When White House aides tacked the president's public schedule on the bulletin board early yesterday morning, it differed little from those of the sparse postings of recent days and offered no clue that Jan. 16 would be the day George Bush would order the United States into war in the Persian Gulf.

But there was an air of inevitability in the White House, and presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who has solemnly spoken for two presidents through four middle-of-the-night military actions, made it clear that this president had no hope for peace this day.

The president's mood, Fitzwater said yesterday morning, was one of "resignation."

According to Fitzwater, Bush began drafting his television speech for the night of the attack over the Christmas holiday, a period before he would propose the "final step for peace" -- the meeting between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraq Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz -- and before he would endorse the mission of U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to Baghdad. Over the past three weeks, a flurry of diplomatic moves would erupt across the globe, and to all of them White House response would be pessimism.

The basic decision made earlier, Bush on Tuesday signed the National Security Directive authorizing the war against Iraq, but left open the date the attacks would begin. The military, Fitzwater said, had recommended last night. Then yesterday, with the deadline gone and no sign of movement from Baghdad, the president issued the order to go. "We gave him {Saddam Hussein} a day of grace to give him every opportunity to get out . . . ," Fitzwater said.

Bush spent much of yesterday with Baker, his longtime friend whose five months of diplomacy had failed to produce a peaceful end to the crisis that erupted Aug. 2. The two men met in the morning for an expanded session of the routine presidential national security briefing, and Bush and Baker later had lunch alone together in the White House family quarters.

A White House photographer would capture the two, allies in political battles over more than three decades, walking together. Fitzwater said, "You can see the lines of concern" in the president's face. Bush, earlier in the day at a photo session with educators, had scoffed at the notion that he looked grim. "Lighten up," he told a reporter.

According to Fitzwater, Bush watched the attack as it unfolded on television.

Gathered in the small study off the Oval Office, Bush was flanked by Vice President Quayle, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.

As ABC News correspondent Gary Shepard announced that he could see from his hotel room the first shells falling on Baghdad, the president turned to the group, which by then included Fitzwater, to say, "Just the way it was scheduled," according to Fitzwater.

Bush watched the television correspondents in Baghad report the war only a few hours after Fitzwater, on the president's orders, had given one final warning that the correspondents in Iraq should get out soon.

Bush came back to the Oval Office from the residence before 6 p.m. to inform congressional leaders and a number of foreign leaders in the solemn series of calls that presidents make, usually long after the warplanes have taken off.

As he made the calls, aides said, he clicked the buttons on his remote control to try to catch the live reports from Baghdad. For Bush, Fitzwater said, it was the "end of a process" that began on Aug. 2 and the beginning of a new one.