Missile attack widens gulf war


stepped-up U.S. raids expected War won't be 'short or easy,' president says WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun Mark Matthews of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and his top advisers huddled at the White House late last night to plot their next move in the Persian Gulf war as Iraq dramatically raised the stakes.

Mr. Bush, who issued a statement condemning Saddam Hussein's attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia, was described by his spokesman as outraged.

But bad news of some sort had been forecast by the president earlier in the day when he cautioned against euphoria based on the initial positive reports from the U.S.-led air strikes and said no one should assume that the conflict would be "short or easy."

The Bush administration also had made clear, as the gulf fighting entered its second day, that it was no longer receptive to any diplomatic initiatives from Mr. Hussein or willing to consider a pause in fighting.

"He can call that anything he wants," Mr. Bush said when asked by reporters whether he was insisting on Mr. Hussein's surrender. "We're not going to stop until he complies" with the United Nations demands that Iraqi forces withdraw from Kuwait.

"Our position is that [Mr. Hussein] has had ample opportunity to resolve this by complying with the United Nations resolutions," said White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. "He has chosen not to. He has forced this. He is the aggressor."

Much of the action at the White House last night appeared to be aimed at managing the situation politically. The U.S. goal was to persuade Israel not to retaliate on its own for the Iraqi missile attacks and thus threaten the partnership between the U.S. and Arab countries in the campaign against Iraq.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III was among several top advisers who spent much of the evening monitoring events in the West Wing office of National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Throughout the day, the White House had been eager to dampen expectations, based on optimistic reports from the first hours of battle, that forcing Mr. Hussein to the point of withdrawal or defeat would be easier than some had feared.

"We need to keep this in perspective," Mr. Bush told congressional leaders. "We are just hours into this. No one should assume this conflict will be short or easy."

Although administration officials said Mr. Bush had been prepared to call off Operation Desert Storm hours before it was about to be launched if Mr. Hussein had simply signaled an intention to withdraw, the terms toughened with the onset of war.

The only way to end the conflagration now, Mr. Fitzwater said, is for the Iraqi leader to "surrender," which he said meant to "lay down his arms" and "quit fighting."

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler, who on Wednesday had said that "the door was still open" to an Iraqi peace initiative, pronounced yesterday, "The talk is over . . . the game has changed."

Mr. Bush said later that he hasn't expanded the long-held objectives of his mission, which he restated Wednesday to the American people about two hours into the battle. Those goals, at that time, did not include a specific reference to removing Mr. Hussein from power.

But the president said in his speech that U.S. forces have been ordered to destroy all of Mr. Hussein's military capability through their air strikes at Iraq.

Optimistic reports from the first day of the war brought expressions of satisfaction from the commander in chief. "All of us are very pleased that so far the operation is going forward with great success," he told the congressional leaders.

He went on to caution them, though, against too much "euphoria" over early reports, which could change dramatically.

A soaring rise in the stock market was probably the best indicator of the relief, if not euphoria, that spread across the country as it appeared that the long-dreaded war might be a speedy, one-sided battle.

The White House is concerned that expectations of easy victory might make any future setbacks more difficult for the nation to handle.

"There's a certain irony to this," one senior administration official observed. "Before the war, certain pundits were extremely pessimistic about our prospects. And now, things are unlikely to be completed as cleanly as many people expect."

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