Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told American troops in the Saudi Arabian desert today that it looked increasingly as though war would be necessary to drive Iraqi troops out of occupied Kuwait.
Surrounded by tank-destroying attack jets, helicopters and barbed wire at a military air base, Cheney said it appeared that last-ditch U.S.-Iraqi talks to avert war might not take place.
"It increasingly looks like he (Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein) is not getting the message and we will have to use force to get him out," the secretary said.
Both Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, promised a devastating victory over Saddam's forces.
They said they would hold U.S. casualties to a minimum in any conflict.
Answering question from U.S. air crews and airborne assault troops, Cheney and Powell sidestepped the issue of whether some 430,000 U.S. troops would be ready for war by the U.N. Security Council's Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq's total withdrawal from Kuwait. But Powell added:
"When we launch it (an attack) we will launch it violently in a war that will make it decisive so that we can get it over quickly in a way that there will be few casualties. There will be no question who won."
Cheney, asked if the United States would carry the war directly to Baghdad, answered: "There won't be any restrictions on running a first-class military operation. They (U.S. forces) won't have their hands tied behind their back. There won't be any sanctuaries where the enemy can take cover and avoid the consequences of his actions."
The White House said Thursday it would welcome a resolution from Congress endorsing the use of force
in the Middle East, but Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, predicted lawmakers would not approve such a measure because it would amount to a "blank check."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Bush believes a congressional resolution similar to the one adopted three weeks ago by the United Nations would be "the way to go" if Congress wanted to be "helpful" in the Persian Gulf crisis.
But Mitchell, emerging from a meeting with Bush later in the day, said he didn't think Congress would endorse a war-making resolution now because it would give Bush open-ended authority to initiate armed conflict.
The issue could come to a head after Congress returns Jan. 3, although Congress is considered more likely not to consider a resolution at all, rather than launch into a debate that could undermine Bush's posture against Saddam.
Democratic congressional leaders have displayed little enthusiasm for putting Congress on record regarding the possible use of force in the Persian Gulf. And Bush has told lawmakers he would prefer no action to a drawn-out debate that would suggest U.S. hesitation about going to war.
The U.N. Security Council resolution set a Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait and authorized the United States and its allies to use force if necessary after that.
Lawmakers who met with Bush Thursday after they returned from a trip to the Middle East said the president did not say he had decided to use force if Iraq continues its occupation of Kuwait.
Instead, they said, Bush told them he had "crossed the Rubicon" and was satisfied that he would be justified in ordering a military strike.
"He's at peace with himself that if military force is necessary . . . he can live with it," said Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson, D-Calif. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said Bush is concerned that Saddam still does not believe the United States and its allies are willing to use force to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
Gallegly said Bush told them Saddam must understand that "if we get into an armed situation, he's going to get his ass kicked."
In Baghdad, more than 1 million Iraqis fled their homes in the western half of the capital today in a major evacuation drill to test the population's readiness in the event of war. The drill was expected to involve nearly 2 million people. But residents said nearly half stayed home.
Hundreds of buses waiting at the civil defense centers took evacuees to points 10 miles from the city.