lied! straightforwardly fielded hostile question
President Bush today, in nimbly and honestly handling a hostile question, drove home two important points:
- In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, he did not link Saddam and 9/11; rather he said that Iraq under Saddam was a state sponsor of terrror, and
- Our intelligence was flawed and regaining credibility on intelligence is vital. "Like you, I asked that very same question, where did we go wrong on intelligence."
Q: Mr. President, at the beginning of your talk today you mentioned that you understand why Americans have had their confidence shaken by the events in Iraq. And I'd like to ask you about events that occurred three years ago that might also explain why confidence has been shaken. Before we went to war in Iraq we said there were three main reasons for going to war in Iraq: weapons of mass destruction, the claim that Iraq was sponsoring terrorists who had attacked us on 9/11, and that Iraq had purchased nuclear materials from Niger. All three of those turned out to be false. My question is, how do we restore confidence that Americans may have in their leaders and to be sure that the information they are getting now is correct?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. (Applause.) First, just if I might correct a misperception. I don't think we ever said -- at least I know I didn't say that there was a direct connection between September the 11th and Saddam Hussein. We did say that he was a state sponsor of terror -- by the way, not declared a state sponsor of terror by me, but declared by other administrations. We also did say that Zarqawi, the man who is now wreaking havoc and killing innocent life, was in Iraq. And so the state sponsor of terror was a declaration by a previous administration. But I don't want to be argumentative, but I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America.
Like you, I asked that very same question, where did we go wrong on intelligence. The truth of the matter is the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't just my administration, it was the previous administration. It wasn't just the previous administration; you might remember, sir, there was a Security Council vote of 15 to nothing that said to Saddam Hussein, disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences. The basic premise was, you've got weapons. That's what we thought.
When he didn't disclose, and when he didn't disarm, and when he deceived inspectors, it sent a very disconcerting message to me, whose job it is to protect the American people and to take threats before they fully materialize. My view is, he was given the choice of whether or not he would face reprisal. It was his decision to make. And so he chose to not disclose, not disarm, as far as everybody was concerned.
Your question, however, the part that's really important is, how do we regain credibility when it comes to intelligence? Obviously, the Iranian issue is a classic case, where we've got to make sure that when we speak there's credibility. And so, in other words, when the United States rallies a coalition, or any other country that had felt that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction is trying to rally a coalition in dealing with one of these non-transparent societies, what do we need to do to regain the trust of not only the American people, but the world community?
And so what I did was I called together the Silberman-Robb Commission -- Laurence Silberman and former Senator Chuck Robb -- to take a full look at what went right and what went wrong on the intelligence, and how do we structure an intelligence network that makes sure there's full debate among the analysts? How do we make sure that there's a full compilation of data points that can help decision-makers like myself feel comfortable in the decision we make?
The war on terror requires the collection and analysis of good intelligence. This is a different kind of war; we're dealing with an enemy which hides in caves and plots and plans, an enemy which doesn't move in flotillas, or battalions. And so, therefore, the intelligence-gathering is not only important to make a diplomatic case, it's really important to be able to find an enemy before they hurt us.
And so there was a reform process they went through, a full analysis of what -- of how the operations worked, and out of that came the NDI, John Negroponte and Mike Hayden. And their job is to better collate and make sure that the intelligence-gathering is seamless across a variety of gatherers and people that analyze. But the credibility of our country is essential -- I agree with you.