Weapons inspectors were coming up empty. France and Germany were balking at moving toward war. Turkey was resisting having U.S. ground troops on its soil. Opposition was growing in Britain while polls showed the American public didn't want to go to war in Iraq.
The administration was trying to lay the groundwork to make a strong case against Iraq when U.N. inspectors deliver their report on Monday to the Security Council. U.S. officials had seen the Jan. 27 report as a possible war decision point, but they've drawn opposition from allies who want the inspectors given more time to do their work. "An extra delay is necessary," French President Jacques Chirac asserted Wednesday. France has hinted it might use its Security Council veto to block an Iraq war resolution. Germany also called for a delay.
In remarks Wednesday in St. Louis that appeared directed at both Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and unconvinced allies, Bush declared, "It's time for us to hold the world to account and for Saddam to be held to account. ... We must not be fooled by the ways of the past." Expressing scorn, Bush suggested Saddam hoped to buy time for himself by giving "the so-called inspectors more runaround." A day earlier, Bush likened giving the U.N. inspectors more time to the "rerun of a bad movie."
But it is clear that international sentiment has shifted since last November's 15-0 Security Council vote calling for Saddam to disarm and sending in the arms inspectors. "No one wants to go to war over 12 artillery shells," said Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O'Hanlon, referring to empty chemical warheads discovered last week near Baghdad.
O'Hanlon said support for war has been eroded by the failure of inspectors to come up with a "smoking gun" and by Iraq's superficial show of compliance. Also, he suggested, "The world is getting cold feet."
The stars appeared to be lining up against any imminent war decision both abroad and at home - and at a bad time for Bush, who gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Anti-war demonstrations drew tens of thousands to Washington last weekend and recent polls suggested Bush has failed to convince most Americans there is justification for military action to topple Saddam. More than half--53 percent--responding to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press said the president has not yet explained clearly what's at stake to justify war.
Meanwhile, prominent Democrats who earlier were restrained in criticizing Bush's foreign policy were becoming more outspoken. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., accused Bush of pursuing war in Iraq while a more imminent threat exists in North Korea. And Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Wednesday that "it would be a huge mistake if the president went forward without the support of our allies."
In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair kept open the option of a U.S.-British attack on Iraq without U.N. backing and readied a potential land force of 26,000 troops. But anti-war opposition among the British public was growing. A Guardian newspaper poll said 81 percent of Britons would oppose war without a new U.N. mandate. Both Germany and France voiced opposition to war with Iraq at this time. Russia and China have also expressed reservations. In an interview on French national television, Chirac suggested he favors giving U.N. weapons inspectors several months more to search Iraq for prohibited arms.
Earlier, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said war supporters "are on the wrong path." Germany takes over the Security Council chairmanship in February. Turkey where the Pentagon hopes to base thousands of ground troops for a "northern front" operation - has yet to say whether it would permit such a deployment. Public opposition in the Muslim country to a U.S. war against Iraq was overwhelming.
The Turkish government is hosting a meeting in Ankara on Thursday of Middle Eastern foreign ministers to discuss the impasse.
U.S. allies are nervous because they see war with Iraq "as very destabilizing," said Edward P. Djerejian, an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton and first Bush administration. "They do not see it as a moment of liberation, they see it as a moment of great danger."
Meanwhile, the administration pressed ahead, saying it looked forward to the inspectors' report on Monday. "In sum, Iraq is failing to disarm. We need to face these facts. We need to deal with this reality and not pretend that inspectors can disarm Iraq while Iraq is actively blowing smoke and hiding its programs," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.