Tuesday, October 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nudging a nation toward war

President George Bush turned from high-ballistic war rhetoric to earnest conversation last night as he laid out his administration's case for going to war with Iraq.

In a calm, cogent manner, Bush said Saddam Hussein represented a grave threat to peace. The Iraqi dictator has the demonstrated capacity to inflict harm with chemical and biological weapons, and the clear intent to develop a nuclear weapon.

As Congress prepares to vote on war resolutions this week in the Republican-controlled House, and next week in the Democratic-led Senate, the president took his campaign to the heart of the opposition.

Bush's speech in Cincinnati was in the home state of Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is the leader of House opposition to the resolution.

The president is most compelling when laying out Saddam Hussein's history of aggression and his use of chemical weapons against his enemies at home and in the region. He has yet to lay out how that murderous capacity represents an imminent threat to the United States and its allies.

If a connection exists between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 attack, the president did not make it in last night's speech. He did describe kindred relationships between the Iraq regime and al-Qaida operatives, who share a hatred for America.

The change in tone from previous speeches was most notable when talking about prosecuting a war and what might follow.

The president said Iraq would have to disarm itself and destroy its capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. International arms inspectors must be allowed unfettered access to the entire country.

Otherwise, the president pledged the United States would lead a coalition force against Iraq. No talk of going alone.

A strong commitment was made to rebuilding Iraq after any conflict. Bush pledged to stand by the nation as it rebuilt its economy and constructed democratic institutions.

If the White House wants to move the nation toward war, this cannot be the president's last, best effort to lay out the evidence against Iraq, to affirm a commitment to seeking allied support, and rebuilding a war-torn Iraq.

The president needs to keep talking, but last night felt as if the conversation has started in earnest.


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