WASHINGTON -- President Bush, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a "mad dictator," said yesterday that American public opinion wouldn't tolerate a prolonged wait for the sanctions to strangle him slowly.
But he said that if there is war, "there's not going to be any long drawn-out agony of Vietnam," because Iraq has no superpower support, can't get supplies, and its desert topography deprives it of the advantages of jungle warfare.
"I will not, as commander in chief, ever put somebody into a military situation that we do not win -- ever," Mr. Bush said.
In a relaxed interview aired last night on Cable News Network, Mr. Bush gave some of his most complete answers to date on his policy of building military pressure against Iraq.
Mr. Bush refused as always to provide a timetable for possible military action. But he rejected the suggestion that instead of building a political foundation for resorting to possible military action, he should be preparing for a lengthy siege to allow economic sanctions to work.
Asked why he had not sought to build a foundation for "a prolonged, patient waiting-out of Saddam Hussein, to let the sanctions slowly strangle him," Mr. Bush replied, "Because I think holding public opinion forever in any country is very difficult to do.
"In any country I think there is a ticking of the clock, but the alliance is strong, the alliance is unwavering, and I don't think this matter is going to go on forever. As far as I'm concerned, it's not."
Secretary of State James A. Baker III will be in Europe this weekend seeking to draw support for a U.N. resolution authorizing the United States and its allies to launch military action against Iraq if necessary.
Expanding on the economic stakes involved in the conflict -- an argument the administration has sought to emphasize in recent days -- Mr. Bush said the American people "don't like the thought of a mad dictator possibly controlling the economic well-being of every country in the world."
Oil prices have risen sharply out of "fear, because of what he has done," Mr. Bush said, and poor, Third World nations, "the have-nots," are being driven to their knees.
The president said he was unwilling at this point to demand that Iraq dismantle its chemical and biological weapons capability, as well as what he called its frantic nuclear weapons program.
But once the crisis ends, there would have to be international guarantees, under the United Nations, to control such weapons, he said.