President Bush pressed his verbal war on Saddam Hussein today, suggesting the Iraqi president had surpassed Adolf Hitler in brutality and pledging to ``see his aggression turned back.'' The White House said Bush was preparing the American people for ``any eventuality.''
``Today I am more determined than ever that this aggression will not stand,'' Bush said in Mashpee, Mass., as he embarked on a six-day Republican campaign swing leading up to Election Day next Tuesday.
The president spent most of his day combatively addressing the Persian Gulf situation rather than domestic political issues as he campaigned for GOP candidates on the East Coast.
Spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the recent switch in emphasis had ``nothing to do'' with political motives or the beating Bush had taken in public opinion over the recently concluded budget battle with Congress.
Fitzwater said the president was speaking more often and more forcefully about Iraq ``to prepare the American people for any eventuality. If we do have to take dramatic action, we want them to know why.''
``We will not rule out the military option,'' Fitzwater said.
A weekend Boston Globe poll of more than 1,000 people nationwide showed Bush's overall job-performance rating below 50 percent for the first time since he took office.
For the first time since the Gulf crisis began, less than 50 percent of surveyed voters gave Bush a positive rating for his handling of foreign policy, according to the poll, conducted for the Globe and WBZ-TV by KRC Communications Research. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Bush's favorability rating, which measures how people feel about the president personally, continued to be his biggest strength, but even that hit the lowest point of his presidency, 65 percent.
When asked how they would rate the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy, 48 percent said ``excellent'' or ``above average,'' and 29 percent said ``below average'' or ``poor.''
That was still marginally better than Bush's overall job rating, in which 44 percent of respondents gave him a positive mark and 36 percent gave him a negative rating. Only 19 percent of those polled gave Bush a positive rating on the handling of the economy.
Bush, in words reminiscent of his comments on Panama before sending troops there last year, said today the United States has ``no argument with the Iraqi people, none at all. We bear no hostility to the Iraqi people. . . . Our problem is with Saddam Hussein alone.''
Bush also said he still plans to give time for the United Nations-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq to work.
``I want desperately to have a peaceful resolution to this crisis,'' Bush told a political gathering in Burlington, Mass. ``I hope there will never be a shot fired in anger. . . . No one wants a peaceful end to this crisis more than I do, but no one is more determined to see his aggression turned back than I am, and I will not change on that,'' he said.
He said Saddam's treatment of U.S. civilians, using them as ``human shields'' against attack on military targets was brutality that ``I don't believe Adolf Hitler ever participated in.''
``They have committed outrageous acts of barbarism'' Bush said of Saddam's forces. ``The brutality against innocent civilians will not be tolerated.''
Fitzwater also said there would soon be ``a turning point'' in the status of the diplomats cut off from outside supply at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City.
``At some point, they've either got to leave or be re-provisioned,'' he said. He declined to say how many days longer the group could hold out with their supplies blocked by occupying Iraqi troops.
Bush has made no secret of the fact he would like to see Saddam out of power, but he has not made that a stated objective for the U.S. military deployed in the Gulf. Their mission, he has said, is merely to push Saddam to remove his troops from Kuwait and restore the previous government there.
However, Vice President Dan Quayle said yesterday in an interview on PBS' MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, ``You cannot simply allow Saddam Hussein to have this military power and have the technology into the future.''
``I believe that the world certainly understands that. A Saddam Hussein who has ballistic missiles, who has chemical capability, biological capability, who would like to have the nuclear capability, cannot continue to have that capability even if he withdraws from Kuwait,'' Quayle said.
Bush spent the first half of his day at Massachusetts campaign appearances for GOP gubernatorial candidate William Weld and Senate candidate James Rappaport. After stopping in Florida and then Cincinnati, he was scheduled tomorrow to campaign in Minnesota, Iowa and California.
Bush spent little time today blasting Democrats on budget and other issues and considerable time talking about the Gulf crisis. ``I want you to put politics aside,'' he told an audience in Mashpee.
Fitzwater said Bush was urged to continue his attack on Democrats ``in certain quarters . . . but he surveyed the whole matter and decided this was the best approach.''
The Gulf matter, Fitzwater said, ``is a very serious and far-reaching problem,'' and the president wanted to talk about it to his audiences despite the potential for allegations that he was politicizing the crisis.
As for Saddam's offer to allow hostage families to visit relatives in Iraq and Kuwait over the Christmas holidays, Fitzwater called it Saddam's ``latest ploy'' and said it would be better for the Iraqi president to let the hostages come home for Thanksgiving.