"It's difficult to tell if this is just a sophisticated campaign to intimidate Saddam into backing down or if they're actually planning to attack," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "The problem is that we don't seem to have an endgame -- cruise missiles are more effective as a means of intimidation than at delivering a result. Baghdad believes that short of landing troops there, nothing we do militarily is going to have an enormous impact on them." If the U.S. plans to proceed, President Clinton's scheduled departure Friday for a 10-day tour of Asia may set the time frame: "Politically, the President needs to be in Washington when America goes into battle," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "If nothing's happened by Wednesday night and the President's travel plans don't change, chances are that Iraq will have to wait a couple of weeks."
Washington wants Baghdad to believe it's about to start raining cruise missiles -- perhaps because fear of attack may impact more heavily on Saddam than an actual air strike would. That could be the thinking behind "military sources'" discussion of attack scenarios in the New York Times and a U.S. officer in Kuwait's loud hints that strikes are imminent.