Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush accepted
responsibility for taking the U.S. to war in Iraq based on faulty
intelligence while saying the invasion still was justified by the
threat posed by Saddam Hussein and international terrorism.
``It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong,''
Bush said today in the final speech in a series intended to outline
his Iraq strategy. ``Given Saddam's history and the lessons of
September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the
~~~~~WRONG, yes, that said WRONG.
Bush spoke a day before Iraqis go to the polls to elect a new
parliament, a step that the administration is counting on to help
stabilize the country enough that the U.S. can begin bringing some
its 160,000 troops home.
Tying together his arguments from three previous speeches over the
past two weeks on why the U.S. must stay engaged in Iraq, Bush said
that even though the original rationale for the war turned out to be
false -- that Hussein was compiling biological and chemical weapons --
the invasion was critical to the safety of the U.S.
The government is addressing the mistakes that led intelligence
agencies to the wrong conclusions just as the U.S. is adjusting its
tactics in Iraq to fix past missteps, he said.
``I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq,'' the president
said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. ``I'm
also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our
intelligence capabilities, and we're doing just that.''
In four addresses since Nov. 30, the president responded to prompting
from Democrats and senior Republican lawmakers such as Senators
Richard Lugar and John Warner that the administration give the public
clear benchmarks for progress in Iraq and make regular reports to
lawmakers on meeting those goals.
One of the milestones will be reached tomorrow as millions of Iraqis
will go to polling stations nationwide tomorrow to cast ballots for
more than 7,000 candidates from 300 parties vying for 275 seats in
the new Iraqi parliament.
That vote is ``crucial'' for Iraq and for the battle against
terrorists who are making a stand there, Bush said.
The election means Iraq ``will be the only constitutional democracy
in the Arab world,'' Bush told about 500 invited guests of the
Woodrow Wilson Center, a non-partisan organization of foreign policy
professionals and scholars.�``Yet we need to remember that these
elections are also a vital part of a broader strategy for protecting
the American people against the threat of terrorism.�''
Successful elections in Iraq also will help spread democracy
throughout the region, Bush said.
``Freedom in Iraq will inspire many reforms from Damascus to
Tehran,'' Bush said. When Iraq can govern, sustain and defend itself,
``we will gain an ally in the war on terror and a partner for peace
in the Middle East.''
He warned that electing a parliament won't end violence in Iraq, and
setting a deadline to pull U.S. troops from the country ``would be a
recipe for disaster.''
``We will fight this war without wavering and we will prevail,'' Bush
said. ``We cannot and will not leave Iraq until victory is
Before his speech, Bush met with more than a dozen House Democrats.
U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York said afterward that the
president was trying ``to dampen expectations.''
``The elections may not change the security overnight,'' Israel, a
member of the House Armed Service Committee said.
`Dose of Reality'
He called the briefing a ``dose of reality'' that was ``just
Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat who has not joined a call for
a withdrawal timetable from some members of his party, offered
limited praise for Bush's effort to regain public support for the war
in Iraq. He said Bush has made important acknowledgments of mistakes,
though he hasn't offered the kind of detailed shift in U.S. strategy
and tactics that will convince Americans the U.S. is on a winning
``The president has, for the first time, seemed to have come to grips
with the failure of the policy to date,'' Biden said at a news
conference yesterday at the Capitol.
Bush ``doesn't state with any specificity'' how the U.S. will
``change the course, rather than stay the course'' to make sure the
new Iraqi government functions effectively, Biden said.
Bush acknowledged Monday for the first time that the U.S. effort to
topple Hussein's regime and establish a democracy has been marked by
turmoil and violence that has cost the lives of about 30,000 Iraqis
and 2,140 U.S. military personnel.
Polls show U.S. public support for the war is declining, and Bush is
facing questions from members of Congress about his plans and the
costs of the conflict.
In a Dec. 2-6 poll by the New York Times and CBS News, 59 percent of
U.S. adults said they disapproved of the way Bush was handling the
situation in Iraq, compared with 72 percent who approved at the start
of the conflict in March 2003.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to give members of
the Senate a non-classified briefing in the Capitol today on the
administration's plans for Iraq. Bush also has called Democratic and
Republican lawmakers to the White House for discussions about Iraq.
Some Democrats said Bush has fallen short of his goal of building
``The president is 0-3 in his last three speeches,'' Senate
Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said at a news conference just
before Bush spoke. ``In order to support the mission, the American
people need to know the remaining military and political