National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the United Nations would have backed the war against Iraq had it known about newly discovered abuses by Saddam Hussein.
Miss Rice said a report to Congress last week by David Kay of the Iraq Survey Group showed several instances of Saddam lying about his weapons programs to a team of U.N. inspectors led by Hans Blix. The team's failure to ferret out specific, definitive evidence of weapons caused the United Nations to balk at the prospect of war last year, she said.
"Had any one of these examples been discovered last winter, the Security Council would have had to meet," Miss Rice said. "And I believe that they would have had no choice but to take exactly the course that President Bush followed."
As part of a White House effort to gain support for Iraq's reconstruction, Miss Rice highlighted further misdeeds by the Saddam regime.
"Right up until the end, Saddam Hussein continued to torture and oppress his people," she said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. "Right up until the end, Saddam Hussein lied to the Security Council.
"And let there be no mistake, right up to the end, Saddam Hussein continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction and to hide his illegal weapons activities," she added.
Frustrated by the media's focus on setbacks in postwar Iraq, the administration is rolling out a more positive message blitz that continues with speeches today by Mr. Bush and tomorrow by Vice President Dick Cheney. One of the goals is to curb second-guessing of the president's decision to oust Saddam.
The effort to portray Mr. Kay's report as vindication of the president's decision to wage war did not impress the media, which continue to emphasize U.S. military casualties in Iraq.
"Can you make the bad there go away just by talking up the good?" a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan at a briefing yesterday.
"It's important to keep the American people informed about what we are doing," the spokesman replied. "So there will be a sustained effort to keep the American people informed."
He added: "We are in a period where we are accelerating our efforts. There are a lot of important successes to point out in Iraq."
For example, he said, the administration is gradually convincing other nations to send troops to Iraq to help U.S. forces establish order while a new government is established. Turkey is the latest country to offer troops.
"I keep hearing in the press that the United States is going it alone -- what a funny thing to say," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "We have 32 countries working with us in Iraq.
"Eleven of our 19 NATO nations have forces in Iraq today," he added. "NATO is assisting Poland as it prepares to lead a multinational division in south-central Iraq, comprised of forces from 17 different nations in that one division."
But Democrats maintain that the United States is shouldering the burden of peacekeeping alone. And their complaints about Mr. Bush's request for $20 billion to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure persist.
"Why should American troops take virtually every risk and the American taxpayer pay virtually every dollar of the cost of what is happening in Iraq?" said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
But Miss Rice said the reconstruction and democratization of Iraq are natural outgrowths of a war that now appears more justifiable than ever.
"Those who question the wisdom of removing Saddam Hussein from power and liberating Iraq should ask themselves: How long should Saddam Hussein have been allowed to torture the Iraqi people?" she said.
"How long should Saddam Hussein been allowed to remain the greatest source of instability in one of the world's most vital regions?" she added. "How long should Saddam Hussein been allowed to provide support and safe haven to terrorists?"
She also said the establishment of an Arab democracy in the Middle East is vital to U.S. national security interests. But she cautioned that such changes will not occur rapidly.
"Achieving real transformation in the Middle East will require a commitment of many years," Miss Rice said. "We must remain patient.
"Our own history should remind us that the union of democratic principle and practice is always a work in progress."