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What's Behind Bush's March Toward War

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AN increasing number of Americans now oppose a shooting war in the Persian Gulf. At the same time more and more Americans believe such a war is on its way. Pollsters Peter Hart and Richard Wirthlin - talking to reporters at successive Monitor press breakfasts - both said they have found these views in recent public opinion soundings. The public's sense of what is ahead may well be correct. Information that I count to be highly reliable suggests that unless Saddam Hussein blinks in the next few weeks, the US and its allies will resort to force. Such ``force'' isn't likely to include an all-out invasion, not at first anyway. More likely it will be punishment inflicted on Iraq from the air as a means of persuading its leader to back down.

The fact is, President Bush hasn't deviated from the hard-line strategy that surfaced in late September, a strategy that points the US and its allies toward a shooting war with Iraq by mid-December or early January, unless Saddam Hussein pulls out of Kuwait.

That strategy is based on the administration's judgment that the economic embargo, while beginning to bite, won't cause Saddam to cave in simply because, as Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, ``We would not be willing to starve the Iraqi people.''

Does the president mean it when he says, repeatedly, that his primary goal is to achieve a peaceful solution in the Mideast, with no spilling of blood? Yes. He is listening hard to all of Saddam's words for any indication that he may be giving in on Kuwait.

But thus far he has heard nothing encouraging. If anything, he sees his adversary hardening his position, while at the same time sending phony signals of willingness to move toward an accommodation - messages aimed at breaking up the US's coalition.

The presidential decision to get militarily tough with Saddam as soon as the US has its necessary force in place is based on the following factors:

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