'War President' Defends Iraq War

Bush on 'Meet The Press'
President Bush depicted himself as a wartime leader, and defended the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq despite evidence that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, in an interview broadcast Sunday.

"I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind," Mr. Bush said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true."

Mr. Bush spoke a year after he and other administration officials claimed Iraq was hoarding large stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, as well as an active nuclear weapons program. No weapons have been found.

"Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman," said Mr. Bush in an Oval Office "He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum."

"For the parents of the soldiers who have fallen who are listening, David Kay, the weapons inspector, came back and said, in many ways Iraq was more dangerous than we thought," the president said.

That was a change from earlier White House insistence that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, which could threaten the United States, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante.

Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, last month told Congress that prewar assessments of Iraq were "almost all wrong," and that he believed Iraq had no significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Kay has said Iraq hid illicit material and programs from United Nations inspectors, and may have maintained the capacity to restart a biological weapons production program in a short period of time and the core of its nuclear weapons expertise.

But no active programs have been discovered, and no stockpiles found.

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry took issue with Mr. Bush's claim. "This is a far cry from what the president and his administration told the people in 2002," Kerry said. Kerry said Mr. Bush was "telling the American people stories back in 2002" about the extent of the threat posed by Saddam.

Mr. Bush denied he led the United States into war under false pretenses, but he acknowledged that some prewar intelligence apparently was inaccurate. He did not directly respond to election-year allegations that his administration exaggerated intelligence to bolster a march to oust the Iraqi president.

"We will find out about the weapons of mass destruction that we all thought were there," Mr. Bush said in the interview taped Saturday with host Tim Russert. It was broadcast Sunday.

The president said Kay, the former chief weapons inspector who has said that U.S. intelligence was "almost all wrong" about Saddam's arms, said Saddam found the "capacity to produce weapons." Mr. Bush went on to speculate about what happened to the weapons.

"They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out."

Mr. Bush said he decided to go to war based on the intelligence he had at hand about Saddam, but said CIA Director George Tenet's job is not in jeopardy. "I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet," he said.

While Mr. Bush heavily based the decision to wage war on the rationale that Saddam had forbidden weapons at the ready, the president continued in the interview to emphasize his contention about Saddam's dictatorial rule — that Saddam brutalized Iraqis and had connections to terrorist groups.

"I repeat to you what I strongly believe, that inaction in Iraq would have emboldened Saddam Hussein," Mr. Bush said. "He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time — I'm not saying immediately, but over time. … We would have been in a position of blackmail. In other words, you can't rely upon a madman."

The president said the U.S. war in Iraq had led other nations, like Libya, to take disarmament seriously.

Among the other issues discussed in the interview, Mr. Bush:

  • said of Osama bin Laden: "I have no idea whether we will capture or bring him to justice." Mr. Bush pledged after the Sept. 11 attacks to get the suspected mastermind "dead or alive."

  • pledged to cooperate with the commission he set up last week to examine intelligence lapses. "I will be glad to visit with them," he said.

  • defended his National Guard service during the Vietnam War. The president dismissed news reports saying there is no evidence he reported for duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972. "They're just wrong," Mr. Bush said.

  • said his policy to cut taxes was responsible for driving the economic rebound and putting the country on the road to recovering the more than 2 million jobs lost since he took office in 2001.
  • expressed indifference to polls that showed him trailing Kerry , who is leading the race to be the Democratic presidential nominee. "I'm not going to lose," Mr. Bush said. "I don't plan on losing."

    and said he would "perhaps" submit to questions from the commission reviewing the Sept. 11 attacks.

  • brushed off his unpopularity in European polls which show unfavorable ratings of 70 percent in Germany and 67 percent in France.

    "I think that people — when you do hard things, when you ask hard things of people, it can create tensions. … I'll tell you, though, I'm not going to change, see? I'm not trying to accommodate. I won't change my philosophy or my point of view. I believe I owe it to the American people to say what I'm going to do and do it, and to speak as clearly as I can, try to articulate as best I can why I make decisions I make, but I'm not going to change because of polls. That's just not my nature."