Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday President Bush made the right decision to go to war with Iraq, despite the controversy now over the failure of coalition forces to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Powell told newspaper interviewers this week that he might not have recommended military action, had he known what he does now about the extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons holdings.
Mr. Powell's comments in The Washington Post appeared to put distance between himself and the White House on the issue of war with Iraq, at a time of growing controversy over Saddam Hussein's weapons inventory.
But in a talk with reporters after a meeting here with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. Powell was emphatic in his support for the decision to use military force to dislodge the former Iraqi ruler.
He said Mr. Bush made the right decision based on the history of the Saddam Hussein regime and the intentions of what he termed a "terrible despotic leader."
He said while the extent of Saddam's arms stockpiles are now in question, there is no debate that he had the technical know-how, infrastructure, and delivery systems, for weapons of mass destruction. "The only thing we're debating is the stockpile. And so the president made the right decision. There should be no doubt in the mind on the American people or anyone else in the world that we have done the right thing and history will certainly be the test of that. But I think the test really has already has been passed by the Iraqi people now seeing that they're going to have a democratic future, they're going to be living in peace with their neighbors and will never have to have a discussion about weapons of mass destruction again with respect to Iraq. The right thing was done," he said.
Mr. Powell has quoted by The Washington Post as saying he did not know if he would have recommended invading Iraq, had he known that U.S. post-war searches would turn up no evidence of stored weapons. He said the absence of a stockpile "changes the political calculus" of the situation.
However in his impromptu news conference here, the Secretary said military intervention was something all of President Bush's key advisers agreed to, and in his words "would probably agree to it again" under any other set of circumstances.
Secretary Powell's appearance last February 5 before the U.N. Security Council presenting U.S. intelligence information about Iraq's banned weapons programs was a pivotal event in building a rationale for military intervention.
He told The Washington Post his U.N. presentation, now seemingly undermined by the fruitless postwar weapons search to date, represented the best judgments of U.S. intelligence agencies at the time. He said there "wasn't a word" in his Security Council appearance that wasn't "totally cleared" by the intelligence community.
The intelligence community's performance in the run-up to the war will be examined by a bipartisan commission in a probe ordered by President Bush earlier this week, and there will be parallel inquiries in Congress.