Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld lashed out yesterday at critics of the Iraq war, citing the words of former President Bill Clinton and his aides, who, like President Bush, said intelligence reports showed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the United States.
Mr. Rumsfeld’s statement was part of a coordinated White House offensive to blunt a continuous assault by Democratic Party leaders. For months, they have accused Mr. Bush of leading the nation to war by misstating the intelligence on the Iraqi dictator’s suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Not so, said Mr. Rumsfeld, who suggested that misstating the facts hurts the morale of service members now fighting a deadly insurgency in Iraq and trying to instill democracy.
“We’ve got men and women serving in Iraq, risking their lives on the one hand and on the other hand, we have people suggesting that the reason we’re there was because the president decided to go in based on information that was unique to him,” the defense secretary said. “And it wasn’t unique to him. The information that he based his decision on was the same information that President Clinton and the previous administration had. It’s the same information members of the House and Senate had.”
He quoted directly from Mr. Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger. All warned about the dangers of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and all received basically the same intelligence on Iraq that Mr. Bush cited in justifying war after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
In December 1998, Mr. Clinton ordered five days of bombing against Iraqi military targets. He explained why in a nationally televised speech: “Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons. … I have no doubt today that, left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again. … The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government.”
Democrats kept up their attacks yesterday.
“Why is this president striking out, trying to attack his critics?” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “Because, frankly, he’s vulnerable. He is vulnerable on the charge that his administration did not level with the American people when it came to the reality on the ground in Iraq before we invaded.”
Mr. Rumsfeld did not name administration critics, but several Democrats who voted for a resolution authorizing force against Saddam now say they were misled by the president. They include Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia. After reading the national intelligence estimate, the same report given to Mr. Bush, Mr. Rockefeller spoke of the danger Saddam presented to the world. Today, he accuses the Bush administration of misrepresenting the intelligence.
He is the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating in secret whether the Bush administration misrepresented the intelligence to Congress.