Bush says war would benefit the Middle East


WASHINGTON - President Bush declared last night that a war to oust Saddam Hussein would begin to transform a violent Middle East by offering the inspiration of freedom to other nations, intimidating regimes that sponsor terror and boosting prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In his first major speech on the expected aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion, Bush said that toppling the Iraqi dictator would remove a "direct and growing" threat to the American people by destroying a regime that could deliver weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. A war, he said, would also help spread democracy in a region that represents a fifth of the world's population.

The president's speech marked a major effort to prepare the nation for a risky and expensive invasion by roughly 200,000 U.S. and British troops assembling in the region.

The speech also offered new arguments for Bush's struggle to win United Nations Security Council approval for military action. Leaders of even America's close allies are pushing for such international backing to help them quell growing anti-war sentiment in their countries.

Bush repeated his hope for a peaceful solution that could result from Iraq's voluntary disarmament. But the fact that he spoke at length about the postwar environment in Iraq and the region signaled that he sees war as all but inevitable.

"Bringing stability and unity to a free Iraq will not be easy," the president said. "Yet that is no excuse to leave the Iraqi regime's torture chambers and poison labs in operation."

Though the United States would not determine the Iraqis' new form of government, Bush said, it would not allow one dictator to be replaced by another.

"Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment from many nations, including our own. We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more," he added.

Bush sought to ease fears among longtime U.S. allies in the Arab world and elsewhere that a prolonged U.S. military occupation of Iraq could feed hostility toward the West and incite new violence in the region.

"The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat," he said. "America's interests in security and America's belief in liberty both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq."

'Example of freedom'

In promoting the idea of bringing democracy to Iraq, Bush broadened his case for war. Until now, his argument centered on the lethal threat that Hussein, armed with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and in league with terrorists, could pose to the United States and American allies.

"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," he said.

A transformation of Iraq, Bush said, could begin "a new stage" in ending the Arab-Israeli conflict by helping bring about a democratic Palestinian state and giving "a clear warning" to other regimes that support for terror won't be tolerated.

He said he was personally committed to pursuing the roadmap for Israeli-Palestinian peace being developed by the United States in concert with the United Nations, Europe and Russia.

The new Israeli government being formed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the president said, will have to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state, work "as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement," and, as progress is made toward peace, end settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arab states, he added, must back the emergence of a peaceful Palestine and live in peace with Israel.

The administration has come under mounting pressure from members of Congress to do a better job of outlining the hazards and costs of a war in Iraq. It has also been faulted for a perceived lack of detailed postwar planning.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an advocate of invading Iraq, said yesterday that it would be a mistake to put an American civilian in charge of administering Iraq, as the administration is reported to be considering.

Lieberman, a Democratic presidential candidate, said such a move could worsen relations with the Arab world and leave the United States "in the position of appearing to be an occupying power, not a liberator." The Connecticut senator said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that someone else, perhaps an official from an Arab country, should be chosen for the job.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been one of the administration's harshest critics on Iraq, said Bush must clearly explain the goals, consequences and costs of a war. Kennedy said the president also needs to explain how a war would affect the international offensive against al-Qaida, and the United States' efforts to deal with North Korea's nuclear program.

Agreeing with hawks

Hawks within and outside the administration have argued that a war to oust Hussein could produce positive ripple effects in surrounding countries by pressuring their autocratic leaders to reform and open up their societies and combat anti-Western terrorist groups. The administration has delayed any major American effort to move the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward until after the Iraq crisis is resolved.

With last night's speech, delivered at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, Bush made clear that he accepted the hawks' argument.

Some analysts have expressed skepticism about the administration's rosy scenario for the future of Iraq and the surrounding region. They fear that an invasion could raise the risk of terrorism directed against the United States.

"There is overwhelming evidence that a major exercise of American power is going to bring enmity, not respect, among people who feel they have nothing to lose," Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said recently.

In some countries, she said, new democracies might bring radical Islamists to power. And the lesson that might be drawn by Iraq's neighbor Iran, Mathews said, is, "Better hurry up and get the bomb."

Bush's speech followed an intense day of lobbying by the president and his top aides to win approval of a new Security Council resolution authorizing a war against Iraq. The administration needs five more votes from among six publicly undecided countries: Mexico, Chile, Pakistan, Guinea, Angola and Cameroon. The United States is competing with France, the council's leading opponent of a war, which is seeking support for a rival approach.

With its allies Britain and Spain, the United States has introduced a resolution declaring that Iraq had failed to seize its "final opportunity" to disarm. Yesterday, there were signs that Mexico, which until now had opposed a war, was leaning toward the American position to avoid damaging its relationship with the United States.

Administration spokesmen dismissed an effort by Canada to forge a compromise. Canada has proposed giving Iraq a set of specific disarmament demands to complete by the end of next month. If Iraq failed to comply, the Security Council would then authorize a war.

Hans Blix, one of the chief U.N. weapons inspectors, lent some support for the administration's argument that Hussein has no intention of disarming. Despite signs of Iraqi cooperation in recent days, Blix told reporters that those steps fell short of "full cooperation" or a "breakthrough."

Administration spokesmen declined to confirm published reports that Bush is seeking to ask Congress for $95 billion to help pay for higher projected costs of an Iraq war and its aftermath.

Sun staff writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Paul West contributed to this article.

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