Bush to bulldoze military action vote through Congress

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The Bush administration appeared well on the way yesterday to bulldozing Congress into the swift passage of a resolution endorsing a possible military campaign against Iraq, irrespective of whatever emerges from the United Nations Security Council.

George Bush, Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, all made the case that despite Saddam Hussein's offer to readmit UN weapons inspectors, he was not to be trusted, that he represented a clear and immediate danger to American national security and that unequivocal action against him was essential.

Speaking after a breakfast at the White House with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, Mr Bush again challenged the UN to prove its mettle. He took strong issue with countries, led by Russia, whose leaders had suggested a stern new UN resolution against Iraq was no longer necessary.

"All they've got to do is look at his record. His latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations. He's not going to fool anybody," Mr Bush said. Once the case had been laid out about the Iraq's leader's deceits and broken promises, "nations who ... care about the validity of the United Nations will join us. Reasonable people understand this man is unreasonable," he said.

The White House aims to submit a draft resolution to Congress within the next week, approving the use of "all appropriate means" or some similar formulation, to force President Saddam to disarm.

A vote within the next two or three weeks, before the House and Senate's recess for the 5 November mid-term elections, seems almost certain.

That much is conceded even by Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate majority leader and senior Democrat on Capitol Hill, who had insisted that there was no need to hurry. But with the Iraq issue threatening to overshadow all else at the mid-term elections, Mr Daschle conceded this week that he expected a vote before the polls.

Mr Rumsfeld, a sceptic on the effectiveness of UN weapons inspections, was even more categoric than the President in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.

Describing Iraq as a terrorist state, Mr Rumsfeld said that President Saddam represented "an immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world". The Congress should vote even before the UN Security Council voted, he declared, adding that America had sufficient military strength to fight President Saddam single-handed.

For all the thinly veiled scorn of Mr Bush and Mr Rumsfeld for the enforcement powers of the UN, the world body is the biggest complication in their efforts to win national support.

Nearly all Americans favour the removal of President Saddam and about half of them believe he has made the case for military action – up from 37 per cent before Mr Bush's much acclaimed address to the General Assembly last Thursday. But most still believe that Washington should only go ahead under the aegis of the United Nations.

A CNN/Gallup poll published yesterday found only 37 per cent of the public backed an invasion without the endorsement of a Security Council resolution, while 46 per cent believed Mr Bush should secure UN approval. A further 14 per cent said that under no circumstances should US ground troops be deployed in Iraq.