by Bill Straub
Scripps Howard News Service
January 13, 2005
Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, said Wednesday that despite a hunt that ended in futility, President Bush continues to maintain he followed the right course in ousting Saddam Hussein.
Saddam, McClellan said, "retained the intent and capability to produce weapons of mass destruction" - even though none were found and the 9/11 terrorist attacks "changed the equation about how we confront the threats we face and the president recognizes what his most important responsibility is - and that is to do everything in his power to protect the American people."
He added: "Based on what we know today, the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Wednesday that "the primary justification for the invasion of Iraq was not supported by fact." Bush, she said, must now explain to the American people "why he was so wrong, for so long, about the reasons for war."
She said that "after a search that has consumed nearly two years and millions of dollars, and a war that has cost thousands of lives, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor has any evidence been uncovered that such weapons were moved to another country."
Pelosi noted that "not only was there not an imminent threat to the United States, the threat described in such alarmist tones by President Bush and the most senior members of his administration did not exist at all."
Bush began eyeing a confrontation with Saddam shortly after 9/11, citing intelligence reports that described weapons of mass destruction in the Iraqi leader's possession.
On Jan. 21, 2003, in an address to the nation, the president said Saddam "has weapons of mass destruction - the world's deadliest weapons - which pose a direct threat to the United States, our citizens and our friends and allies. He has been told to disarm for 11 long years. He's not disarming."
With the weapons threat looming as the motivating factor, the war began on March 19, 2003. The United States declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003, and Saddam was captured seven months later.
But the conflict continues as various factions jockey for control. As of Tuesday, 1,352 U.S. troops were dead as a result of the campaign. Some estimates of Iraqi deaths exceed 100,000.
The Iraq Survey Group, which spent nearly two years hunting for weapons of mass destruction to no avail, finally abandoned the search shortly before Christmas. Charles Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector, is scheduled to issue a final report next month. It is not expected to contradict a report he issued to Congress in September that concluded the weapons don't exist.
Bush has appointed a commission to investigate the failure of American intelligence.