President Bush, in a somber recitation of his goals in the Persian Gulf, warned Tuesday that the siege of Iraq may be long and costly for Americans, but he left no doubt that the United States is prepared to use military force if political and economic sanctions fail.
In a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, Bush vowed that by one means or another, Iraq will be forced to give up its armed conquest of neighboring Kuwait and will be deterred from further aggression in the region.
The President, expanding on his previously announced objectives for Operation Desert Shield, declared that long after U.S. troops have returned from Saudi Arabia, "there will be a lasting role for the United States" in assisting other nations of the Persian Gulf in deterring future aggression.
The U.S. role, he said, also includes curbing the proliferation of chemical, biological, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Some senior government officials involved in Persian Gulf strategy have said that one of the ultimate goals of U.S. policy--although not publicly stated--is to destroy Iraq's chemical warfare capacity and nuclear technology.
The President devoted the bulk of his 25-minute speech to the Persian Gulf situation, but he also used the occasion to link the crisis to the continuing partisan struggle over the federal budget deficit. He urged Congress to reach a budget compromise before the Oct. 1 deadline when the Gramm-Rudman law would impose $100 billion in severe spending cuts.
"The gulf situation helps us realize we are more economically vulnerable than we ever should be," he said. "Americans must never again enter any crisis--economic or military--with an excessive dependence on foreign oil and an excessive burden of federal debt."
The President's low-key delivery was interrupted repeatedly by applause from the members of the House and Senate, who were joined by diplomats, the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Seated in the audience was Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Mashat, who displayed little reaction to the President's address.
Bush said Iraq already is "feeling the heat" of international trade sanctions and that three regional leaders have told him the sanctions are working. But he said he could not predict how long it might take for sanctions to persuade Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
"Sanctions will take time to have their full intended effect," he said. "We will continue to review all options with our allies, but let it be clear: We will not let this aggression stand!"
The President warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that Iraqi forces now confront not only U.S. forces deployed in Saudi Arabia, but also troops from more than 20 other nations, including several Arab countries.
"This is not, as Saddam Hussein would have it, the United States against Iraq," he said. "It is Iraq against the world."
Armed forces from four countries spanning four continents are in Saudi Arabia at King Fahd's request "to deter and if need be, to defend against attack," Bush said. "Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs, soldiers from many nations, stand shoulder to shoulder, resolute against Saddam Hussein's ambitions."
Bush also served notice that U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf crisis will not be influenced by Iraq's holding of thousands of Americans and others hostage in Iraq and Kuwait.
"Of course, our hearts go out to the hostages and their families," he said, "but our policy cannot change. And it will not change. America and the world will not be blackmailed by this ruthless policy."
Quoting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who has strongly supported U.S. policy since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, Bush said that "she said it all" in declaring: "We do not bargain over hostages. We will not stoop to the level of using human beings as bargaining (chips) ever."
Although Iraq has been allowing the evacuation of American women and children, it has detained hundreds of American men and stationed some of them at installations it believes would be potential targets in any military conflict.
Bush's speech, uncharacteristically laced with rhetorical flourishes, appealed to Americans' patriotism and sounded a call to arms for a struggle he said is to "defend civilized values around the world, and maintain our economic strength at home."
"Our objectives in the Persian Gulf are clear," he declared, "our goals defined and familiar:
"Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait completely, immediately--and without condition. Kuwait's legitimate government must be restored. The security and stability of the Persian Gulf must be assured. American citizens abroad must be protected."
As grave as the Persian Gulf crisis is, he said, it also offers an opportunity to move toward a historic period of cooperation. "Out of these troubled times," he said, "our fifth objective--a new world order--can emerge: a new era--freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace."
The President said he shared that vision Sunday with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev at their summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland, and that both leaders realize that "how we manage this crisis today could shape the future for generations to come."
In discussing the Persian Gulf crisis, Bush repeatedly referred to America and other allies opposing the forces of aggression. But among the European allies, he mentioned only Britain and pointedly left out other nations that have given little or no financial or military support to the U.S. effort.
Several times, though, he made it clear that the United States is prepared to lead, regardless of what other countries do.
Recent events have proven that "there is no substitute for American leadership. In the face of tyranny, let no one doubt American credibility and reliability. Let no one doubt our staying power. We will stand by our friends," he said.
The United States, he said, "has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Our quarrel is with Iraq's dictator, and with his aggression. Iraq will not be permitted to annex Kuwait. That's not a threat, or a boast, that's just the way it's going to be."
He described the United States as having "a lasting role" in the Persian Gulf and said, "Our role, with others, is to deter future aggression. Our role is to help our friends in their own self-defense."
Adding a touch more characteristic of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, Bush read from a letter written by a soldier, Pfc. Wade Merritt of Knoxville, Tenn., now stationed in Saudi Arabia.
" 'I am proud of my country and its firm stand against inhumane aggression. I am proud of my Army and its men. . . . I am proud to serve my country,' "Bush quoted the GI as writing to his parents.
Saying that Merritt wrote of "his worries, his love of family and his hopes for peace," the President added: "Let me just say, Wade, America is proud of you. And grateful to every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman serving the cause of peace in the Persian Gulf."
Bush also talked of his effort to demonstrate what he characterized as broad international support for his policy, citing his meeting Sunday in Helsinki, Finland, with Gorbachev.
"Clearly, no longer can a dictator count on East-West confrontation to stymie concerted U.N. action against aggression," the President said. "A new partnership of nations has begun."
He said the United States and Soviet Union "are working together to build a new relationship" and that the two leaders affirmed in their meeting "our shared resolve to counter Iraq's threat to peace."
The President used the Persian Gulf to bolster his argument for a resolution of the nearly yearlong, often acrimonious debate over the federal budget, urging Congress to "get America's economic house in order" by adopting a five-year, $500-billion deficit reduction plan.
Bush called for a defense budget that reflects not only the striking shift in East-West relations but also one that will "deal with the continuing risks of outlaw action and regional conflict"--an emerging focus of the Administration's argument for Pentagon spending.
Although the defense budget can be trimmed, cutting to a point that would "threaten our vital margin of safety is something I will never accept," Bush said.
"The world is still dangerous. Surely that is now clear. Stability is not secure. American interests are far-reaching," he said. "This is no time to risk America's capacity to protect her vital interests."
At the White House, the speech was seen as "an opportunity to tell the American people what happened, the objectives behind our involvement, all the things done internationally to get everybody together, and where we're headed from here," a senior White House official said.
The address, the official said, was "an effort on our part to emphasize the consistency of this action with the principles of American foreign policy and (to offer) a bit more explanation of the principles at stake in opposition to President Saddam."
That approach reflected the fact that Bush, despite repeated news conferences and speeches devoted to the Middle East crisis, was under pressure from some members of Congress to present in a public forum, and in a comprehensive manner, his reasons for sending more than 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel to the gulf area.
White House officials said the timing of the speech was dictated primarily by the confluence of events--the budget talks that began last Friday and the weekend meeting with Gorbachev.
Even so, with members of Congress and many Americans returning to work from vacation, it came at a time when Bush would be able to grab the nation's attention--even with a message that did little more than repeat earlier messages.
Still, White House officials were frustrated by suggestions from Congress that Bush had not made clear the reasons for the military deployment.
"It's a little puzzling when I hear the phrase, 'The President owes everyone an explanation. . . ,' " complained one official. He conceded, however, that the reason for the deployment has not always been stated clearly, in one place at one time.
Indeed, at various times throughout the past six weeks, Bush has made four points the central objective of the deployment: the departure of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the restoration of the royal government there, the release of the hostages held in Kuwait and Iraq, and the removal of the Iraqi threat to Saudi Arabia.
But mixed in with that message have been calls to protect the American "way of life," and expressions of concern about the impact that Iraq's control of Kuwaiti oil could have not only on U.S. and Western oil supplies, but on the global economy.
Since the start of the crisis, the President's approach in general, and the deployment of troops in particular, have won strong support as measured by public opinion surveys. That response reflects the historical pattern in times of turmoil, when the nation initially tends to look to the White House for a strong response.
However, more recent polls have shown that support, if anything, has grown, even as members of Congress discovered during the August recess that back home there remained an uncertainty about the reason for the massive military operation and questions about where it would lead.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll made public Tuesday found that 81% of those surveyed expressed overall approval for the decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia--a figure that has grown from 74% a month ago. It is an extremely high number that gives Bush considerable leeway in pursuing a course without feeling the pressures of waning popular support.
However, there also is a strong feeling that the United States should obtain the help of allies in paying at least part of the cost of the operation. In the poll released Tuesday, 89% said the allies should provide such support.
To that extent, the timing of the speech could not have been better: One day before Bush spoke, Secretary of State James A. Baker III added up the pledges he had received during his efforts last week to get the wealthy oil-producing states to ante up.
Baker said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the exiled government of Kuwait had agreed to contribute the entire $6 billion that the U.S. operation is expected to cost this year. He said they also would put up another $6 billion to help Egypt and Turkey recoup from the economic devastation they expect to experience as a result of following Bush's lead.
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