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|Bush defends Iraq war, economic record
'I don't intend to lose' election
Monday, February 9, 2004 Posted: 7:49 AM EST (1249 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Though conceding that Iraq apparently did not possess weapons of mass destruction, President Bush defended his decision to go to war in an interview that aired Sunday, saying, "Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman."
In an interview with NBC's "Meet The Press" taped Saturday in the Oval Office, Bush also said he's confident he will win a second term in November.
"I don't intend to lose," he said. "I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom."
Addressing the controversy over the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, Bush said, "I expected to find the weapons."
"I'm sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and 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."
Bush was asked by moderator Tim Russert whether his statement on the night the U.S. began the war in Iraq that intelligence "leaves no doubt" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was "apparently, not the case." The president responded, "Correct."
But Bush said Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein "had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum."
The president signed an executive order Friday creating a commission to review U.S. intelligence-gathering, including an evaluation of prewar intelligence. Bush gave the commission until March 2005 to finish its work.
Bush said he'd be glad to visit, but not testify before the commission.
Bush's opponents have criticized his decision to delay that deadline until after November's presidential election. But Sunday, the president said he wanted to give the commission enough time to complete a thorough assessment of U.S. intelligence gathering.
"We're in a political season, but there will be ample time for the American people to judge whether I made good calls," he said.
Bush also stood firm behind CIA Director George Tenet, denying that Tenet's job is in jeopardy. "Not at all, not at all," Bush said. "I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet."
Bush was asked whether Congress would have authorized the war if he had gone to them and explained that Saddam should be removed because he was a threat to his people, but that it was unclear whether he had weapons of mass destruction.
"I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw -- the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had," he said. "The same information, by the way, that my predecessor had. And all of us, you know, made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed."
But Sunday, two of Bush's Democratic rivals for president took issue with that assertion.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. John Edwards said Bush's statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as the president was a "big leap."
"I'm not certain that's true," he said. "I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should."
Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry accused Bush on Sunday of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war.
"George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight. That's the very least that Americans should be able to expect," Kerry said.
"Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn't. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth," Kerry said. (Full story)