Bush, Cheney admit Iraq had no WMD, take new tack|
They cite oil-for-food scam as justification for invasion
By Scott Lindlaw
October 8, 2004
WASHINGTON – President Bush and his vice president conceded yesterday
in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass
destruction, trying to shift the Iraq war debate to a new issue –
whether the invasion was justified because Hussein was abusing a U.N.
Bush's response was his first reaction to a
report released Wednesday by Charles Duelfer, the CIA's top weapons
inspector, that contradicted the White House's main argument for
Ridiculing the Bush administration's evolving
rationale for war, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry
said, "You don't make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact."
Vice President Dick Cheney brushed aside
Duelfer's central findings – that Hussein not only had no weapons of
mass destruction and had not made any since 1991, but that he had no
capability of making any – while Bush defended his decision to invade
"The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was
systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil-for-food program
to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine
sanctions," Bush said as he prepared to fly to campaign events in
Wisconsin. "He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons
program once the world looked away."
Who: President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Where: Washington University in St. Louis
When: 6-7:30 p.m. PDT today
Live TV coverage: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN, CSPAN, MSNBC and PBS
Format: Town hall-style meeting with voters asking questions
Moderator: Charles Gibson of ABC's "Good Morning America"
Next debate: The last of three presidential
face-offs will be Wednesday at Arizona State
University in Tempe
Kerry, emboldened by the report's unraveling of
the administration's prime rationale for going to war, issued his
sharpest indictment yet, telling reporters in Englewood, Colo., that
Bush and Cheney "may well be the last two people on the planet who
won't face the truth about Iraq."
Duelfer found no formal plan by Hussein to
resume production of banned weapons, but the inspector surmised that
the ousted dictator intended to do so if U.N. sanctions were lifted.
Bush seized upon that inference, using the word "intent" three times in
reference to possible Hussein plans to resume making weapons.
This week marks the first time that the Bush
administration has listed abuses in the U.N. oil-for-fuel program as a
rationale for war with Iraq. But the strategy holds risks because the
countries that could be implicated include U.S. allies, such as Poland,
Jordan and Egypt. In addition, the United States played a significant
role in both the creation of the program and how it was operated and
For his part, Cheney dismissed the significance
of Duelfer's central findings, telling supporters in Miami: "The
headlines all say, 'No weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in
Baghdad.' We already knew that."
The vice president said he found other parts of
the report "more intriguing," including the finding that Hussein's main
goal was the removal of international sanctions.
"As soon as the sanctions were lifted, he had every intention of going back" to his weapons program, Cheney said.
The report underscored that "delay, defer, wait
wasn't an option," Cheney said. He told a later forum in Fort Myers,
Fla., speaking of the oil-for-food program: "The sanctions regime was
coming apart at the seams. Saddam perverted that whole thing and
generated billions of dollars."
Yet Bush and Cheney acknowledged more
definitively than before that Hussein did not have the banned weapons
that both men had asserted he did – and had cited as the major
justification before attacking Iraq last year.
Bush has recently left the question open. For
example, when asked in June whether he thought such weapons had existed
in Iraq, the president said he would "wait until Charlie (Duelfer) gets
back with the final report."
In July, Bush said, "We have not found
stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction," a sentence construction
that kept alive the possibility that the weapons might yet be
Yesterday, Bush used the clearest language to
date nailing the question shut. "Iraq did not have the weapons that our
intelligence believed were there," he said, his words placing the blame
on U.S. intelligence agencies.
In recent weeks, Cheney has glossed over the
primary justification for the war, most often by simply not mentioning
it. But in late January, Cheney told reporters in Rome, "There's still
work to be done to ascertain exactly what's there."
That same week, when asked on National Public
Radio whether Iraq had possessed banned weapons, Cheney said, "The jury
is still out."
Duelfer's report was presented to senators and
the public with less than four weeks left in a fierce presidential
campaign dominated by questions about Iraq and the war on terror.
Bush has chosen to give no ground on his
handling of the war, even after a week that his own aides concede has
brought nothing but bad news, from the CIA report to a declaration by
the former U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, that the
administration committed far too few troops to secure Iraq after the
invasion was over.
Yesterday in Bayonne, N.J., Democratic
vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards called "amazing" Cheney's
assertions that the Duelfer report justified rather than undermined
Bush's decision to go to war, and he accused the Republican of using
While campaigning in Wisconsin, Bush angrily responded to Kerry's charge that he sought to "make up" a reason for war.
"He's claiming I misled America about weapons
when he, himself, cited the very same intelligence about Saddam's
weapons programs as the reason he voted to go to war," Bush said.
Citing a lengthy Kerry quote from two years ago on the threat Hussein
could pose, Bush said, "Just who's the one trying to mislead the
The Kerry campaign said Bush had yanked the
words out of context and noted that in the same speech, Kerry said:
"Regime change in and of itself is not sufficient justification for
going to war, particularly unilaterally, unless regime change is the
only way to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction pursuant to
the United Nations resolution. As bad as he is, Saddam Hussein, the
dictator, is not the cause of war."
The New York Times News Service contributed to this report.