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A clear, convincing speech

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To a nation growing skeptical of his buildup toward war in Iraq, President Bush did a convincing job Tuesday night of laying the groundwork for the case that ought to rally the people behind him.

The rest of the job must be done in the days ahead, particularly at a Feb. 5 meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The president promised that Secretary of State Colin Powell will share intelligence at that time that would rally international support for a tough stance against Saddam Hussein — one that may well lead to war. Bush made it clear he was willing to wage war without U.N. support, but the best option, clearly, would be to do so with the support of the civilized world.

Democratic leaders reacted to the president's speech with tempered skepticism, saying they support a multi-lateral approach to the Iraqi situation. Some went as far as to say the president offered no new evidence against Saddam.

This is true. But what the president did was articulate what is known, and that is enough to demonstrate convincingly that Saddam has violated U.N. Resolution 1441, which requires him to account for and eliminate weapons of mass destruction and to cooperate fully with inspectors.

Bush correctly noted that Saddam has done nothing to account for 6,600 gallons of anthrax, more than 10,000 gallons of botulinum toxin and hundreds of tons of chemical agents. Iraq has refused to allow the U.N. to fly surveillance planes, and it has compromised the inspection process. The president outlined the abuses Saddam has perpetrated on his own people and said he "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida."

The president's opponents may say this still does not present a convincing case that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the United States. Nor does it explain why Iraq should be the target when evidence shows Iran and other nations also harbor terrorists and illegal weapons. But it would be difficult to argue that the United States has a more motivated and ruthless enemy anywhere in the world, and one wonders where to find a better first target against rogue states.

Bush made it clear that his efforts against Iraq clearly are linked to the fight that Americans launched after 9/11. "Before Sept. 11, 2001, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained," he said. "But chemical agents and lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein."

The president's speech contained much more, of course, including a ground breaking proposal to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean and a program to develop a hydrogen-powered car, as well as tax cuts and faith-based initiatives.

But all of this was overshadowed by the war talk. Indeed, the economy seems to be teetering, waiting for the nation to resolve the situation in Iraq before it can move forward. The president's clear message Tuesday night no doubt hastened that time.