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Bush Spent Much of 2002 Rallying Against Saddam Hussein - 2002-12-20

"Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States," announced Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert.

The president's campaign against Iraq began with the now-famous "axis of evil", his State of the Union portrayal of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as a threat to world peace because they could help terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"I will not wait on events while dangers gather," the president said. "I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

Throughout the year, Saddam Hussein replaced Osama bin Laden as the chief villain of the president's war on terrorism.

When Senate Democrats questioned the immediacy of Iraqi threats and slowed a resolution authorizing his use of force, Mr. Bush split the opposition with a compromise in the lower house of Congress through Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

"This is the beginning of the building of a strategy with the American people, the Congress and the rest of the world in dealing with what is a threat," Rep. Gephardt said.

With a congressional resolution behind him, some on the president's team urged Mr. Bush to confront Saddam Hussein.

But Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced the president to seek a broader mandate at the United Nations, where Mr. Bush said the Iraqi leader threatens U.N. legitimacy.

"Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence," the president said. "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?"

Aside from Britain, lining up support for U.N. action against Iraq was more difficult than recruiting for the fight against terrorism. China, Russia, and France all urged a more diplomatic approach with Saddam Hussein.

Visiting the president's Texas ranch, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin said they agreed on the need to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program but not on using force against Iraq.

"Given the different national conditions, it is only natural for China and the United States to disagree from time to time," he said. "Such disagreements should be viewed and handled with a broad perspective."

China eventually voted for the resolution, as did everyone else on the Security Council, including Russia which had threatened to abstain.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Mr. Bush he shared concerns about Baghdad but suggested the U.S. leader was focusing on Iraq to the exclusion of other countries with terrorist connections, including U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

"What can happen with weapons that exist in Pakistan, including weapons of mass destruction? We are not sure on that aspect, and we should not forget about that," President Putin said.

President Bush has long said he will not be acting alone if he decides to use force in Iraq, that he will lead a coalition of nations against Saddam Hussein if he does not disarm.

"The outcome of the current crisis is already determined. The full disarmament of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq will occur," the president said. "The only question for the Iraqi regime is to decide how."

Much of that decision now rests with the findings of U.N. weapons inspectors. Iraq says President Bush wants to use those inspections to justify an attack. Mr. Bush says he would prefer a voluntary disarmament. In either case, the president says, "the just demands of the world will be met."

Part of VOA's yearend series