Condoleezza Rice Leads White House Offensive on Iraqi Weapons
Published on Thursday, January 29, 2004 by the New York Times
Bush Aide Leads White House Offensive on Iraqi Weapons
by David Stout

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 The White House went on the offensive today on the issue of Iraq's weapons program, as President Bush's national security adviser brushed aside calls for an independent investigation into pre-war intelligence.

The adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Saddam Hussein had contemptuously rejected many opportunities to tell the world about the weapons of mass destruction that he had or did not have. And she asserted, as top Bush aides have done repeatedly, that the ouster of Mr. Hussein was a good thing.

While acknowledging the uncertainties that are inherent to intelligence-gathering and analysis, Dr. Rice insisted that Mr. Bush had had no real choice but to invade Iraq. "The president's judgment to go to war was based on the fact that Saddam Hussein had for 12 years defied the international community, refused to account for large stockpiles of weapons," she said in an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" program. "Nobody could count on the good will of Saddam Hussein to tell us that he did not have anthrax or botulinum toxin. He didn't even try.'

Dr. Rice made essentially the same points in an interview with Hannah Storm on CBS's "Early Show."

"I don't think, Hannah, that we know the full story of what became of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction," Dr. Rice said. "We do know that he was someone who had used weapons of mass destruction, who had used them on his neighbors and on his own people."

The supposed existence of deadly chemical and biological weapons in the hands in Iraq was cited by President Bush as a paramount reason for the military campaign that toppled the Baghdad dictator. The failure so far to find them has emerged as a major political issue, with some Democrats saying that Mr. Bush took the United States to war based on intelligence that was inadequate. Some Democrats have gone further, accusing the White House of manipulating intelligence.

The questions and accusations were stoked to a new intensity on Wednesday, when David A. Kay, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he favored an independent inquiry into the United States' prewar intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs.

"It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment," Dr. Kay told the senators. "And that is most disturbing."

Dr. Kay reiterated what he has been saying in interviews recently: that he thinks intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs was, at a minimum, out of date. But he testified that he did not think the White House had pressured intelligence analysts to exaggerate the threat.

Dr. Rice, while rejecting Dr. Kay's call for an outside inquiry, had high praise for his work. "The very excellent work that Dr. Kay has done, and that will be continued by the Iraq Survey Group, gives us an opportunity to gather all of the facts that we possibly can," she said on NBC, using the formal name for the weapons-hunting team.

Asked by Mr. Lauer why, then, the White House did not favor an outside inquiry, she said: "I think we simply believe that there is work still to be done. The Iraq Survey Group is trying to complete its work. In fact, the intelligence community has its own investigation, inquiry, going on into a kind of audit of what was known going in and what was found when they got there."

She added, "No one will want to know more than the president."

In her CBS interview, she said intelligence-gathering is seldom crystal clear. "I've been reading intelligence for a long time," she said. "I know that there are always some uncertainties in intelligence. I know that intelligence has its limitations. And so you do have to put it in context."

Dr. Rice also appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" today. It is not rare for a high administration official to appear on more than one television network in one day, but today's appearances by one of the president's most trusted advisers signaled the importance of the weapons issue this election year.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company