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Long day of debate leads to decision

Bush calls Blair in the morning, discusses plans with advisers throughout the day and says ''I feel great'' before addressing the nation.

©Associated Press

March 20, 2003


WASHINGTON -- On the day that President Bush led the nation into a war in the Persian Gulf, discussions of battle plans, weather forecasts in Iraq and troop positions ruled nearly all his hours.

Bush opened one of the most momentous days of his presidency with a call to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch ally who has suffered at home but won his Parliament's backing for war against Iraq. Next came Bush's usual early morning homeland security and intelligence briefings -- a staple since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- from FBI director Robert Mueller and CIA director George Tenet.

With about 12 hours to go before Bush's deadline for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to flee or be overthrown, the president huddled for the first of three times Wednesday with members of his war council, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Taking a brief break from Iraq, Bush then talked local homeland security issues with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

"I think the president understands in the end he has an awesome responsibility," Bloomberg said after his half-hour in the Oval Office. "He's not going to be cowed or dissuaded. He's going to go out there and do what we all pray is right."

Bush also delivered to Congress the required formal justification for war, claiming "the authority -- indeed, given the dangers involved, the duty" to lead an attack.

Another war council followed and then, starting about 3:40 p.m., came the final, decisive meeting with Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers and others.

It was about two-thirds of the way through that long meeting, or a little more than an hour before his ultimatum to Hussein expired, that Bush gave the go-ahead for war on the advice of his military commanders.

The meeting broke up about 7:15 p.m. The president reviewed his address with his chief speechwriter and left his office for the residence and dinner with Laura Bush.

As the 8 p.m. deadline passed, the president and first lady were in their living room when a call came from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. He told Bush intelligence officials had no information that Hussein had left Iraq. Bush polished his remarks and headed back to the Oval Office.

Moments before his four-minute address -- announced by his press secretary a mere half-hour earlier -- was beamed worldwide, Bush showed his mood. Clenching his fist, he said, "I feel great."

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