WASHINGTON - President Bush will present his case against Iraq in a speech to the nation tonight as top Democrats predict strong support for a congressional resolution backing the use of force against Saddam Hussein.
After a weekend in Maine, the president returned to the White House and prepared for his speech in Cincinnati. He is making the case against the Iraqi president on the one-year anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led bombing in Afghanistan.
"He will frame the debate in a new and different way than he has in the past," said White House communications director Dan Bartlett. Other officials would not rule out that Bush would discuss new facts or intelligence about the threat posed by Iraq, but they said that was not the purpose of the address.
"I'd like to hear him put Iraq in the context of all of the challenges and commitments" facing the United States today, including the war in Afghanistan, and "how are we going to sequence all of these," said Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who chairs the Select Committee on Intelligence.
"If we don't handle this carefully, including doing our domestic law enforcement as well as our foreign policy, we could face a significant increase in incidents of terrorism inside the United States," Graham said yesterday on CNN's Late Edition news program.
On the Sunday talk shows, Democrats indicated that most party members in Congress would soon offer all-out support or grudging acceptance of the White House resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, especially if it were amended further.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, said on Fox News Sunday that he considers the bipartisan resolution accepted at the White House "fine the way it is. But if we could, you know, allay those [remaining] fears in some way, certainly you'll always to be trying to reach out and get the broadest possible support in the Senate."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, speculated that the removal of Hussein, or even the serious threat of it, could prevent war.
"Our clearly stated intention ... to give the president authority to take military action in Iraq, may, in fact, encourage some close to Saddam to take their own action to eliminate him and make a military action unnecessary," Lieberman said on CBS' Face the Nation.
"When you're dealing with a bully, and a dangerous bully like Saddam, the way to get him to do something you want him to do or get others to get him out of there is to be strong."
Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who supports the resolution, told Face the Nation that he expects "substantial opposition" in the Senate, but that Bush will "get what he is asking for."
But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said yesterday that war must be a last resort and that he would not favor a resolution unless U.N. inspectors were sent back to Iraq and were rebuffed.
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri, made an apparent concession on U.N. weapons inspections when interviewed yesterday on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos.
Asked whether inspectors would be allowed into Hussein's presidential compounds without prior notice, Aldouri said he did not think that would be "a huge problem."
This week is likely to be critical as considerations over what actions might be taken on Iraq continue to unfold in Congress and the United Nations, where the United States wants tougher language to be adopted before inspectors return to Iraq.
"As Congress is debating a very important issue - how to deal with the threat that Saddam Hussein poses - President Bush thought it was important to speak directly with the American people and with Congress to let them know his views on how we confront Saddam's regime," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said yesterday.
Bush will speak before about 500 invited guests at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. He is scheduled to arrive in Ohio shortly before the 8 p.m. EDT address and return soon afterward to Washington.
Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the campaign against the Taliban regime that ruled much of Afghanistan and provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network, which the United States holds accountable for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Although most involved in the debate agree that Hussein is, in Bush's words, a "brutal dictator ... a cruel and dangerous man," there is no unanimity on a number of related areas. These include how imminent a threat Hussein presents, what would ensue in the region if he were removed, the importance of the United States garnering international support before using force, and whether Hussein would unleash chemical and biological weapons if attacked.
Bush requested a strong resolution that would have given him a virtual free hand to deal with Iraq's chemical and biological weapons arsenals and its nuclear arms research program by removing Hussein.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers went to the White House last week and endorsed a somewhat narrower version that would give Bush broad authority to use military force to enforce relevant U.N. resolutions, with or without the cooperation of the United Nations.
A House vote is likely Wednesday or Thursday. Senate passage is expected by next week.
Meanwhile, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday, a majority of Americans said the nation's economy is in its worst shape in nearly a decade and that Bush and congressional leaders are spending too much time talking about Iraq, while neglecting problems at home.
The number of Americans who approve of the way Bush has handled the economy - 41 percent - is at the lowest level of his presidency. And many said they worry that a war in Iraq - which seven in 10 respondents view as inevitable - would disrupt an already unsettled economy.
Two-thirds said they approve of the United States using force to oust Hussein. A majority said Bush has a clear plan to deal with Iraq; by contrast, a majority said the White House does not have a clear plan to deal with terrorism at home.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they wanted to give the United Nations more time to try to send weapon inspectors into Iraq. Most said Bush should not act until he wins approval from Congress, and that they applauded Congress for pushing the administration for details on its plans for Iraq.