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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Countdown to Collision

We were heartened by President George W. Bush's promise Wednesday to seek congressional approval for any U.S. action against Iraq, and that he plans to make his case to the world at a speech at the United Nations on Thursday. Those steps are critical, but only a beginning.

Bush sounded like a man preparing the nation for war.

He never said so explicitly, but by declaring that "doing nothing" about Iraq "is not an option," Bush made clear he was now moving toward a confrontation with Saddam Hussein.

The president left unaddressed most of the hard questions about Iraq, including the pivotal issue of why Baghdad supersedes all other foreign threats, why it so urgently requires U.S. intervention and the potential sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have been pounding the war drums without ever spelling out the precise nature of the Iraqi threat or why "regime change" is mandatory now when it was not deemed necessary only a year or two ago -- and was ruled out by Bush's father in 1991.

Last week Cheney ridiculed the idea of sending international arms inspectors back to Iraq, but a few days later Secretary of State Colin Powell said inspectors should return.

Bush seems to realize that he has a lot of work to do if he hopes to present a more coherent policy when he addresses the United Nations.

Simply saying that Saddam is "stiffing the world" -- Bush's photo-op phrase of the day yesterday -- won't do. The time for teasing hints about Iraq's arsenal of unconventional weapons has passed.

If Washington knows that Saddam is on the brink of developing nuclear weapons, Bush should provide evidence. If the president believes Saddam is in league with al-Qaida and other terror groups, he must describe the links.

Support from the UN Security Council for any U.S. attack is essential, and Bush's speech next week should be a start along that road, not a mere symbolic stab at consultation.

Bush will also invite fierce international opposition if he tries to move directly to military action without first seeing if UN inspectors can return to Iraq with a free hand.

As Bush said yesterday, the core concern on Iraq is to ensure that Baghdad complies fully with the disarmament provisions of the Security Council cease-fire resolution that ended the Persian Gulf conflict. War isn't necessarily the only way to achieve that goal, and it certainly isn't the preferred way.

On the domestic front, Bush has now promised to send his top aides to upcoming congressional hearings about Iraq.

That should be the opening of a searching inquiry about Iraq policy, not the starter's gun for an election-year dash to grab credit for supporting the president on a high-profile national security issue. So far, the silence of Democrats in particular has been deafening.

Bush is moving on a fast track, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed for discussions at Camp David this weekend and the president working the phones to consult with other foreign leaders.

A decision point seems to be coming soon. As the countdown begins, Bush must be mindful that the terror attacks a year ago did not give him a license to wage war in Iraq. He will have to earn that.

These new steps toward consultation are welcome but they do not substitute for a comprehensible Iraq policy, much less make the case for war.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.