President Bush said today that he was right to order the invasion of Iraq last year despite a new report by his chief U.S. weapons inspector that shows the country did not possess the weapons of mass destruction that were the original rationale for the war.
In a statement read to reporters before leaving the White House on a campaign trip today, Bush echoed earlier remarks by Vice President Cheney that sought to put the administrations best face on the report.
President Bush makes a statement to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House regarding the latest report on Iraq WMD.
(Charles Dharapak - AP)
Video: Sen. John Kerry said that President Bush and Vice President Cheney "may well be the last two people on the planet who won't face the truth" about Iraq.
He said the report by Charles A. Duelfer, which was presented to Congress yesterday, confirms "that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there." But he said it also showed that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was defying the world and intended to resume building banned weapons in the future.
"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 before boarding a helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House. "He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away."
Bush continued: "Based on all the information we have to date, I believe we were right to take action, and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison. He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies."
Bush did not take questions from reporters after reading his statement.
The notion that Hussein was a threat because he could have given terrorists information on banned weapons was raised by the president yesterday in a speech that he used largely to denounce his challenger in the Nov. 2 election, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.
In a press conference in Englewood, Colo., after Bushs remarks today, Kerry said, "This week has provided definitive evidence as to why George Bush should not be reelected president of the United States." On Iraq and on domestic matters, he said, Bush "is not being straight with Americans."
Kerry said Bush "was in absolute full spin mode" today about the Duelfer report. He also blasted Bush for citing "several new reasons for taking America to war" and saying he would take the same action again, even in light of what is now known. Kerry described Hussein as an enemy that the administration "aggrandized and fictionalized."
"My fellow Americans, you dont make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact," Kerry said. Bush and Cheney "may very well be the last two people on the planet who wont face the truth about Iraq," Kerry said, adding, "Mr. President, the American people deserve more than spin about this war."
In a speech today in Bayonne, N.J., Kerrys running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, said the administration has failed to "level" with the American public, Washington Post staff writer Chris Jenkins reported.
"They are willing to say that left is right, up is down," Edwards said. "They need to recognize that the earth is actually round and that the sun rises in the east. . . . They need to level with the American people."
Edwards was addressing a town-hall meeting focused on homeland security. The Kerry campaign said Edwards, who debated Cheney in Cleveland Tuesday night, was using the occasion to outline the Democratic tickets "comprehensive plan to protect Americas ports, harbors, rails, subways and chemical plants."
A new poll released today suggested that the Democrats criticism of Bush may be having an effect.