Bush takes blame for Iraq war on bad intelligence
It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong
WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush took the blame on Wednesday for going to war in Iraq over faulty intelligence but said he was right to topple Saddam Hussein and urged Americans to be patient as Iraqis vote.
«It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq, and I am also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities and we’re doing just that,» he said.
But he said, «My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision» because he was deemed a threat and that regardless, «We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator.»
Bush’s new admission was significant in that he rarely admits mistakes, although he has acknowledged failures in U.S. intelligence on Iraq before.
His administration touted Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a reason for going to war in March 2003, but such weapons were never found.
Bush’s comments, in the last of a series of four speeches outlining his Iraq strategy and trying to bolster American support for the war, came a day ahead of an Iraqi election that will pave the way for formation of a permanent government.
The president is facing both low popularity ratings and waning public support for the war. A smooth election would help him build a sense of progress in Iraq, where more than 2,100 U.S. troops have died since the start of the war and critics are asking when the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops there will come home.
Bush’s comments quickly drew fire from 40 Senate Democrats and one independent who sent him a letter demanding he provide a plan that identifies «the remaining political, economic, and military benchmarks that must be met and a reasonable schedule to achieve them.»
«The president’s speech today failed to provide the American people with any insight into his strategy for completing the mission,» said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy said that despite Bush’s admission of mistakes, «the misguided war in Iraq was, in fact, a war of choice.»
«There was no reason for America to go to war when we did, the way we did, and for the false reasons we were given,» he said.
Bush and other officials have talked of bringing home some troops in 2006 once commanders on the ground deem that Iraqi units are ready to take on greater responsibilities.
Bush asked for patience from Americans to give Iraqis time to form their new government after the election. After the vote, he said, there will be «days of uncertainty» and the winners may not be clear until the early part of January.
He reiterated his dismissal of Democratic calls for a phased U.S. pullout and accused Democrats who charge him with manipulating prewar intelligence as playing politics.
As part of an effort to have more contact with members of Congress who feel the administration makes decisions with little of their input, Bush joined several Democratic members of the House of Representatives for an Iraq briefing complete with U.S. commanders participating by videoconference.
New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel said Bush talked of a need to change tactics. «Frankly, I found it refreshing,» he said afterward.
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while Bush’s Iraq speeches were better than some in the past, he still did not see a «total conversion from spin to leadership» and that Bush did not sufficiently explain past mistakes.
Top members of the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees the defense budget said they heard the Pentagon would seek another $80 billion to $100 billion for the Iraq war next year, although they said the figure could change.
That would come on top of the $50 billion for the war Congress was expected to approve in the next few days.