Waiting, watching — and devising contingency plans, if at all possible. That is what retailers and manufacturers worldwide are doing as they, like everyone else, keep an eye on the situation in Iraq and wonder what the U.S. and other countries might decide to do. One signal was expected to come late Tuesday in President Bush’s State of the Union address, although a senior White House aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the President will use a few new pieces of recently unclassified intelligence to outline his case against Iraq. Though he won’t declare war, the President’s intentions will be clear — and Bush’s patience is limited, the aide said.

It is almost the worst possible dilemma a business can face: immense uncertainty that could end in war. The current situation is forcing companies to adapt almost daily to new consumer moods, a continuing slide at retail, possible disruptions in their supply chains and rising fuel prices.

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