President Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq even as he conceded on Monday that investigators had not found the weapons of mass destruction that he had warned the country possessed.
Allowing Iraq to possibly transfer weapons capability to terrorists was not a risk he was willing to take, Bush said.
"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," Bush said after inspecting a display of nuclear weapons parts and equipment, including assembled gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment, from Libya.
The hardware was shipped here in March as part of an agreement with Moammar Gadhafi to end his country's nuclear weapons program.
"We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take," Bush said.
The president offered a broad new defense of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq three days after the release of a Senate report that harshly criticized unsubstantiated intelligence cited in the run-up to the war in Iraq, a crucial battle in the war on terrorism.
The key U.S. assertions leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was working to make nuclear weapons — were wrong and based on false or overstated CIA analyses, a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report asserted Friday.
Intelligence analysts fell victim to "group think" assumptions that Iraq had weapons when it did not, the bipartisan report concluded. Many factors contributing to those failures are ongoing problems within the U.S. intelligence community, which cannot be fixed with more money alone, it said.
Without directly acknowledging the intelligence was flawed, Bush said a wide array of government leaders, from members of the Clinton administration to lawmakers to the U.N. Security Council, had studied the same intelligence and "saw a threat."
During the Clinton administration, official U.S. policy toward Iraq became "regime change" — a stance that sought the ouster of Saddam Hussein, he noted.
But Saddam refused to open his country to inspections, Bush said.
"So I had a choice to make: either take the word of a madman or defend America. Given that choice I will defend America."
Bush has used similar rhetoric in speeches for months, but the words took on added significance in light of the latest report condemning the Iraq intelligence.
Speaking to reporters in Boston, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said in the two years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, less nuclear materials have been secured than in the two years prior to the attacks. He said he has proposed a plan to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and keep nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.
"I will appoint a national director of intelligence who will change our ability to be able to gather intelligence that is real, to be accountable and to make America safe," Kerry said. "That's what Americans want — real results, not speeches."
Bush's trip to Tennessee was designed to showcase a victory in his administration's campaign against weapons of mass destruction.
Bush was shown nuclear weapons parts and equipment from Libya, and called them "sobering evidence of a great danger." It was the White House's second effort to shine a spotlight on the Libyan victory. Several months ago, the White House arranged a tour for journalists of the equipment.
Bush said Libya's decision to scrap its nuclear ambitions and do away with its long-range missiles was the result of "quiet diplomacy" by the United States, Great Britain and the Libyan government. But it also was the result of outspoken public denunciations of nations that seek to threaten the world with nuclear and other weapons, he said.
He said the world knows that doing so carries serious consequences and that the "wise course is to abandon those pursuits."
And Bush said his administration was doing everything possible to avert the attacks he said terrorists are now plotting.
One protester outside the complex held up a sign that read — "Welcome to Oak Ridge. The WMDs are here."
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