On Monday, veteran Washington correspondent Helen Thomas turned the daily press briefing into a confrontation with White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Here is their exchange, according to the official transcript:
Thomas: Prime Minister Blair took full personal responsibility for taking his nation into war under falsehoods -- under reasons that have been determined now to be false. Is President Bush also willing to take full, personal responsibility --
McClellan: I think Prime Minister Blair said that it was the right thing to do; that Saddam Hussein's regime was a threat.
Thomas: Those were not the reasons he took his country into war. It turned out to be untrue, and the same is true for us. Does the President take full, personal responsibility for this war?
McClellan: The issue here is what do you to with a threat in a post-September 11th world? Either you live with a threat, or you confront the threat.
Thomas: There was no threat.
McClellan: The President made the decision to confront the threat.
Thomas: Saddam Hussein did not threaten this country.
McClellan: The world, the Congress and the administration all disagree. They all recognized that there was a threat posed by Saddam Hussein. When it came to September 11th , that changed the equation. It taught us, as I said --
Thomas: The Intelligence Committee said there was no threat.
McClellan: As I said, it taught us that we must confront threats before it's too late.
Thomas: So the President doesn't take full responsibility?
McClellan: The President already talked about the responsibility for the decisions he's made. He talked about that with Prime Minister Blair.
Thomas: Personal responsibility?
McClellan: Terry, go ahead.
Helen Thomas's insistence that the invasion of Iraq was undertaken on false pretenses, in the absence of a threat, and that recent British and American inquiries have proved this, encapsulates the Kerry-Edwards campaign's spin on the war. It's worth a moment, therefore, to recall the following rationales for ousting Saddam Hussein's regime which have emerged recently -- since these seem somehow to have sailed below the radar of the likes of Helen Thomas:
1) Although there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein had a working relationship with Osama bin Ladin, let alone command and control over the events of 9/11, it's now certain that senior Iraqi officials met intermittently with al Qaeda operatives during the 1990s.
2) Russian president Vladimir Putin, a diehard opponent of the invasion of Iraq, has conceded that shortly after 9/11 he advised President Bush that "official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations." Given Russia's pre-war dealings with Iraq, Putin was in a distinct position to be aware of such goings on.
3) On the subject of the famous sixteen words uttered by President Bush during his 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Both the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq's WMDs and Britain's Butler report have concluded that Saddam did in fact seek to acquire uranium from Niger in 1999. Joe Wilson, the disgruntled former diplomat who disputed the sixteen words and became the darling of the Bush Lied! brigades, has now been thoroughly discredited -- yet John Kerry still has not disowned him.
To sum up: President Bush knew of meetings between al Qaeda and Iraqi officials; he had been warned by a credible source that Saddam was planning terrorist strikes against the United States; he knew that Saddam had recently sought to acquire uranium.
Given the intelligence Bush was provided in the months after September 11th 2001, and given Saddam's refusal to cooperate unconditionally with United Nations weapons inspectors -- in violation of the cease fire agreement which kept him in power after the first Gulf War -- Bush's decision to launch a pre-emptive war against Iraq becomes readily justifiable. Indeed, if President Bush hadn't gone to war, knowing what he knew, he ought to have been impeached.
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