U.S. President George W. Bush has directed the CIA to step-up covert efforts to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, according to a report published Sunday in The Washington Post. Key congressmen say the notion of a change of government in Iraq has broad support in the legislature.
The newspaper's front page report says the president has directed the CIA to use all available tools to remove Saddam Hussein.
The Bush administration is not commenting on the report, which outlines a comprehensive covert campaign. But it was the main topic of conversation for key senators and congressmen interviewed Sunday on American television.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the legislature has been kept informed. During an appearance on the Fox News Sunday program, he said the leadership has been consulted on CIA efforts in Iraq. "There has been consultations with Congress over the last few weeks and I am satisfied with the degree of consultation there has been so far," he said.
The South Dakota Democrat said he agrees on the need for a regime change in Iraq. But he stressed the timing of any U.S. action is crucial, citing ongoing efforts to cripple the al-Qaida terrorist network and the need to work constructively with Arab nations on the Middle East peace process. "I think the timing of all this is very important," said Tom Daschle. "But we want to work with the administration to find the best way and the best time to do this."
Overall support for a regime change appears to be bipartisan, though there are some differences on tactics. One of the best-known Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona, believes the United States should try an aggressive covert operation. But he told CBS's Face the Nation that most experts think military action ultimately will be necessary. "If we can do it on the cheap and by having operations involving just special forces and some air power and opponents within, Kurds in the south and Shiites in the north, then that's fine," he said. "But we have to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to bring about this regime change."
The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, also appeared on Face the Nation. The Delaware Democrat said the United States must have a fail-proof plan in place before taking on Saddam Hussein. He noted that if cornered, the Iraqi leader might resort to biological or chemical weapons.
When asked if he thinks the president will resort to all-out force, Mr. Biden said only that several options are under discussion and it appears no final decision has been made. "I know of three distinct plans being discussed within the administration and three distinct points of view as to how to proceed," he said.
Senator Biden stressed that President Bush must make the case for action to America's allies before formally putting any plan in place. During his recent trip to Europe, Mr. Bush tried to ease European concerns about military action against Iraq. But at the same time he stressed that hostile nations that seek weapons of mass destruction pose a threat to all freedom-loving countries.