Two months ago, a group of Republican and Democratic Senators went to the White House to meet with Condoleezza Rice, the President's National Security Adviser. Bush was not scheduled to attend but poked his head in anyway--and soon turned the discussion to Iraq. The President has strong feelings about Saddam Hussein (you might too if the man had tried to assassinate your father, which Saddam attempted to do when former President George Bush visited Kuwait in 1993) and did not try to hide them. He showed little interest in debating what to do about Saddam. Instead, he became notably animated, according to one person in the room, used a vulgar epithet to refer to Saddam and concluded with four words that left no one in doubt about Bush's intentions: "We're taking him out."
Dick Cheney carried the same message to Capitol Hill in late March. The Vice President dropped by a Senate Republican policy lunch soon after his 10-day tour of the Middle East--the one meant to drum up support for a U.S. military strike against Iraq. As everyone in the room well knew, his mission had been thrown off course by the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. But Cheney hadn't lost focus. Before he spoke, he said no one should repeat what he said, and Senators and staff members promptly put down their pens and pencils. Then he gave them some surprising news. The question was no longer if the U.S. would attack Iraq, he said. The only question was when.
The U.S. appears ready to do whatever it takes to get rid of the Iraqi dictator once and for all. But while there is plenty of will, there still is no clearly effective way to move against Saddam. Senior Administration officials at the highest levels of planning say there are few good options. Saddam's internal security makes a successful coup unlikely. The Iraqi opposition is weak and scattered. And this is a war that the rest of the world, with the possible exception of Britain, is not eager for America to wage. While key allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, would be more than happy to see Saddam go, they are too busy worrying about their own angry citizens--and quietly profiting from trade with Iraq--to help. A senior Arab official needed only one word to sum up the region's view of any possible military action: "Ridiculous." Yet Cheney gave the Senate policy lunch a very different view. He said the same European and Middle Eastern allies who publicly denounce a possible military strike had privately supported the idea.
Maybe so, but even the Administration has conceded that the Middle East crisis has shoved action against Iraq onto the back burner. When the White House announced a Middle East peace conference last week, a senior Administration official said, "This is a detour, and we have to get around it." Hard-liners, however, think delaying an attack against Saddam because of the Middle East conflict simply means giving him breathing space to perfect his weapons of mass destruction. "Time is not on our side, and Saddam is running out the clock," says Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank.