White House admits Iraq had no WMDs.
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney conceded Thursday in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, even as they tried to shift the Iraq war debate to a new issue -- whether the invasion was justified because Hussein was abusing a U.N. oil-for-food program.
''Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there,'' Bush said, referring to the central rationale cited for the invasion of Iraq.
Ridiculing the Bush administration's evolving rationale for war, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry shot back: ``You don't make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact.''
The issue is likely to be addressed again when the two presidential candidates meet at 9 tonight in their second debate.
Cheney, in a Miami campaign appearance, brushed aside the central findings of chief U.S. weapons hunter Charles Duelfer -- 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 either -- while Bush unapologetically defended his decision to invade Iraq.
''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.''
Duelfer found no formal plan by Hussein to resume WMD production, but the inspector surmised that Hussein intended to do so if U.N. sanctions were lifted. Bush seized upon that inference, using the word ''intent'' in reference to Hussein's plans to resume making weapons.
Change in strategy.
This week marks the first time that the Bush administration has listed abuses in the oil-for-food program as an Iraq war rationale.
At a town hall-style meeting in Miami, Cheney argued that the new report that found no evidence that Iraq produced weapons of mass destruction nevertheless proves that President Bush was right to go to war in Iraq.
Cheney said the report makes it clear that Hussein sorely wanted to get the sanctions lifted so he could relaunch his weapons program.
''If the sanctions had been lifted, he would have been back in business,'' Cheney said. ``He had every intention of going back to business as usual. Delay, defer, wait just wasn't an option. The president did exactly the right thing in taking down Saddam Hussein.''
Cheney described as an ''intriguing finding'' the report's suggestion that Hussein manipulated the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Hussein was ''trying to buy support from outside countries so they would support lifting sanctions,'' Cheney said. ``The notion that we could have waited and not done anything doesn't make any sense.''
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 in 2003.
Bush recently had left the question open. For example, when asked in June whether he thought such weapons had existed in Iraq, Bush 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 the weapons might yet be discovered.
In recent weeks, Cheney has glossed over the primary justification for the war, most often by simply not mentioning it. But in late January 2004, Cheney told reporters in Rome: ``There's still work to be done to ascertain exactly what's there.''
In Bayonne, N.J., Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards on Thursday 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 ``convoluted logic.''
`Won`t face truth'.
Kerry, in a campaign appearance in Colorado, said: ``The president of the United States and the vice president of the United States may well be the last two people on the planet who won't face the truth about Iraq.''
A short time later, while campaigning in Wisconsin, Bush responded to Kerry's charge 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 weapons programs as the reason he voted to go to war,'' Bush said.
Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Miami.
[Source: Miami Herald, by Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press, Usa, 08oct04]
War in Iraq
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