President Bush's prime-time televised news conference provided him a great opportunity to make his case that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is a ''direct threat'' to the United States. Bush failed to do so, mainly be- cause the facts don't support his viewpoint.
The president certainly convinced me that he will go to war against Iraq within days. The overwhelming theme of his Thursday evening news conference is that war is inevitable, no matter what the U.N. Security Council decides.
The event seemed timed to preempt chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix's report on Iraq's compliance with disarmament directives.
''Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country, to our people and to all free people,'' Bush said.
''We are determined to confront threats wherever they arise,'' he added. ``And I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the Iraqi dictator and his weapons.''
It apparently does not matter to Bush that some longtime U.S. allies -- as well as Russia and China -- oppose his plans for war. That is typical of his whole go-it-alone approach to foreign policy.
Although he produced no proof, Bush kept trying to link Hussein with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His lame reasoning seemed to go like this: ``Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties. It's a country with wealth. It's a country that trains terrorists; it could arm terrorists.''
The usually macho president was strangely tranquil throughout the news conference, speaking in a monotone, picking out reporters to call on from a prepared script.
Bush insisted that he had tried ''diplomacy'' with Hussein, but it did not work.
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During the Bush administration, I have never seen any U.S. peace overtures to Iraq, although there were some conciliatory gestures made at the United Nations to ease sanctions on food and medicine.
Bush seems on a messianic mission and believes that war will bring great benefits to the Iraqi people under the occupation and rule of the United States.
The Democratic congressional leaders, including Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, are becoming restive about Bush's war plans and are urging more time for inspections.
Also, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is having second thoughts about having voted last October for the resolution authorizing the president to take military action against Iraq. He accused Bush of acting like ''a cowboy who rode out of Texas'' with ''all guns blazing'' instead of seeking a diplomatic solution.
There is no doubt that Bush's hawkish advisors, who have Iraq as our Enemy No. 1 and coveted U.S. dominance of the Persian Gulf, are having their day with the president.
ABC-TV's Ted Koppel Nightline program recently discussed reports that Bush has been influenced by the Project for the New American Century, which proposes that the United States assume military control of the Gulf region.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are members of the advisory committee for the project. It is a pity that only the ultra conservatives influence Bush, a neophyte in foreign affairs. He apparently hears no other voices. Representatives of church and peace groups are not welcome to the White House these days.
Bush did meet with the papal emissary in the White House recently, but Bush aides tried to play it down. Oval Office news coverage was limited to photographers. That's a sad commentary on the president's ability to tolerate other points of view, particularly on the question of war and peace.