Bush says Iraq posed unacceptable risk

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

From wire reports

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. -- After a Senate report torpedoed much of the intelligence he used to justify the invasion of Iraq, President Bush stood firmly by his war decision Monday, insisting that Saddam Hussein's capability to produce weapons of mass destruction posed a risk to the United States that he was obligated to confront.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," Bush said at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee after inspecting a display of nuclear weapons parts and equipment, including gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment, from Libya.

The hardware was shipped to the lab in March as part of an agreement with Moammar Gadhafi to end his country's nuclear weapons program.

"We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them," the president said. "In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take."

A bipartisan report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week concluded that the president used faulty intelligence from the CIA and other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community -- which exaggerated the weapons threat from Saddam -- to build his case for war.

The panel did not say Bush knowingly used flawed intelligence, instead placing responsibility on the intelligence agencies. That issue is to be explored by the committee in a subsequent report. Yet the president, while using language Monday that he has included in previous speeches, seemed determined to limit political fallout from the Senate findings and to emphasize that he was not alone in trusting the intelligence on Iraq.

Bush stressed it was not just his administration that "saw a threat" from Saddam. He noted that former President Clinton, reviewing some of the same intelligence, made regime change in Iraq official U.S. policy. Bush added that lawmakers and the U.N. Security Council also looked at the intelligence and believed Saddam a danger.

But Saddam refused to open his country to inspections, Bush said.

"So I had a choice to make: either take the word of a madman or defend America. Given that choice I will defend America."

Vice President Dick Cheney in a fund-raising speech in Pennsylvania, said Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards -- the presumed Democratic presidential ticket -- have been critical of Bush's Iraq policy even though they had seen the intelligence, too, and voted to give the president authority to wage war.

Kerry and Edwards "are criticizing the president for looking at the same information they did and coming to the same conclusion they did," Cheney said. "The president made the right decision, and John Kerry is simply trying to rewrite history for his own political purposes."

'Too little, often too late'

In a statement released after Bush's address in Tennessee, Kerry tried to pick apart Bush's foreign policy, saying he had failed to adequately restructure the nation's intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that under his watch nations such as North Korea and Iran have expanded their capabilities to produce nuclear weapons.

"Have we taken every step we should to stop North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs?" Kerry asked. "Have we restructured our intelligence agencies and given them resources they need to keep our country safe? The honest answer, in each of these areas, is that we have done too little, often too late, and even cut back our efforts."

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday suggested that Kerry enjoyed a boost from his selection of Edwards as his running mate last week and the release of the Senate report. The survey showed Kerry ahead of Bush, 50 percent to 46 percent, a gain of three points for Kerry from last week.

Andrew Kohut, executive director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, said he did not expect the Senate report to cause Bush's poll numbers to change much anytime soon because, he said, "there was not any clear finger-pointing at the administration."

But if the situation in Iraq remains unstable, Kohut said, "this will be yet another thing voters will look at. And more people will say the costs have been very high, there wasn't a justification for this, the president and the CIA blew it, but the CIA is not up for re-election."

Since the Senate report was released Friday, Bush has come under pressure from lawmakers to appoint a new CIA director to replace George Tenet, who announced his resignation last month and officially left the agency Sunday. White House aides refused to say when Bush might name a new director. For now, John McLaughlin, the deputy director, is serving as acting director.

Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, said while traveling with Bush Monday that the president will "name a permanent director in due course." He called McLaughlin "a very strong and capable leader."

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