Bush accepts responsibility for relying on flawed intelligence but justifies Iraq war

Published 03 January 2006  |  
Washington D.C., USA – In a move that came as a welcome surprise, US President George W. Bush accepted responsibility for deciding to wage war in Iraq in part on the basis of “faulty intelligence,” but asserted that history would conclude he had done the right thing.

"It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq and and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities,” he said, in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Centre.

After the invasion, U.S. forces never found the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration had cited as a primary justification for removing Saddam Hussein from power.

However, Bush defended his actions by saying that "given Saddam's history and the lessons of Sept. 11,” his “decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision.”

“Saddam was a threat, and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power," he said.

However, Bush's critics said they were not convinced that the U.S. President's original decision could be justified, or that the present election in Iraq would lead to changes that would make America or the Middle East safer.

"The election could lead to a change for the better, which is everybody's hope, but it might be a step toward crisis and toward all–out civil war," Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a news conference before the president's speech.

Levin and other Democrats said the outcome would depend in part on the administration's willingness to pressure Iraq's new government to revise its constitution so that minority Sunnis would feel less excluded from the political process.

Bush's speech was the last of four major policy addresses on Iraq, in which he has adopted a strategy of offering a more forthright discussion of some of the flawed assumptions and unexpected setbacks accompanying the war.

In three previous speeches in recent weeks, Bush admitted that the training of Iraqi security forces had proved to be more difficult than anticipated, that postwar reconstruction had proceeded in "fits and starts," and that the initial U.S. plan for establishing a new government was not acceptable to Iraqis.

In each case, he said, the United States had learned from its mistakes and had adapted to changing circumstances on the ground.

Meanwhile, White House officials hope the president's candor will help counteract a steep slide in his approval ratings, which have bounced about the 40% level for several weeks, as well as turn around declining public support for the war. A majority of Americans said in recent surveys that they considered the war a mistake.

In his December 14 speech, Bush characterized Iraq’s parliamentary elections as part of a "watershed moment in the story of freedom," as Iraqis chose 275 members from a field of 7,000 candidates to serve four–year terms in a national assembly. It will be the first permanent government since the U.S.–led invasion.

But he cautioned that it might be weeks before the election winners were known, and that it would take more time to form the actual government.

Meanwhile, he said, the insurgents were not likely to lay down their arms.

"These enemies are not going to give up because of a successful election," Bush said. "They know that as democracy takes root in Iraq, their hateful ideology will suffer a devastating blow. So we can expect violence to continue."

Bush, however, expressed confidence that Iraq's Sunni Muslim population would become increasingly involved in the political process and less inclined to support insurgents' efforts, noting that many Sunnis initially had declined to participate in the formation of an interim assembly and in the drafting of a constitution this year, fearing that the new government would be dominated by Iraq's two other major ethnic groups, the Shiites and the Kurds.

The president also rejected demands by some congressional Democrats and other critics to set a firm timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Doing so, he said, would be a "recipe for disaster" that would lead the Iraqi people to believe the United States no longer supported them, and it would convince the insurgents that they needed only to wait a little longer. He said such a move also would signal to other governments that America was an unreliable ally. In addition, he said, it would demoralize U.S. troops.

Bush said he would consider America's mission to be complete when insurgents could no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when Iraqi security forces could protect the country, and when Iraq was no longer a haven for terrorists.

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