President Bush Appears On NBC's Meet The Press
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 8, 2004
TIM RUSSERT: And we are in the Oval Office this morning with the President of the United States. Mr. President, welcome back to Meet The Press.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.
TIM RUSSERT: On Friday, you announced a committee, commission to look into intelligence failures regarding the Iraq war and our entire intelligence community. You have been reluctant to do that for some time. Why?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first let me kind of step back and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against the terrorists. It is because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations.
So, we need a good intelligence system. We need really good intelligence. So the commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was kind of lessons learned. But it's really set up to make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product as possible for future presidents as well. This is just a part of analyzing where we are on the war against terror.
There is a lot of investigations going on about the intelligence service, particularly in the Congress, and that's good as well. The Congress has got the capacity to look at the intelligence gathering without giving away state secrets, and I look forward to all the investigations and looks. Again, I repeat to you, the capacity to have good intelligence means that a president can make good calls about fighting this war on terror.
TIM RUSSERT: Prime Minister Blair has set up a similar commission in Great Britain.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
TIM RUSSERT: His is going to report back in July. Ours is not going to be until March of 2005, five months after the presidential election.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
TIM RUSSERT: Shouldn't the American people have the benefit of the commission before the election?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the reason why we gave it time is because we didn't want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big picture look about the intelligence gathering capacities of the United States of America, whether it be the capacity to gather intelligence in North Korea or how we've used our intelligence to, for example, learn more information about AQ Kahn. And it's important that this investigation take its time.
Now, look, we are in a political season. I fully understand people saying he's trying to avoid responsibility. There is going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made good calls, whether or not I used good judgment, whether or not I made the right decision in removing Saddam Hussein from power, and I look forward to that debate, and I look forward to talking to the American people about why I made the decisions I made.
The commission I set up, Tim, is one that will help future presidents understand how best to fight the war on terror, and it's an important part of the kind of lessons learned in Iraq and lessons learned in Afghanistan prior to us going in, lessons learned that we can apply to both Iran and North Korea because we still have a dangerous world. And that's very important for, I think, the people to understand where I'm coming from to know that this is a dangerous world. I wish it wasn't.
I'm a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. Again, I wish it wasn't true, but it is true. And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is. And I see dangers that exist, and it's important for us to deal with them.
TIM RUSSERT: Will you testify before the commission?
THE PRESIDENT: This commission? You know, I don't testify? I will be glad to visit with them. I will be glad to share with them knowledge. I will be glad to make recommendations, if they ask for some.
I'm interested in getting, I'm interested in making sure the intelligence gathering works well. (Let me) just give you a sense of where I am on the intelligence systems of America. First of all, I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet. He comes and briefs me on a regular basis about what he and his analysts see in the world.
TIM RUSSERT: His job is not in jeopardy?
THE PRESIDENT: No, not at all, not at all. We've got people working hard in intelligence gathering around the world to get as good an information as possible. Intelligence requires, you know, all kinds of assets to bring information to the President, and I want that intelligence service to be strong, viable, competent, confident, and provide good product to the President so I can make judgment calls.
TIM RUSSERT: There is another commission right now looking into Sept. 11.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
TIM RUSSERT: Will you testify before that commission?
THE PRESIDENT: We have given extraordinary cooperation with Chairmen Kean and Hamilton. As you know, we made an agreement on what's called "Presidential Daily Briefs," and they could see the information the CIA provided me that is unique, by the way, to have provided what's called the PDB.
TIM RUSSERT: Presidential Daily Brief?
THE PRESIDENT: Right. And see, the danger of allowing for information that I get briefed on out in the public arena is that it could mean that the product I receive or future presidents receive is somewhat guarded for fear of it being revealed, and for fear of people saying, Well, you know, we're going to second guess that which you told the President. I need good, honest information, but we have shared this information with both those gentlemen, gentlemen I trust, so they could get a better picture of what took place prior to September the 11th.
And again, we want, I want the truth to be known. I want there to be a full analysis done so that we can better prepare the homeland, for example, against what might occur. And this is all in the context of war, and the more we learn about, you know, what took place in the past, the more we are going to be able to better prepare for future attacks.
TIM RUSSERT: Would you submit for questioning, though, to the 9/11 Commission?
THE PRESIDENT: Perhaps, perhaps.
TIM RUSSERT: Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
TIM RUSSERT: said he is absolutely convinced we will capture Osama bin Laden before the election.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate his optimism. I have no idea whether we will capture or bring him to justice, may be the best way to put it. I know we are on the hunt, and Osama bin Laden is a cold-blooded killer, and he represents the nature of the enemy that we face. These are people that will kill on a moment's notice, and they will kill innocent women and children. And he's hiding, and we're trying to find him. There's I know there is a lot of focus on Iraq, and there should be, but we've got thousands of troops, agents, allies on the hunt, and we are doing a pretty good job of dismantling al Qaeda better than a pretty good job, a very good job. I keep saying in my speeches, two thirds of known al Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed, and that's the truth.
TIM RUSSERT: Do you have a pretty good idea where Osama is?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I'm not going to comment on that.
TIM RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. And this is the whole idea of what you based your decision to go to war on.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure, sure.
TIM RUSSERT: The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
TIM RUSSERT: That apparently is not the case.
THE PRESIDENT: Correct.
TIM RUSSERT: How do you respond to critics who say that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?
THE PRESIDENT: The first of all, I expected to find the weapons. Sitting behind this desk making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid. And I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war against terror. In other words, we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed. Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror. And I made the decision, obviously, to take our case to the international community in the hopes that we could do this, achieve a disarmament of Saddam Hussein peacefully. In other words, we looked at the intelligence. And we remembered the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had weapons. We knew the fact that he was paying for suicide bombers. We knew the fact he was funding terrorist groups. In other words, he was a dangerous man. And that was the intelligence I was using prior to the run up to this war. This a vital question.
TIM RUSSERT: Nothing more important.
THE PRESIDENT: Vital question. And so we, I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons. But David Kay has found the capacity to produce weapons. And when David Kay goes in and says we haven't found stockpiles yet, and there's theories as to where the weapons went. They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out. That's what the Iraqi survey group, let me me finish here. But David Kay did report to the American people that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons. He was a dangerous man in the dangerous part of the world. And I made the decision to go to the United Nations. By the way, quoting a lot of their data in other words, this is unaccounted for stockpiles that you thought he had because I don't think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent. It's too late if they become imminent. It's too late in this new kind of war, and so that's why I made the decision I made.
TIM RUSSERT: Mr. President, the Director of the CIA said that his briefings had qualifiers and caveats, but when you spoke to the country, you said "there is no doubt." When Vice President Cheney spoke to the country, he said "there is no doubt." Secretary Powell, "no doubt." Secretary Rumsfeld, "no doubt, we know where the weapons are." You said, quote, "The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency." "Saddam Hussein is a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible." You gave the clear sense that this was an immediate threat that must be dealt with.
THE PRESIDENT: I think, if I might remind you that in my language I called it a grave and gathering threat, but I don't want to get into word contests. But what I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America.
TIM RUSSERT: In what way?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, because he had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon. We thought he had weapons. The international community thought he had weapons. But he had the capacity to make a weapon and then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network. It's important for people to understand the context in which I made a decision here in the Oval Office. I'm dealing with a world in which we have gotten struck by terrorists with airplanes, and we get intelligence saying that there is, you know, we want to harm America. And the worst nightmare scenario for any president is to realize that these kind of terrorist networks had the capacity to arm up with some of these deadly weapons, and then strike us. And the President of the United States' most solemn responsibility is to keep this country secure. And the man was a threat, and we dealt with him, and we dealt with him because we cannot hope for the best. We can't say, Let's don't deal with Saddam Hussein. Let's hope he changes his stripes, or let's trust in the goodwill of Saddam Hussein. Let's let us, kind of, try to contain him. Containment doesn't work with a man who is a madman. And remember, Tim, he had used weapons against his own people.
TIM RUSSERT: But can you launch a preemptive war without ironclad, absolute intelligence that he had weapons of mass destruction?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me take a step back for a second and there is no such thing necessarily in a dictatorial regime of ironclad absolutely solid evidence. The evidence I had was the best possible evidence that he had a weapon.
TIM RUSSERT: But it may have been wrong.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, but what wasn't wrong was the fact that he had the ability to make a weapon. That wasn't right.
TIM RUSSERT: This is an important point because when you say that he has biological and chemical weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles.
THE PRESIDENT: Which he had.
TIM RUSSERT: And they could come and attack the United States, you are saying to the American people: we have to deal now with a man who has these things.
THE PRESIDENT: That's exactly what I said.
TIM RUSSERT: And if that's not the case, do you believe if you had gone to the Congress and said he should be removed because he's a threat to his people but I'm not sure he has weapons of mass destruction, Congress would authorize war?
THE PRESIDENT: I went to Congress with the same intelligence, Congress saw the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had. The same information, by the way, that my predecessor had. And all of us, you know, made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed. You mentioned "preemption." If I might, I went to the United Nations and said, Here is what we know, you know, at this moment, and you need to act. After all, you are the body that issued resolution after resolution after resolution, and he ignored those resolutions.