WASHINGTON -- Two key senators said that a recent visit with U.S. military commanders in the Persian Gulf convinced them a war with Iraq could last only a matter of days.
They said their conclusion, which is at odds with other predictions of a battle lasting six months or more, was based on information supplied by the commanders during classified briefings. The senators were careful not to directly attribute the short-war assessment to the military leaders, however.
"I personally think that if there is war, it will be a short one that will last no more than five days," Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told reporters following a White House meeting yesterday with President Bush.
"With all the air power we have there, with six carrier battle groups, with the B-52s, with our missiles, with our rockets, with our fighter bombers, if we cannot gain air superiority within six hours, let's say, wipe out their missile sites and their command control centers within two or three days, then something is wrong with our defense structure."
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, ranking Republican on the subcommittee, who traveled with Mr. Inouye to Army, Air Force and Marine bases in Saudi Arabia and to several Navy ships in the gulf, said he too had become convinced that a short conflict dominated by air strikes was the mostly likely scenario.
"They left us with that impression," Mr. Stevens said of the military leaders.
The senators' conclusion differed sharply from predictions made Sunday by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of Operation Desert Shield, that U.S. air superiority would be offset by Iraq's much greater troop strength so that a war between the two could easily become a lengthy tank battle in the desert.
But the notion of a quick, decisive air strike is not a new one. In fact, it was first advanced to reporters in September by Air Force Gen. Michael J. Dugan, who subsequently was fired as Air Force chief of staff for publicly discussing military contingency plans.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater refused yesterday to subscribe to any prediction on how long a war with Iraq might last, saying Mr. Bush was still hoping for peace.
"I came back more pessimistic than when I went over," Mr. Stevens said of the trip to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Israel.
He said all the Arab leaders he met with told him that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not fear an attack because he believes the United States is too divided on the issue.
"He still believes there is a lack of support in the U.S. even for the deployment of forces already there," said Mr. Stevens, who called that a serious misreading of American public opinion.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush continued what the White House is calling an effort to reach out to all segments of the U.S. community to explain what is at stake in his campaign to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, and to solicit Americans' views.
"He is meeting with as many groups as he can find time for so that no one can say at a later point that there wasn't a fully consultative process," said Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, who was among a group of two dozen business executives invited to the White House for a session with the president.
The business leaders, whose companies have all made private donations of goods or services to Operation Desert Shield, expressed no dissent with Mr. Bush's policies in the meeting, Mr. Jasinowski said.