Bush Upholds Iraq Decision, Discusses Intelligence Process
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2004 President Bush said he is a "war president," and he makes every foreign policy decision with that in mind.
Bush spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press" today. He told interviewer Tim Russert that Saddam Hussein is a "madman," and he made the right decision to remove the Iraqi dictator from power.
Bush said nothing is more vital to a president than accurate, timely intelligence. And this is tough to come by in an intelligence war against "shadowy networks (and) individuals who deal with rogue nations." The president stressed that the capacity to have good intelligence means "a president can make good calls about fighting this war on terror."
Bush appointed a commission Feb. 6 to study pre-war intelligence and compare it to what is known from the Iraq Survey Group. The commission is also going to study intelligence coming in about other nations, such as Libya, North Korea and Iran. The commission will report its findings by March 31, 2005.
"This is a strategic look, kind of a big picture look about the intelligence- gathering capacities of the United States of America," the president said today.
He responded to the decision to set the reporting deadline after the November presidential election. "There is going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made a good calls, whether or not I used good judgment, whether or not I made the right decision in removing Saddam Hussein from power," Bush said.
The president said the intelligence agencies are doing good jobs. He expressed confidence in Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and said his job is not in jeopardy. "Intelligence requires, ... all kinds of assets to bring information to the president," Bush said. "I want that intelligence service to be strong, viable, competent, confident, and provide good product to the president so I can make judgment calls."
Russert asked about a prediction that U.S. forces would capture Osama bin Laden this year. "I have no idea whether we will capture or bring him to justice," Bush answered. "I know we are on the hunt, and Osama bin Laden is a cold- blooded killer, and he represents the nature of the enemy that we face."
While mush of the focus in the war on terror is on Iraq, other operations are equally important and not receiving the press they deserve, Bush said. "We've got thousands of troops, agents, allies on the hunt, and we are doing a pretty good job of dismantling al Qaeda better than a pretty good job, a very good job."
On Iraq, the president said he expected to find weapons of mass destruction stockpiles in the country. "I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid," he said.
All nations took note of Saddam's recalcitrance to open the country to inspectors. All countries noted that Saddam had used chemical weapons on Iran in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War and on Kurds in the northern part of the country. U.N. weapons inspectors said there was a large number of chemical and biological weapons unaccounted for following the first Persian Gulf War.
"I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons," Bush said. The Iraq Survey Group under David Kay found the capacity to produce weapons, but no stockpiles. The group has not finished its work yet, and there are a number of theories as to what happened to the weapons. "David Kay did report to the American people that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons," Bush said.
"Saddam Hussein was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons. He was a dangerous man in the dangerous part of the world."
The president said that knowing what he did, he did not think he could rely on the good will of a madman. "I believe it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent," Bush said.
"It's too late if they become imminent. It's too late in this new kind of war, and so that's why I made the decision I made."
Bush said he had first wanted the United Nations to act to get Saddam to disarm peacefully. "U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 clearly stated, 'Show us your arms and destroy them, or your programs and destroy them,'" he noted. "And we said, 'There are serious consequences if you don't.'"
It wasn't just the United States making the determination that Saddam posed a danger. The United Nations thought so too. "And, of course, he defied the world once again," Bush said.
No country or international organization can afford to have its word doubted. The president said that if the United States or the United Nations says there will be serious consequences, then there better be serious consequences. If there aren't, "People look at us and say, 'They don't mean what they say, they are not willing to follow through,'" he said.
Inaction would have emboldened Saddam Hussein, the president said. "He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time I'm not saying immediately -- but over time which would then have put us in what position? We would have been in a position of blackmail," Bush said.
"In other words, you can't rely upon a madman, and he was a madman. You can't rely upon him making rational decisions when it comes to war and peace. And it's too late, in my judgment, when a madman who has got terrorist connections is able to act."
He said experiences since March 2003 show the message has been received. "Libya, for example: There was a positive effect in Libya where Moammar Qadhafi voluntarily disclosed his weapons programs and agreed to dismantle them, and the world is a better place as a result of that," Bush said.
During his hour-long interview, Bush spoke directly to the families of Americans who have been killed in Iraq. "Every life is precious. Every person that is willing to sacrifice for this country deserves our praise," he said. "Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not gonna leave him in power and trust a madman. 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,'" he continued. "It's we are in a war against these terrorists who will bring great harm to America, and I've asked these young ones to sacrifice for that.
"A free Iraq will change the world. It's historic times. A free Iraq will make it easier for other children in our own country to grow up in a safer world because in the Middle East is where you find the hatred and violence that enables the enemy to recruit its killers.
"I've got a foreign policy that is one that believes America has a responsibility in this world to lead, a responsibility to lead in the war against terror, a responsibility to speak clearly about the threats that we all face, a responsibility to promote freedom, to free people from the clutches of barbaric people such as Saddam Hussein who tortured, mutilated. We have a responsibility. To me that is history's call to America. I accept the call and will continue to lead in that direction."