Bush Rejects View That Weapons Report Belies Case for War

By DAVID STOUT

New York Times

October 8,2004

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 The White House said today that a weapons inspector's finding that Iraq possessed no deadly unconventional weapons at the time of the American-led invasion last year in no way undermined President Bush's decision to go to war.

The assertions, made by President Bush himself as he departed the capital for a campaign trip to Wisconsin, and by Vice President Dick Cheney as he campaigned in Florida, signaled that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney would stand by the decision on Iraq right up to Election Day.

Such steadfastness, the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry, said, effectively rendered Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney "the last two people on the planet" who believed that the original rationale for war was right.

That immediate, scathing reaction from Mr. Kerry indicated that he, like the president, thinks that Iraq may be the pivotal issue in a presidential contest that the polls show is tightening.

"Based on all the information we have to date," Mr. Bush said at the White House, "I believe we were right to take action, and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison. He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies."

The president continued to press that message home during an appearance in Wausau, Wisc.

"After Sept. 11, America had to assess every potential threat in a new light," Mr. Bush said. Citing worries that terrorists might acquire deadly unconventional weapons, Mr. Bush went on, "and one regime stood out: the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."

Mr. Cheney was just as emphatic. The report by the weapons inspector, Charles A. Duelfer, demonstrates that "delay, defer, wait wasn't an option," the vice president said in Miami, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Duelfer's 900-page report concluded that contrary to Bush administration's assertions on the eve of war, the Hussein regime had rid itself of chemical and biological weapons, nor was it well on the way to having nuclear weapons.

Today, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney seemed to embrace other findings by Mr. Duelfer, that Mr. Hussein planned to reconstitute his military's deadly-weapons capabilities once United Nations sanctions on him were lifted, and that he was constantly scheming to skirt those sanctions.

But Senator Kerry said Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's comments today indicated that they stubbornly refuse to take responsibility for a failed policy.

"It's always someone else's fault," Mr. Kerry said while campaigning in Colorado. He said that Mr. Bush was "still not being straight with the American people" and that Mr. Bush had proven, once again, why he did not deserve another term.

Mr. Bush, campaigning in Wisconsin, countered Mr. Kerry. "Just a short time ago, my opponent held a little press conference and continued his pattern of overheated rhetoric," Mr. Bush said. "Accused me of deception. He's claiming I misled America about weapons, when he himself cited the very same intelligence about Saddam's weapons programs as the reason he voted to go to war."

Mr. Bush's earlier comments at the White House blended a defense of his decision to go to war with an acknowledgment that American intelligence-gathering and analysis needed to be better.

"Saddam Hussein was a unique threat, a sworn enemy of our country, a state sponsor of terror operating in the world's most volatile region," the president said. "In the world after Sept. 11, he was a threat we had to confront, and America and the world are safer for our actions."

"The Duelfer report makes clear," he added, "that much of the accumulated body of 12 years of our intelligence and that of our allies was wrong, and we must find out why and correct the flaws."

President Bush has repeatedly said that the campaign in Iraq is part of a much broader war against terrorism, and that the threat from terrorism became shockingly clear on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Bush's critics have accused him of disingenuously implying that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards, also had something to say about the latest comments from the White House. "They are willing to say left is right and up is down," Mr. Edwards said in Bayonne, N.J., according to The A.P. "The vice president, Dick Cheney, and the president need to recognize that the Earth is actually round and that the Sun is rising in the east."