Bush Calls War His 'Last Choice'

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Posted by Tony from dsc04-lai-ca-3-167.rasserver.net ( on Wednesday, October 09, 2002 at 4:44PM :

Bush Calls War His 'Last Choice'
Politics: President raises $1 million for Tennessee GOP. Besides focusing on Iraq, he also notes stock market woes but says he remains optimistic.

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ALCOA, Tenn. -- With November's elections approaching, President Bush focused on politics Tuesday as he addressed a political rally here, attended a $1-million Republican fund-raiser in nearby Knoxville and then returned to Washington to mingle with $100,000 party donors.

But in both of his speeches to Tennessee audiences, Bush reiterated the case for action against Iraq and--returning to domestic issues--took note of the dropping stock market.

Replaying the message he detailed Monday night in Cincinnati, the president vowed to pressure Iraqi President Saddam Hussein--by force, if necessary--to destroy his suspected weapons of mass destruction programs.

But as he did Monday, Bush left the door open for a peaceful resolution to the showdown with Hussein. "It's his choice to make," Bush told hundreds of cheering supporters in a giant hangar at the McGhee Tyson Airport here.

"A military option is my last choice," Bush said. But should war become unavoidable, he added, "we'll be prepared, we'll have a great plan."

Administration officials have said that a range of military options has been presented to the president.

Shedding the somber and deliberate demeanor that marked his Cincinnati speech, Bush on Tuesday returned to his more colloquial speaking style.

Referring to those responsible for last year's terrorist attacks on the United States, Bush vowed to "hunt the killers down, one person at a time, and bring them to justice."

Turning to the issue of Iraq: he said, "I've got a problem, obviously, with Mr. Saddam Hussein, and so do you. And that is, he poses a threat. He poses a threat to America, he poses a threat to our friends, our Israeli friends, our friends in his own neighborhood. He is a threat."

The question facing the world is, "do we deal with this guy, or not," Bush said. "We'll see whether or not the United Nations has the desire, has the backbone necessary to uphold its own resolutions and help keep the peace. But if they're unable to act, and if Saddam Hussein can't do what he said he would do, which is disarm, this country will lead a coalition and disarm him, for the sake of peace."

Congress is expected within days to approve a resolution granting Bush broad authority to act against Baghdad. Bush said, "I look forward to watching the Congress debate this issue this week. I believe we're going to get a strong resolution, backed by both Republicans and Democrats."

Even some of those Democrats expected to back the resolution have questioned whether the administration's push for a confrontation with Iraq has been partly motivated by a desire to distract attention from economic problems as the November vote nears.

But Bush, in his remarks Tuesday, made a rare, direct reference to one of the economy's weakest sectors--the stock market.

"Obviously I'm concerned as well when the stock market is declining," he said.

At the same time, the president expressed his optimism about the economy's basic strength and took note of some positive signs, including low interest rates and high productivity.

"The foundation for growth is good," he said.

Bush has regularly spoken about the economy and his support for job-creation initiatives, but his remarks have taken on new significance because of recent polls showing widespread public anxiety over the economy.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer indicated that as elections approach, Bush plans to devote time to campaigning.

"The president is going to focus on those candidates who support his agenda, so that he'll have better prospects for passage of legislation to improve education, to protect people's pensions, to create jobs," Fleischer said.

In Knoxville, Bush raised $750,000 for Rep. Van Hilleary, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and $250,000 for the Tennessee Republican Party.

-- Tony
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