More confident than ever that he is "on the right path," President Bush ordered continued reliance on air power Monday to weaken Iraq's war machine before committing troops to a potentially bloody ground fight.
Buoyed by a fresh assessment from the front, Bush signaled no immediate shift in Operation Des-ert Storm from the use of massive air bombardment to pummel Iraqi forces and perhaps soften them up for an assault by ground troops.Speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden after meeting with his senior national security advisers, Bush said the air war "has been very, very effective" and as a result "will continue for a while."
"The war is going well," he said. "I am very pleased with the people that are running the war. They have my full confidence. We are going to take whatever time is necessary to sort out when a next stage might begin."
There was no talk of dates or deadlines. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told reporters Sunday there was no desire to "rush prematurely" into an intensified ground phase and said instead it would be "sort of a natural progression."
Bush said he would await word from his generals on whether or when the allies should open "another phase" of the war. Meanwhile, he said, "We will continue down this road."
"Altogether, I feel much better after this briefing," he said. "I've always felt confident we were on the right path. I feel even more so now."
Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported to Bush on their weekend trip to Saudi Arabia to gauge the war effort. Left unsaid afterward was whether the air campaign would continue for days or weeks.
Military commanders say round-the-clock bombing is still paying off in the steady destruction of Iraq's military might, which could reduce the risks of eventual ground combat and can be sustained for some time.
Until the air war begins to show signs of diminishing returns, Bush faces domestic political pressure to put off the potentially heavy costs - in men and materiel - of a hard-fought ground campaign.