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Rumsfeld on Iraq: U.S. will be right

CAMP PENDLETON, California (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday the decision on whether to attack Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be based on leadership, not consensus, despite growing public anxiety about the prospect of war.

"It's less important to have unanimity than it is to be making the right decisions and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome," Rumsfeld told Marines here.

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He said history has shown that when the United States makes right decisions, "other countries do cooperate and they do participate."

"Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters, just as the leadership of the United States in the global war on terror has found some 90 nations to assist and to cooperate," he said.

The defense secretary said U.S. leaders and those in other countries are engaged in an important and serious discussion on Iraq, weighing the advantages of acting against Saddam versus the "advantages of not acting."

He said Bush has yet to reach a decision on the matter, but he is confident the president "will find his way to the right decision."

When that decision is made, the defense secretary said, "We'll find that in a relatively short period of time, there will be support across broad areas for doing the right thing."

The comments came a day after the White House said it doesn't need congressional approval to launch an attack and Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States cannot wait until Iraq obtains nuclear weapons before taking action.

With the public debate intensifying about how the nation should deal with Iraq, Rumsfeld traveled to the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, where he delivered a speech and then answered questions from the Marines, with the crowd chanting "Hu-ah" after each question.

Rumsfeld told the Marines the September 11 attacks changed the nature of the "national security circumstance," putting United States forces against terrorists with an unconventional capability, with the willingness to obtain biological, chemical, radiation and nuclear weapons to harm the United States.

"You are not talking about sustaining an attack and losing hundreds or a few thousand. You're talking about risking the lives of thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Just before the question-and-answer session began, Rumsfeld joked for the Marines to ask easy questions.

A Marine then stood and asked, "I've been told when we go to Iraq we will have all of the country supporting us. How important is this? And if they don't support us, what are we going to do about that?"

Rumsfeld emphasized the "president's not made a decision with respect to Iraq" and that a discussion is going on "as it properly should."

"I don't know what decision the president will make with respect to the question you posed. I don't know how many countries will participate in the event the president does decide the risks of not acting are greater than the risks of acting," he said.

At another point, a Marine asked, "Do you believe that we can actually hold -- that we can fight two sustained conflicts on two different fronts? Do we have the resources and the manpower, and do the other countries backing us up have it?"

To that, Rumsfeld said, "You can be darn sure that you folks will not be asked to do anything that we won't be able to do."