Bush Erred On Libya Weapons Claim

Haitians line the banks of the main wharf hoping to get a ride in any one of many small boats for hire in Port-au- Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. With the city left in ruins after last week's deadly earthquake, many of the displaced people are leaving town and traveling to stay with relatives in outlying towns. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Once again, President Bush misspoke on a weapons issue, telling the nation that 50 tons of mustard gas were found in Libya — twice the amount actually uncovered.

The White House moved quickly Wednesday to correct the record, with press secretary Scott McClellan seeking out reporters to point out the mistake. The president should have said in his Tuesday night address and press conference that 23.6 tons of mustard gas were found in Libya, instead of 50 tons, McClellan said.

Mr. Bush used the 50-ton figure twice.

The first time, he was making the case that his decision to go to war in Iraq has produced foreign policy successes elsewhere. The president argued that Libya's agreement last December to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs was the result of the U.S.-led war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Colonel Gadhafi made the decision, and rightly so, to disclose and disarm for the good of the world," Mr. Bush said, referring to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. "By the way, they found, I think, 50 tons of mustard gas, I believe it was, in a turkey farm, only because he was willing to disclose where the mustard gas was. But that made the world safer."

The second time, Mr. Bush was using the example of the Libyan mustard gas disclosure to suggest that weapons of mass destruction could still turn up in Iraq. Though Mr. Bush's prewar allegations of Saddam's alleged weapons were his main rationale for going to war, none has yet been found.

"They could still be there," he said Tuesday of the Iraq weapons. "They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm."

The White House's fast acknowledgement of this error was sharply different from its handling of Mr. Bush's now-discredited claim in his January 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa for weapons.

It wasn't until July 2003 that the White House said the statement, largely based on evidence of Iraqi activities in Niger that turned out to be forged and that had been doubted beforehand by some in the intelligence community, should not have been included in the speech.
  • Joel Roberts

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