ABC News’ Martha Raddatz and Richard Coolidge Report: On Sunday, the New York Times weighed into the debate over Weapons of Mass Destruction and whether it was the Bush administration’s true causus belli to go to war in Iraq.
Quoting from the editorial, "The truth is that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had been chafing to attack Iraq before Sept. 11, 2001. They justified that unnecessary war using intelligence reports that they knew or should have known to be faulty. And it was pressure from the White House and a highly politicized Pentagon that compelled people like Secretary of State Colin Powell and George Tenet, the Central Intelligence director, to ignore the counter-evidence and squander their good names on hyped claims of weapons of mass destruction."
In an interview with ABC News’ anchor Charlie Gibson that aired last week, President Bush defended his decision to go to war and seemed to spread the blame around.
"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.
And what if the intelligence had shown he didn’t have any WMD?
"You know, that’s an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can’t do. It’s hard for me to speculate."
But Karl Rove, last week, in a debate about the legacy of the Bush Presidency, was asked whether an invasion would have taken place had the intelligence been accurate (i.e. there had been no WMD), appeared to take a slightly different tack:
"In the aftermath of 9/11 the concern was about a tyrant guilty of enormous human rights abuses, but possessed with weapons of mass destruction and an intention to use them as a state sponsor of terror. Absent that, I suspect the administration’s course would have been to work to find more creative ways to constrain him than he’d been constrained in the nineties."
Today, the White House responded with a statement by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley:
"While the President has repeatedly acknowledged the mistakes in the pre-war intelligence, there is no support for the Times’ claim that the President and his national security team “knew or should have known [the intelligence] to be faulty” or that “pressure from the White House” led to particular conclusions. Nothing in the many inquiries conducted into these matters supports the view of the Times’ Editorial Board. Indeed, the independent Silberman-Robb Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that no political pressure was brought to bear on the Intelligence Community."
The President, however, seemed to be avoiding being drawn further into the debate. In an interview with National Review posted this morning, Bush was asked about the Rove remark. But he sidestepped, saying the President doesn’t "get an opportunity to redo a decision," and Bush presented the counter argument that the world would have been left with a tyrant who had sponsored terrorism in the past, had the capacity to make nuclear weapons, next door to an unpredictable Iran, and therefore the region is today much better off without him.
It’s a question to which we may never have a satisfactory answer.