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Bush Gives Hussein 48 Hours To Leave, Reassures Nation

By Dan Balz

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a seeming inevitability about a war with Iraq. But President Bush never could have imagined that he would find himself, as he did Monday night, on the eve of conflict with a world divided.

But if any of that troubled him, it was not apparent as he addressed the nation and the world from the White House. His 15-minute speech underscored that even in the face of international criticism he remains confident in the course he set out months ago to disarm Iraq by force -- although his critics say he is oblivious to the dangers. This was not the subdued Bush who at his news conference two weeks ago went out of his way to avoid appearing to be in a rush to go to war as he tried to build support for a second resolution at the U.N. Security Council. With the diplomatic phase over, this was a president far more direct in his language and assertive in defending the right to go to war against a country that, however dangerous, has not attacked the United States.

“Instead of drifting along toward tragedy,” he said, “we will set a course toward safety. Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.”

Unprecedented as launching a pre-emptive attack might be, it fits comfortably into Bush’s post-Sept. 11 construct of national security. Terrorism has left an indelible mark on his presidency and on the country and, he argued, justifies the dramatic steps he is about to undertake unless Iraqi President Saddam Hussein unexpectedly gives up power voluntarily in the next two days.

While he cited previous U.N. resolutions to justify going to war, including two approved before the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and Resolution 1441, unanimously approved by the Security Council in November, he took as his clearest authority his constitutional oath to defend the U.S.

“The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security,” he said. “That duty falls to me, as commander in chief, by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep.”

Those kinds of arguments have not won him the support of other countries, as the administration’s and Britain’s inability to win support for a second resolution at the United Nations showed. But Bush refused Monday night to accept blame or concede failure. What happened, he said, was the fault of others “who share our assessment of the danger but not our resolve to meet it.”