- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

President Bush yesterday said the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a “war of necessity” predicated on the best available intelligence from worldwide agencies, which showed that Saddam Hussein was a “grave and gathering threat” capable of producing weapons of mass destruction.

“Sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, 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,” the president said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We looked at the intelligence. And we remembered the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had weapons,” Mr. Bush said. “He had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon. We thought he had weapons. The international community thought he had weapons. But he had the capacity to make a weapon and then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network.”

Appearing on a Sunday talk show — only the third sitting president to do so — the president continued the spirited defense of the war that he began Friday, partly in response to criticism from Republicans that he was not defending himself forcefully enough from Democratic charges that he exaggerated intelligence to persuade Americans to support the war.

Mr. Bush said yesterday he did not act unilaterally, but instead implored the United Nations to enforce 17 Security Council resolutions demanding that Saddam disarm according to terms he agreed to in 1991.

The president said he and other administration officials, “by the way, quoting a lot of their data,” made the case to the world body that the United States considered Saddam a threat to America and the world.

“I believe it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent. 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,” he said, explaining the policy of pre-emption that has become known as the “Bush Doctrine.”

Mr. Bush said inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam. … He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time — I’m not saying immediately, but over time.”

During the hourlong interview, the president occasionally was combative — three times he told interrupting commentator Tim Russert: “Let me finish” — and often was animated. Throughout, he refused to abandon his administration’s position that weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) still might be found in Iraq, despite an interim report from former chief weapons inspector David Kay that there is no evidence Saddam ever possessed WMDs.

Mr. Bush defiantly declared he had no intention of changing his aggressive style of governing just because he has slipped in some recent polls.

“When you do hard things, when you ask hard things of people, it can create tensions,” he said. “I’ll tell you, though, I’m not going to change, see? I’m not trying to accommodate. I won’t change my philosophy or my point of view.

“I believe I owe it to the American people to say what I’m going to do and do it, and to speak as clearly as I can, try to articulate as best I can why I make decisions I make, but I’m not going to change because of polls. That’s just not my nature,” Mr. Bush said.

Asked whether he was concerned that some Europeans disapprove of him and his actions, Mr. Bush said he doesn’t put much stock in popularity contests.

“Ronald Reagan was unpopular in Europe when he was president, according to [Spanish President] Jose Maria Aznar,” a staunch U.S. ally and longtime friend of the Bush family. “He said, ‘You’re nearly as unpopular as Ronald Reagan was.’ I said, ‘So, first of all, I’m keeping pretty good company.’”

Still, Mr. Bush said he appreciates criticism about U.S. intelligence used during the run-up to war, which prompted him to create a new presidential commission to examine not only that data but the entire intelligence community.

“The commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence,” he said. “In my judgment, we had no choice when we look at the intelligence I looked at that says the man was a threat. And you know, we will find out about the weapons of mass destruction that we all thought were there.”

Mr. Bush exhibited some outrage over charges — primarily from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination — that he failed to fulfill his commitment to the National Guard 32 years ago.

“I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard,” he said sternly. “It’s fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn’t denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn’t, is because there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.”

Mr. Kerry, campaigning in Richmond, said Mr. Bush is revising history and changing his rationale for war.

“Now the president is giving us a new reason for sending people to war, and the problem is not just that he is changing his story now, it is that it appears he was telling the American people stories in 2002,” he said.

On other issues discussed in the interview, Mr. Bush defended his tax-cutting economic record, despite a federal deficit that will top $500 billion this year.

“I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead — that would enhance recovery,” he said.

He also hailed the Medicare bill passed last year as a key step in reforming the federal entitlement programs.

“I believe Medicare is going to not only make the system work better for seniors but is going to help the fiscal situation of our long-term projection,” he said.

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