WASHINGTON -- War against Iraq is likely, said a senator exploring U.S. options, and other lawmakers joined him Sunday in pressing the Bush administration to make the case to Congress before any attack.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., led hearings last week that highlighted both the gravity of the threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the difficulty of replacing him with stable leadership.
"I believe there probably will be a war with Iraq," said Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The only question is, is it alone, is it with others and how long and how costly will it be?"
Similar sentiment was expressed by other lawmakers appearing on the talk shows. Like Biden, they said the administration must do far more to sell Americans, allies and Iraq's neighbors on the need for force.
They also said Bush must seek congressional approval if he decides on war and heal splits among his own advisers over how best to meet his goal of replacing Saddam.
Administration officials were absent from the airwaves, letting lawmakers drive the debate.
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Saddam is not likely to launch an attack with biological or chemical weapons unless he is provoked by a U.S. move against him.
"Does he love himself more than he hates us?" he asked on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And I think the answer is probably yes. And if that's true, then it would be unlikely that he would initiate an attack with a weapon of mass destruction because it would be certain that he would be destroyed in response."
Like reading entrails
But Biden said divining the Iraqi leader's plans "is like reading the entrails of goats." What matters is his capacity to unleash the weapons, whatever his intentions, Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Congress must weigh in before America goes to war. "I don't think the president has the authority to launch a full-force effort" without congressional approval, said Daschle, D-S.D.
"We all support strongly a regime change," Daschle said on ABC's "This Week." "But I think we have to get our ducks in order. Do we have the support of our allies? Do we have an appropriate plan?"
The administration has invited Iraqi opposition groups to Washington, possibly this month, to explore what they might be able to do to unseat Saddam. So far, they have not been considered an effective force.
Ahmed Chalabi, head of a London-based umbrella organization representing the fractious opposition figures, said thousands of lightly armed Iraqis in the north, south and Baghdad want to move against Saddam but need training and equipment.
Congress authorized Bush in the fall to use all necessary force against nations or groups that aided the Sept. 11 hijackers or harbored such terrorists.
Few if any solid leads have come out linking Saddam to the al-Qaida terrorist network and the debate remains unsettled over whether Bush must come to Congress specifically to get approval to attack Iraq.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said earlier it would be ridiculous for Bush to lay out a war plan in public view. And he recalled the bitterness of some of the congressional debate that preceded the last war against Iraq.
But on Sunday he acknowledged, too, the need to engage the public. Lott said he would probably support a resolution urging the administration to bring the matter to Congress.
"While you may not have to come to Congress, America needs to be united," he said. "We need to understand what our problem is, what our goals are."
'We have no choice'
Biden, citing expert testimony in his hearings, said it is clear Iraq has chemical and biological weapons of some sort. Less certain is whether Saddam has the means yet to use them effectively, he said.
"We have no choice but to eliminate the threat," he said. "This is a guy who's an extreme danger to the world."
Does that mean war? "I think that's where we end up," Biden said.
He said the United States probably could oust Saddam but America would then face a long rebuilding job in Iraq.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who favors a hard line on Saddam, said leaks from the administration have betrayed splits among Bush's advisers over his tough policy.
"I think we're at a point where it's critically important for the president, as commander in chief, to take hold here," said Lieberman, D-Conn.