- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

President Bush said yesterday that the war in Iraq, regardless of whether Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, has been worth the loss of 530 U.S. troops.

“Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman. He’s a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum,” the president said in an interview on “Meet the Press,” which will air this morning at 10:30.

Yet Mr. Bush acknowledged the sacrifice of young Americans, 3,000 of whom have been injured in Iraq.

“Every life is precious. Every person that is willing to sacrifice for this country deserves our praise. … It’s essential that I explain this properly to the parents of those who lost their lives,” he said.

“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. … We are in a war against these terrorists who could bring great harm to America, and I’ve asked these young ones to sacrifice for that,” Mr. Bush said.

When asked about CIA Director George J. Tenet by Tim Russert, the show’s host, Mr. Bush gave him a vote of confidence.

“I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet,” he said.

Asked if Mr. Tenet’s job was at risk over prewar intelligence information, Mr. Bush replied, “No, not at all, not at all.”

The president also said he understood that critics would accuse him of playing politics for his decision to create a commission to evaluate U.S. intelligence that will not complete its work until 2005, well after the Nov. 2 election.

“Shouldn’t the American people have the benefit of the commission before the election?” Mr. Russert asked.

“Well, the reason why we gave it time is because we didn’t want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big-picture look about the intelligence-gathering capacities of the United States of America,” he said.

“There is going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made a good call — whether I used good judgment, whether or not I made the right decision in removing Saddam Hussein from power — and I look forward to that debate,” Mr. Bush said.

Asked if he would testify before the panel he created on Friday, the president pledged full cooperation. “I will be glad to visit with them. I will be glad to share with them knowledge. I will be glad to make recommendations, if they ask for some,” he said.

While Mr. Bush’s approval rating has dropped slightly in the past month, a new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll 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. And 86 percent think the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam out of power.

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

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