Members of Congress say President Bush's massive deployment of nearly 200,000 additional U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf is a signal to the nation to get ready for war.

"I think the American people need to prepare themselves for a major conflict in the Middle East," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.There was cautious support for the latest military buildup, but one Republican criticized Bush for acting without broad advance consultation with Congress.

"This is a major change, and they're missing a bet, frankly," said Rep. William Broomfield, R-Mich., the senior GOP member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"The whole question is one of putting more pressure on Sad-dam Hussein. But if you want the broadest support, Congress has got to be in on the takeoff as well as the landing," he said Friday.

Bush's failure to contact lawmakers could eventually undermine the gulf policy, Broomfield said, adding that he and committee Chairman Dante Fascell, D-Fla., asked Bush in an Oct. 26 letter to be kept informed of any additional deployment or change in mission of U.S. troops.

Bush is to meet with congressional leaders Wednesday to discuss the gulf situation.

Fascell said it remained to be seen whether the military buildup will force Sad-dam to withdraw from Kuwait.

"From what we know about him, it is unlikely he can be bluffed," Fascell said in a statement. "This means that we cannot keep increasing our forces in Operation Desert Shield unless we are ready, willing and able to use them in offensive operations."

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he agreed with Bush's decision if the step was taken to enhance the diplomatic and political efforts to unseat Saddam.

However, if Bush has abandoned that approach, "then I suggest the president get the Congress back here immediately," Dodd told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference."If you send in these troops and you end up with 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 kids coming back to this country in body bags to liberate a scorched Kuwait, I'm not sure you're going to find a tremendous amount of support or approval for the president," Dodd said.

Elsewhere, Rep. Charles Rangel was harshly critical of Bush's action.

"With this troop buildup, the president is sending every signal that instead of seeking peaceful solutions, he plans to rush the nation into war," Rangel said.

Rangel, D-N.Y., suggested that while many U.S. allies have placed a stronger emphasis on a diplomatic solution, "the president really seems to be going his own way on this."

Sen. Steve Symms, R-Idaho, said he wouldn't second guess Bush. The president "has sole responsibility for assuring we have adequate military might," he said.