ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska — President Bush yesterday emphatically defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying “intelligence agencies around the globe” agreed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The president said Iraq was a serious threat when it attacked U.S. pilots policing the no-fly zone, established after the 1991 Gulf War that was waged in response to Saddam’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait.
“Under Saddam’s dictatorship, Iraq was the only country in the world where military pilots faced regular attack. Iraq was the only country that had used chemical weapons on its people, invaded its neighbors, and fought a war against the United States and a great coalition,” Mr. Bush said.
“Iraq was one of only seven countries listed as a state sponsor of terror, and it was judged by intelligence agencies around the globe to possess weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
The president made a brief refueling stop at this military base near Anchorage en route to Japan on the first leg of an eight-day trip to Asia.
His remarks marked the second time in four days that he has responded to a chorus of critics of the Iraq war. On Friday, Mr. Bush fired back at Democrats, including some members of Congress who voted to support the U.S.-led effort before the 2003 invasion.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley acknowledged “we were wrong” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Still, he dismissed assertions that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence and misled the American people, saying the president had relied on the collective judgment of the intelligence community.
“Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people,” Mr. Bush said yesterday.
“They spoke the truth then, and they’re speaking politics now,” he said to applause from his audience.
He cited quotes from senior Democrats who supported the administration’s Iraq policy before the invasion.
“The truth is that investigations of the intelligence on Iraq have concluded that only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world, and that person was Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Bush said.
With hundreds of camouflage-clad troops packed into a hangar with an F-15C fighter jet, Mr. Bush extolled the “power of freedom to conquer evil.”
“If we do our duty, this young century will be freedom’s century,” he said.
The theme of freedom and democracy will run through his Asian trip, which will include speeches in Japan and Mongolia, an emerging democracy on communist China’s doorstep.
Mr. Bush will spend today in Kyoto, Japan, where he will meet with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The two are expected to talk about realigning the U.S. military presence in Japan and troop deployment to Iraq.