Cheney: If Deadline Ignored War Likely Would Come Soon
EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ Defense Secretary Dick Cheney hopped atop a tank Saturday to tell desert- weary but eager Marines war likely would come soon after Jan. 15 if Saddam Hussein ignores an ultimatum to withdraw from Kuwait.
Cheney did not say whether he meant days, a week or longer but he said he and President Bush would not forget that United Nations deadline in favor of giving sanctions against Iraq more time to work.
″With the press here, I can’t get too specific about dates but obviously we want to get it over with as soon as possible,″ Cheney said while standing on an M60-A1 tank in the Saudi desert about 50 miles south of Kuwait.
Still, Cheney, on his second day of pre-Christmas visits with some of the nearly 300,000 American troops in the region, did escalate the pre-deadline rhetorical war by saying:
″The president is deadly serious when he says the whole crisis cannot be resolved until Saddam Hussein goes back to Baghdad and withdraws his forces from Kuwait. ... I would think that soon after Jan. 15th if he has not withdrawn his forces from Kuwait then we will be in a position to take military action in conjunction with our allies.″
As Cheney was visiting the Marines in the desert and then Navy personnel aboard a hospital ship and Aegis missile crusier in the Persian Gulf, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell was making separate visits to troops as well.
Cheney and Powell have been in Saudi Arabia since Wednesday, meeting with senior and field commanders to assess the readiness of the American forces less than a month from the U.N. deadline.
The trip was thrown into controversy the first day when the deputy commander of Operation Desert Shield, Lt. Gen. Calvin A.H. Waller, told reporters U.S. ground forces might not be combat ready until mid-February. It was his opinion that Bush should put any attack plans on the shelf until the entire deployment, still awaiting the arrival of more than 100,000 Army ground forces, was ready.
Cheney and Powell refused throughout the week to comment on Waller’s remarks, but their hawkish pep talks to troops appeared designed to convince Saddam, in case Waller made him think otherwise, that the deadline still carried a military threat.
″We will be ready, whenever the president says go, to do whatever has to be done,″ Cheney told sailors aboard the USS Bunker Hill after seeing a demonstration of its guns and firing a dozen rounds into the gulf himself. ″We’re ready today if we have to do something, obviously.″
Bush, meanwhile, said that U.S. forces are battle ready.
″If there was some clear provocation 10 minutes from now, the allied forces are ready to respond vigorously,″ Bush said from Camp David, Md.
Cheney told the Marines who have been in the desert since August, when the American deployment was just beginning, that they now had plenty of help.
″We’ve got enormous forces deployed here in Saudi Arabia and we’re prepared to use them,″ Cheney said.
Cheney appeared to have the remarks of the Army’s Waller in mind when a Marine asked him about the readiness dispute and said many homesick Marines ″prefer to go to war and get it over with.″
Said Cheney: ″We always knew the Marines were going to be ready before the Army was.″
And again later, when a Navy sailor asked about reports American forces were not ready to fight, Cheney said, ″The Army may be a little slow but we know the Navy’s ready.″
But one of the Marine unit’s senior officers, Brig. Gen. Tom Draude, said he concurred with Waller’s assessment.
″I don’t think you should initiate something as serious as combat until you have got everything you possibly can,″ Draude said.
Cheney watched the Marines practice tank-killing by light infantry, donning chemical protective suits and decontaminating tanks and other armored vehicles.
He promised them that if Saddam used chemical weapons, ″our response will be absolutely overwhelming.″
After a helicopter trip over the gulf - and past several vital Saudi oil installations being defended by American forces - Cheney toured the USNS Mercy, one of two hospital ships send to the Mideast, before finishing his day with a stop on the Bunker Hill.