Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Monday, February 09, 2004

Bush defends Iraq war using shifted rationale

US President George W. Bush defended his decision to launch war against Iraq using a shifted rationale on Sunday, saying ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction.


US President George W. Bush defended his decision to launch war against Iraq using a shifted rationale on Sunday, saying ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction.

"He had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon," Bush said in an interview with NBC taped Saturday in the Oval Office. "He had the capacity to make a weapon and then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network."

The interview was broadcast Sunday.

Bush's remarks represented a major shift in his rationale he used to go to war with Iraq last March. He cited existing stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons to justify his war decision then.

The United States has failed to find any weapons of mass destruction since the war broke out, raising question over the credibility of the Bush administration.

Bush has been under mounting political pressure since former chief weapons inspector David Kay told the Congress 10 days ago that US intelligence was "almost all wrong" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Bush changed his mind last week and appointed an independent commission to look into problems with US intelligence agencies. He said in the interview that he was confident the probe "will help future presidents understand how best to fight the war on terror."

He also offered speculations over what might have happened to the weapons his administration claimed existed before the war.

"They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq," he said. "They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out."

The interview came at a time when polls showed that the intelligence failure had begun to erode Bush's approval rate. A Time/CNN poll released on Sunday said 55 percent of Americans have "doubts and reservations" about Bush and only 44 percent said he is a leader they can trust.

Bush defends his military service record

Bush defended his service in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, fending off allegations by Democrats that he was AWOL for a time in 1972.

"I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge," Bush said in an interview with the NBC taped Saturday.

The charges about Bush's service record, which date back to the2000 campaign, have been raised again in this year's campaign by a number of the Democratic candidates.

Bush transferred temporarily from a Texas Air National Guard unit to an Alabama unit in 1972 while he was working on a political campaign. Critics say he missed required drills during that time and that his "honorable" discharge on Oct. 1, 1973, shows that Bush completed five years and four months of service - less than the obligatory six years - before entering graduate school.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said last week that Bush went AWOL, or absent without leave, when he should have been training in Alabama. He said he welcomed a debate on military service if Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, won the Democrat's presidential nomination.

"I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero witha chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard," McAuliffe said. "George Bush never served in our military in our country. He didn't show up when he should have showed up."

In an effort to keep his military service record from becoming a major campaign issue, Bush said Democrats are politically motivated. "What I don't like is when people say serving in the Guard..may not be a true service."

When asked why reporters who previously investigated the charge could find no records of his Alabama service, Bush said: "There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged."

Explaining why he served less than the six-year commitment, Bush said: "I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military."

Bush said he "absolutely" would release all records of his time in the National Guard to settle the issue if they were still there."And I'm just telling you, I did my duty, and it's politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me."

A new Time magazine poll showed that 60 percent think Kerry did his duty for the country during the Vietnam war while only 39 percent said Bush did his duty. Thirty-six percent think it is "definitely or probably true" that Bush went AWOL at the height of the war.

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