U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has issued a sharp defense of the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq, following a similar statement Monday by President Bush.
As he began a news conference on Tuesday, Secretary Rumsfeld accused administration critics of re-writing the history of the Iraq conflict. He quoted former President Bill Clinton and senior members of his administration as issuing warnings of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, particularly by his weapons program and his alleged support for terrorism, well before the current administration took office. And he said even United Nations weapons inspectors, who did not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war, reported that Iraq maintained the capability to produce such weapons.
Secretary Rumsfeld said that with tens of thousands of U.S. and coalition troops risking their lives in Iraq, it is important to set the record straight.
"We have people suggesting that the reason we're there was because this president decided to go in based on information that was unique to him. And it wasn't unique to him," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "The information that he based his decision on was the same information that President Clinton and the previous administration had. It was the same information members of the house and senate had. It was the same information that the other intelligence services had. And it seems to me that people who are willing to risk their lives need to know the truth. They need to understand that they are there based on decisions that were made in good faith by responsible people."
Secretary Rumsfeld said members of congress and others who criticize the administration need to be careful not to help the insurgents, who attack Iraqis and coalition forces almost every day.
"We must be careful not to give terrorists the false hope that if they can simply hold on long enough, that they can outlast us," added Mr. Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld spoke the day after President Bush issued a similar defense of his Iraq policy in a speech in Alaska. The president accused Democratic Party critics in congress of playing politics, and sending mixed signals both to U.S. troops and to the terrorists.
Democratic leaders responded by again accusing the administration of manipulating intelligence to convince members of congress to support the Iraq invasion.
The renewed dispute over the justification of the war is helping push President Bush's public approval rating to the lowest point since he took office in 2000. The latest opinion polls indicate fewer than half of Americans approve of the way the president is doing his job.