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Bush Defends Iraq Invasion - 2004-07-09

President Bush has welcomed a Senate investigation into intelligence lapses in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Democratic challenger John Kerry says Mr. Bush went to war without a plan to win the peace.

President Bush says he appreciates the Senate's work because one of the key ingredients in winning the fight against terrorism is improving the quality of U.S. intelligence.

"The idea that the Senate has taken a hard look to find out where the intelligence gathering services went short is good and positive," he said. "And I commend the chairman of the committee for doing that. We need to know. I want to know."

While this report does not examine how President Bush used intelligence to make his case for toppling Saddam Hussein, the report does conclude that most key judgments related to Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programs were either overstated or not supported by raw intelligence.

The report accused the U.S. intelligence community of what it called "group think," saying it interpreted ambiguous evidence as conclusive and never challenged the assumption that Iraq had illegal weapons.

The immediacy of that threat was the president's biggest justification for invading Iraq.

"There have been some failures," he acknowledged. "Listen, we thought there were going to be stockpiles of weapons. I thought so. The Congress thought so. The U.N. thought so. I will tell you what we do know. Saddam Hussein had the capacity to make weapons. See, he had the ability to make them."

Despite those intelligence failures, President Bush says he would do the same thing again if confronted with the same threat because he says the world is better off and America is safer without Saddam Hussein in power.

President Bush was asked about the report throughout his day of campaigning in Pennsylvania and at each stop offered support for the men and women who work in the U.S. intelligence community, saying they are doing the very best job they can.

Campaigning in the neighboring state of West Virginia, Senator Kerry did not mention the intelligence report directly, but said he and his Democratic running mate, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, would not lead the country into war without a clear threat.

"This president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace," he stated. "John Edwards and I will put back in place America's time honored tradition. The United States of America never goes to war because we want to. We go to war because we have to. That's the standard for this country."

Mr. Bush says he wants to know how to improve U.S. intelligence collection and analysis and will work with Congress to follow through on what he called a useful report.

President Bush says he has already made some of the changes recommended by the intelligence committee including better information sharing through the Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

White House officials also cite the U.S. Patriotic Act, which authorizes broader police powers and efforts to refocus the FBI to make counter-terrorism its top priority.