- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

President Bush yesterday named former Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb and retired federal Judge Laurence Silberman, a conservative Republican, to lead a nine-member independent commission to investigate intelligence failures before the war in Iraq.

The president was compelled to create the panel after David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, testified to Congress last week that U.S. intelligence agencies were wrong to conclude that Saddam Hussein possessed large caches of biological and chemical weapons.

Such mistakes must be corrected, Mr. Bush said, if the United States is to continue aggressively waging war on terrorists and disrupting their ties to dangerous regimes.

“As we move forward in our efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, we must stay ahead of constantly changing intelligence challenges,” Mr. Bush said. “The stakes for our country could not be higher, and our standard of intelligence gathering and analysis must be equal to that of the challenge.”

Mr. Bush, under fire from Democrats who say, in hindsight, that the war in Iraq was unnecessary, also used yesterday’s announcement to defend his decision.

“Doctor Kay reported that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons programs and activities in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and was a gathering threat to the world,” said Mr. Bush, who added that Saddam bore the burden of proving he had disarmed before the war, but did not do so.

Mr. Bush conceded that U.S. intelligence agencies were wrong about some of their pre-Iraq war intelligence assessments, but said the rest of the world’s governments made the same mistake.

Regardless, Mr. Bush said replacing Saddam’s despotism with a free and democratic society has made the United States safer from terrorist attacks.

Mr. Robb, who represented Virginia in the Senate, is a former member of the Armed Services Committee. Mr. Silberman, who served as deputy attorney general in the Nixon and Ford administrations, was appointed to the D.C. Court of Appeals by President Reagan in 1985.

Other members of the commission include Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and second-ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. Mr. McCain, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, has opposed many presidential initiatives, but has been a leading hawk on the Iraq war.

“I commend the president for creating this commission and for persuading such eminently qualified individuals to participate in making our intelligence services stronger and more effective,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who called Mr. Robb and Mr. McCain “particularly strong choices.”

Mr. Bush also appointed Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton; former federal Judge Patricia M. Wald; Yale University President Richard C. Levin, and Adm. William O. Studeman, former deputy director of the CIA.

Mr. Bush said the vetting process to fill the last two spots was still ongoing.

The commission’s mission will be broader than merely an examination of the breakdown in pre-Iraq war intelligence, but also will review the value of current intelligence on North Korea and Iran, and will examine what was known about the “the threats posed by Libya and Afghanistan before recent changes in those countries,” Mr. Bush said.

A final report from the commission is expected March 31, 2005, more than four months after the November presidential election.

Democrats, who have accused the Bush administration of exaggerating intelligence estimates to justify the war, dismissed Mr. Bush’s bipartisan panel as illegitimate.

“We had an opportunity to have a truly independent commission that could have brought fresh eyes to the subject,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Instead, we have a commission wholly owned by the executive branch investigating the executive branch.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat said the president’s commission isn’t “genuinely independent.”

“While the commission may ultimately perform valuable work on intelligence issues, the president is not allowing it to look into the growing number of questions millions of Americans are asking about the administration’s statements and actions before the Iraq war,” Mr. Daschle said. “That investigation still needs to be done.”

A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll released yesterday suggests that Democratic attacks on Mr. Bush have done little to turn public opinion on the war.

Asked whether the United States and the world are safer today without Saddam Hussein in power, 74 percent said they agree and only 22 percent disagreed. Another 86 percent think the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam out of power.

The poll also rated Mr. Bush’s job approval rate at 53 percent, and put him ahead 47 to 43 in an imagined head-to-head matchup with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination.

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