During my years of White House service to three American presidents, I have seen American military troops committed to combat by all three. A distinctive tone has always preceded such presidential decisions. I sense that same timbre today.
Inside the secure iron White House gates, away from the conversation of the busy everyday world, there is talk of war. Those senior advisers to President Bush with whom I have spoken privately quietly admit the growing possibility of a Persian Gulf military confrontation.In Congress, too, increasingly less quiet voices, have shifted from cautious support to apprehension. Lawmakers openly voice concerns of possible war.
Ever since Iraq's early August invasion of Kuwait, Bush and senior administration officials, including my former boss Secretary of State James Baker, have been emphasizing diplomatic initiatives to reverse Iraq's recalcitrant position. In recent days, that rhetoric has seemed to change dramatically.
During the last 10 days of the recent election campaign, Bush traveled widely across the United States. Speech after speech was full of charged rhetoric about the gulf.
Speaking at a news conference in Florida, Bush said he was "not trying to prepare our country for war" and again denied that some military confrontation was imminent. But he then made it clear that time was running out for economic embargo sanctions to work.
Following days of increasingly harsh words, Bush took bold action. He ordered a massive sealift and airlift of 200,000 additional U.S. military personnel deployed to the Persian Gulf area. This latest deployment will elevate the total U.S. force commitment in the gulf to approximately 430,000 American soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel. When joined by more than 100,000 Arab and allied forces, it is estimated that a total of 530,000 troops will be poised against Iraq's half-million men.
Also announced was the additional deployment of a battleship, three aircraft carrier groups, and half of the tank divisions now based in central and western Europe plus one based in the United States. These divisions collectively have about 1,200 tanks, 750 of them having the latest weaponry and improved chemical and biological weapon protection systems.
Some Washington military experts suggest that the United States will be ready for an offensive action as soon as an estimated 750 tanks arrive from Europe, probably sometime by mid- to late December or early January at the latest.
Senate Foreign Relations committee member Daniel Moynihan called Bush's actions of recent days "the pattern of a country going to war," and said he was "stunned." And Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn said recent announcements are a "major shift in the military mission."
Administration officials continue to pursue diplomatic solutions while allowing time for the U.N. embargo to succeed. Bush and other world leaders have hoped Iraq would feel the painful impact of the U.N. trade embargo, but Hussein has not yielded. The patience of the 26-nation coalition against Iraq is wearing thin.
Of equal importance, the U.S. public has just endured a difficult election. The electorate is angry, and the political timeclock for decisive presidential leadership on the Middle East question is ticking quickly away. There has been rapid deterioration in the overall American public support for military action in the gulf.
In his press conference, Bush said "the consequences of our not (helping) would be incalculable, because Iraq's aggression is not just a challenge to the security of Kuwait and other gulf nations, but to the better world we had all hoped to build in the wake of the Cold War. . . . we and our allies cannot and will not shirk our responsibilities."
I have listened thoughtfully to the president's words and given careful attention to his actions. I know this man, I have worked for him, I respect him. In such matters, he moves cautiously, prudently, and only after broad consultation with other world leaders, recognizing the importance of maintaining international solidarity.
Other world leaders are now rattling the saber with increasing intensity. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said "Either (Saddam) gets out of Kuwait soon or we and our allies will remove him by force and he will go down in defeat with all the consequences. He has been warned. Time is running out."
It is increasingly clear that Washington's partners in the coalition against Iraq will not consider using military force unless it is authorized by the United Nations. My friends in the U.N. diplomatic corps tell me the United States is sounding out member countries on a resolution that would authorize the use of U.S. military force against Iraq, though no formal text has been circulated.
While there is simultaneous talk of diplomacy and war, talk of the possibility of war is growing. Such talk suggests that war may be inevitable.