve Iraq of its presumed weapons of mass destruction.
Billed as an "important speech" about Iraq, President Bush told the nation Monday night that Saddam poses a unique threat that must be addressed now rather than later.
"The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime's own actions, its history of aggression and its drive for weapons of terror," Bush said. "The threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place."
"By its past and present actions, by its technological capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is unique," the president said.
The address, delivered from Cincinnati's Museum Center, comes on the first anniversary of the war in Afghanistan that brought down the Taliban and put Al Qaeda on the run.
The president said as the United States continues to clean up that beleaguered nation, it must also move to prevent terrorists booted out of Afghanistan from re-stationing inside Iraq.
"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists," Bush said.
He added that aside from other Middle Eastern terrorists, Iraq has provided safe haven for Al Qaeda leaders seeking medical treatment and has provided training for Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gasses."
The president did not announce that war was imminent -- and, in fact, said that he does not look forward to any military action. He did, however, say that he wouldn't sit by as Saddam continues his path unobstructed.
"Some citizens wonder, 'After 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now?' And there's a reason. We have experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people," the president said.
"Our enemies would be no less willing, in fact they would be eager, to use a biological or chemical or nuclear weapon," Bush said. "I am not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein."
Bush told Iraq's military officers that they do not have to obey Saddam if he orders them to use biological and chemical weapons against United States soldiers, who may move to topple Saddam's regime.
Bush also told them that U.S. forces would hunt them down if those weapons were used.
"An Iraqi regime faced with its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. If Saddam Hussein orders such measures, his generals would be well advised to refuse those orders. If they do not refuse, they must understand that all war criminals will be pursued and punished," Bush said.
On Tuesday, Undersecretary for Policy at the Pentagon Douglas Feith said that any Iraqis involved in such attacks would be treated as war criminals after the conflict.
The nearly half-hour long speech by the president Monday night contained some blunt rhetoric, though little new information was released.
The president did reveal that satellite imagery -- usually not spoken about because it is derived from covert intelligence -- shows that Saddam has reconstituted his nuclear weapons program. He also reiterated that if Saddam were able to get his hands on uranium, he would be able to threaten other nations as well as the United States.
"If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, he could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year," Bush said.
"Saddam Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East. He would be in a position to threaten America," the president added. "And Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists."
Of late, the president has sharpened his rhetoric about Saddam, calling him a "student of Stalin using murder and terror as a means of control" and a "homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction."
Bush did say that he would seek a coalition in trying to put Saddam down and take every measure to protect U.S. troops from casualties.
"If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible. We will plan carefully. We will act with the full power of the United States military. We will act with allies at our side and we will prevail," Bush said.
If military action is necessary, the United States will help the Iraqi people rebuild their economy, Bush promised.
Advisers have compared the president's speech to an August 2001 address in which the president explained why he would allow limited federal funding for controversial research using stem cells derived from human embryos. In that address, he listed concerns raised by critics and answered them one by one.
Before the president spoke, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Monday that he wanted to hear the president address cooperation with the United Nations.
"I think what the president needs to do is reiterate what he views to be the threat, first of all, and secondly his strong desire to work through the U.N. and the international community to respond to that threat. What he has taken, what steps he continues to prepare to take to ensure that that happens," Daschle said.
The president did say that the old systems of U.N. weapons inspections must be thrown out and a new system applied, including the ability of inspectors to do candid interviews and inspect previously off-limit presidential palaces.
"Clearly to actually work any new inspections, sanctions or enforcement mechanisms will have to be very different. America wants the U.N. to be an effective organization that helps keep the peace. And that is why we are urging the Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough, immediate requirements," Bush said.
But, he added, he has little reason to expect Saddam's compliance with U.N. resolutions.
"And that's why two administrations -- mine and President Clinton's -- have stated that regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a great danger to our nation,' Bush said.
The speech was also meant to keep the pressure on Congress to pass a tough resolution, authorizing military force in Iraq. The House has scheduled 21 hours of debate beginning Tuesday. Both chambers of Congress are expected to vote on alternative resolutions backed by some Democrats, but they are not exepected to pass. One indication of growing support for the president's proposed resolution is the backing by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who had offered an alternative version.
But Democrats are still raising concerns. North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards gave a speech Monday that accuses the president of "gratuitous unilateralism."
"In word and deed," the administration "frequently sends the message that others don't matter," the potential 2004 Democratic presidential candidate said in the draft text of a speech he delivered to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It rightly demands that our allies back efforts vital to America's interests, but then shows disdain for cooperative endeavors and agreements important to theirs," Edwards said.
In the Senate, Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy spoke for dissenters when he denounced a new doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes.
"America cannot write its own rules for the modern world. To attempt to do so would be unilateralism run amok. The administration's doctrine is a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept," Kennedy said.
But while Democrats in the Senate hesitate, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said Monday that he was coming off the fence to support Bush on the campaign in Iraq.
"I will cast my vote without reservation. Every day my prayers will be with America's sons and daughters who will carry out this great task," Armey, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, said.
Referring to Saddam, he added that he is "convinced the snake is out of its hole."
The president said that members of both parties and in both chambers of Congress agree that Saddam's weapons must be dismantled, and that congressional unity is important in sending a message around the world.
"Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something," the president said.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.