And our debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war. When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support. I also recognize that some of our fellow citizens and elected officials didn't support the liberation of Iraq. And that is their right, and I respect it. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I accept the responsibilities, and the criticisms, and the consequences that come with such a solemn decision.Where to start?
While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. (Applause.) Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.
They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction. And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security." That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate -- who had access to the same intelligence -- voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power. (Applause.)
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. (Applause.) These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. (Applause.) Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. (Applause.) And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory.
Congress voted to authorize the use of force in October 2002, over five months before President Bush went to war on March 19, 2003. The resolution included numerous caveats as the President was supposed to use his judgment as to whether or not Saddam Hussein and Iraq posed a threat that needed to be addressed with military force.
The President's sequencing is totally wrong. Congress simply did not approve a firm presidential decision to remove Saddam Hussein.
The administration continually said throughout fall 2002 and into 2003 that it hoped to avoid the use of force and that the resolution would help assure America's leverage in negotiations to return the international weapons inspectors to Iraq. Congress did not declare war in October 2002; it authorized presidential discretion so as to pursue this gambit. On many occasions, White House officials signalled even that Saddam Hussein could stay in power if he disarmed.
Once the weapons inspectors were in Iraq, however, the administration seemed to ignore their words and deeds -- except when they thought the words supported their hawkish position. I've frequently cited the IAEA finding after hundreds of on-site inspections: there was no evidence that Iraq had a nuclear program.
Did Congress take a second vote to approve a war? No, Bush went to war.
Did John Kerry and other Dems who voted for the use of force resolution in October 2002 support war in March 2003? No, Bush went to war.
Did the world community think the evidence from the inspections justified war? No, Bush went to war.
Did the UN authorize the use of "any means necessary" to disarm Iraq or remove Saddam Hussein from power? No, Bush went to war.
The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the administration did not unduly pressure the intelligence analysts who were investigating Iraq, but it explicitly did not examine the administration's use of that data in its push for war. Many of the most inflammatory claims came before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was produced.
Likewise, neither the Senate nor the Robb-Silberman Commission examined the independent intelligence shop that Doug Feith was running from the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon. That's one reason Dems want Phase 2 of the intelligence investigation.