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Bush Says Saddam Would ‘Get His Ass Kicked’ in Gulf War

December 21, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush told members of Congress on Thursday he would welcome a strong resolution endorsing military action against Iraq and pledged that Saddam Hussein would ″get his ass kicked″ if it did come to war.

Meanwhile, the White House played down a general’s warning that U.S. ground troops in the Persian Gulf might not be ready to fight Iraq by the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, suggesting it might have been an attempt to mislead Saddam.

Bush met with two groups of lawmakers just back from the gulf. They said they discussed whether Bush must seek a declaration of war from Congress before any attack against Iraq, and the possibility of a congressional resolution expressing support for Bush’s policies.

Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson, D-Calif., said he believed there should be a declaration of war before the use of force.

However, Beilenson said, ″It’s not clear, necessarily, what the response of the Congress would be. The president feels ... that it’s his decision to make.″

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Bush would welcome a strong endorsement from Congress along the lines of the U.N. resolution that authorizes force against Iraq unless it withdraws from Kuwait by Jan. 15.

On the other hand, he said Bush told lawmakers, ″If you’re going to debate this for months and not reach a conclusion and argue about it, then that may not be that helpful, or if you’re going to water it down. ...″

Fitzwater added, ″I’m sure that every committee up there has got 40 brilliant little staff guys running around drafting resolutions.″

Rep. George W. Darden, D-Ga., said Bush told the lawmakers in direct terms that he was willing to use force. ″He told us, ’I am determined to do whatever is necessary to accomplish the purpose of getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.″

Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said Bush talked bluntly about the consequences facing Saddam.

″The greatest potential for preventing any kind of an armed confrontation is to make sure that Saddam Hussein be made really aware that, to quote him (Bush), that, ’If we get into an armed situation, he’s going to get his ass kicked,‴ Gallegly said.

Another person at the meeting confirmed that Bush made the remark.

Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said he and other members of his delegation told Bush that, on their visit to the Middle East, they detected ″considerable support among the masses″ in Arab countries for Saddam Hussein.

″And that is a reality with which we must deal, even though the governments of some of those countries are allied with us at this time,″ he said.

Furthermore, he said they told the president that allies in the region - particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia - feared a broader conflict that would involve Israel.

He said that Isreli planes flying over Jordan to attack Iraq would likely bring Jordan into war against Israel; and that Syria would fight alongside Jordan, further complicating the equation, since Syria has troops in Saudi Arabia facing Saddam.

Mitchell told Maine reporters by telephone to Portland that if Saddam expects an attack, ″some officials in region believe he will attempt a pre- emptive strike.″

The Senate leader also said it now seems likely that the Senate will remain in session after reconvening on Jan. 3 to debate the crisis, rather than recessing until later in the month as originally planned.

Bush also met with Presiding Episcopal Bishop Edmond L. Browning, who implored him not to go to war with Iraq. ″I really believe in the deepest part of my conviction that God does not desire this kind of destruction,″ said Browning, the top Bishop of Bush’s own church.

Bush questioned whether it would be moral to do nothing, and gave him a copy of an Amnesty International report on atrocities in Kuwait, Browning said.

As for Wednesday’s comments in Saudi Arabia by Lt. Gen. Calvin A.H. Waller - to the effect that U.S. ground forces won’t be fully ready for combat until well after the U.N. deadline - Fitzwater said, ″It never hurts to build in a little uncertainty about what our intentions are as it relates to Jan. 15.″

″It doesn’t cause us any grief to have a little uncertainty in the mind of (Saddam Hussein) about exactly when you might choose to enforce the U.N. sanctions,″ Fitzwater said.

″We believe our forces are ready whenever they are called upon and they are ready now,″ he said.

Gallegly said the lawmakers and Bush discussed at length that ″for strategic reasons, there is a much greater window of military opportunity between the middle of January and the end of February.″

Fitzwater said Bush rejected suggestions that he wait a year to 18 months to see if sanctions would work.

Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, reporting on a visit to the gulf, said the trip had led to changes of views for some of the senators, and said the group now agreed that military force must be used to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait if all else fails.

Simon said that for all the talk about a multinational force, ″the bulk of″ any fighting against Iraq would be done by Americans. He said there was a question whether soldiers from one Arab country would fight those from another. And he said of soldiers from one Arab nation, which he wouldn’t name, ″They are well-equipped to hunt deer in southern Illinois but not for the mission that they face.″

Meanwhile, three Republican senators - Sen. Alfonse D’Amato of New York, Larry Pressler of South Dakota and Connie Mack of Florida - said Saudi Arabia stands to reap billions of dollars in oil profits as a result of the Persian Gulf crisis and should therefore reimburse the United States for the full cost of Operation Desert Shield.

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