WASHINGTON – President Bush and his vice president conceded Thursday in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, even as they tried to shift the Iraq war debate to a new issue — whether the invasion was justified because Saddam was abusing a U.N. oil-for-food program.
Ridiculing the Bush administration’s evolving rationale for war, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry shot back: “You don’t make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact.”
Vice President Dick Cheney brushed aside the central findings of chief U.S. weapons hunter Charles Duelfer — that Saddam not only had no weapons of mass destruction and had not made any since 1991, but that he had no capability of making any either — while Bush unapologetically defended his decision to invade Iraq.
“The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil-for-food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions,” Bush said as he prepared to fly to campaign events in Wisconsin. “He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away.”
This week marks the first time that the Bush administration has listed abuses in the oil-for-fuel program as an Iraq war rationale. But the strategy holds risks because some of the countries that could be implicated include U.S. allies, such as Poland, Jordan and Egypt. In addition, the United States itself played a significant role in both the creation of the program and how it was operated and overseen.
The sharks can smell it now.