Also unanswered, Haass noted: How long Arab nations would back a U.S. assault if it does not bring Hussein around after a few days. There have been reports this week that plans call for a sustained attack over several days; Pentagon officials denied Tuesday that any such decisions have been made.
The issue of the allies' resolve to wage an extended military campaign is further complicated by the likelihood that Hussein will, as he has before, put civilians at or near suspected targets to deter attack or to provide stark, broadcast images of dead men, women and children.
Diplomats and commentators in the Middle East say sympathy for the Iraqi regime, as distinct from the Iraqi people, has waned as Baghdad has stonewalled weapons inspectors in recent months. If the United States and Britain, which has dispatched forces to the region, attacked props of the regime--such as the presidential forces controlled by Hussein and his sons--the move would probably meet with tacit support from several Arab governments, said a senior editor.
"Most of the Arab states would grumble, and not do more," a Western diplomat agreed.
When the last crisis with Hussein erupted last fall--over his decision to evict Americans on U.N. weapons inspection teams--Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan rebuffed U.S. feelers about launching attacks from their territory, said one Western representative. Now, if the U.S. pressed, the official said, "I think maybe at least one of them would go along with it."
Still, much of the Arab public is likely to assail any military action. In Bahrain, commentator Assayed Zahra wrote Monday in the Akhbar al-Khalij newspaper that even if Baghdad has not cooperated fully with the U.N., that is insufficient cause for war, arguing: "The fact of the matter is that what the U.S. is planning is blatant aggression, without justification or legitimacy of any kind."
Amid these complexities, diplomats of other nations have argued against airstrikes that might lead to an end of the U.N. monitoring program but leave Hussein in power and free to resume developing illicit weapons.
"We have to make sure that he [Hussein] has no weapons of mass destruction to threaten the Persian Gulf, and the use of force would make that goal further away rather than closer," said Sergei V. Lavrov, the Russian U.N. envoy who has long detailed his nation's dissent from the hard U.S.-British line against Iraq.
In a likely final round of personal diplomacy, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright leaves Thursday on a six-day trip to Europe and the Middle East to shore up the Gulf War coalition. The defense secretary is considering his own visit to the region.
Bacon said Cohen was weighing a trip to confer with Gulf countries on military plans. "The train is leaving the station here," Bacon said. "If diplomacy fails here, we will have to look at different options."
Times staff writer John Daniszewski in Cairo contributed to this report. Richter reported from Washington and Turner from the United Nations.