WASHINGTON -- President Bush vowed yesterday to th leader of Kuwait that his country will be reclaimed from the invasion forces of Iraq -- a pledge that came amid a wide variety of developments pointing to a greater likelihood of war by year's end.
Shortly after Mr. Bush's statement, his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, followed up with a thinly veiled threat of military action, saying that Iraq's rapid pillaging and resettlement of Kuwait have shortened the time the United States will wait for United Nations trade sanctions to work before resorting to other "options."
And earlier in the day, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin, D-Wis., told reporters that the Bush administration "is looking more and more favorably on the war option."
Foremost among the developments cited for contributing to this more aggressive tone was Iraq's campaign to convert Kuwait into anIraqi province by colonizing the country with Iraqi citizens, stripping identification documents from fleeing Kuwaitis, destroying computer records of Kuwait's pre-invasion population and looting consumer goods for shipment back to Baghdad.
"Iraq's leaders are trying to wipe an internationally recognized sovereign state, a member of the Arab League and the United Nations, off the face of the map," Mr. Bush said while standing on the White House lawn next to the Kuwaiti emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
"To them and to the world, I will state what I told his highness, the emir. Iraq will fail. . . . Kuwait's sovereignty and territorial integrity will be restored."
Mr. Scowcroft said that Iraq's tactics have heightened the U.S. sense of urgency because "the longer the situation goes on the way it is, the less there will be of what is recognizable as Kuwait."
The attempt to virtually repopulate Kuwait also complicates the possibility of a diplomatic solution. Even if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were to withdraw his armies a month from now, experts say, it would now be difficult to determine who should be able to stay and who should have to leave from among thecountry's changed population, especially without the help of the computer records believed to be lost forever.
And some of the peaceful solutions that have been proposed -- most notably the plan offered by President Francois Mitterrand of France -- call for a new Kuwaiti government to spring from the nation's "democratic will."
Mr. Scowcroft firmly refused to elaborate on what he and Mr. Bush mean when they mention the "other options" that might be employed if U.N. trade sanctions failed to change Iraqi policy, but he said that Iraq's actions are increasing pressure on the United States to ask the United Nations for a resolution allowing for a military option.
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Scowcroft emphasized that they still hope for a peaceful solution, and an administration source maintained that the trade sanctions will push Mr. Hussein to act first.
Aspin, too, mentioned as most important the Iraqi assimilation of Kuwait.
"By the time they [in the Bush administration] see if the sanctions work," he said, "there may be no Kuwait worth fighting over."
Mr. Aspin also cited:
* Pressure from the U.S. military, which would want to strike not long after bringing its forces to full strength in the Persian Gulf region in order to keep from losing its fighting edge to the corrosion of a prolonged stalemate.
* Timing. Not only do late fall and early winter bring cooler weather more suitable for an army in the field, but the United States also wouldn't want to be at war during the hajj, the time of massive pilgrimages in the Arab world to the Islamic holy city of Mecca, in June.
* Iraq is said to be nearing capability in a significant biological weapons program, probably by the end of the year. These weapons, including the airborne respiratory killer anthrax, can be more difficult to use, but also are more difficult to stop.