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Bush defends Iraq war in TV interview

NBC's Tim Russert interviewed Bush in the White House Oval Office on Saturday.
NBC's Tim Russert interviewed Bush in the White House Oval Office on Saturday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush defended the U.S.-led war in Iraq and said he didn't want to rush an inquiry into U.S. prewar intelligence that suggested Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

"Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman," Bush said in a taped interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum."

"For the parents of the soldiers who have fallen who are listening, David Kay, the weapons inspector, came back and said, in many ways Iraq was more dangerous than we thought," Bush said. "We are in a war against these terrorists who could bring great harm to America, and I've asked these young ones to sacrifice for that."

Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that "we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment," about whether Saddam Hussein had chemical or biological weapons.

The interviewer, NBC's Tim Russert, asked Bush about the newly appointed commission looking into intelligence findings before the war and whether it was fair to put off those findings until after the November presidential election. The commisson's report is due July 2005.

"The reason why we gave it time is because we didn't want it to be hurried," Bush said. "This is a strategic look, kind of a big-picture look about the intelligence-gathering capacities of the United States of America. There is going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made good calls, whether I used good judgment, whether or not I made the right decision in removing Saddam Hussein from power, and I look forward to that debate."

Bush also stood firm behind CIA Director George Tenet, denying that Tenet's job is in jeopardy.

"Not at all, not at all," Bush said. "I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet."

Bush also said he'd be glad to visit but not testify before the commission he set up to evaluate the U.S. intelligence that said Saddam had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- a main reason the administration the White House pushed for war.

"I expected to find the stockpile of weapons," Bush said, referring to weapons of mass destruction. "We were attacked [on September 11, 2001] and every threat had to be analyzed."

Bush said that Congress had access to the same intelligence that he had about the prewar threat from Iraq.

The Bush interview, which was recorded Saturday, lasted about 50 minutes and touched on other subjects in addition to Iraq.

Bush said he supported his country during the Vietnam War era, but called the conflict "a political war."

"I supported my government," he said. "I did. And would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way."

"The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war," he said. "We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective."

Bush dismissed reports by the Boston Globe and other news media that he was abscent during portions of his Vietnam War era service in the Texas Air National Guard, saying those reports "are just wrong."

"Political season is here," he said. "I was, I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge."

He said he would authorize release of all of his military records, as he said he did in 2000.

Bush also implied that complaints that he avoided active military service by gaining a spot in the Air National Guard did a disservice to the Guard.

"There are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq," he said.

Also, Bush expressed confidence that he will be re-elected in November, despite some polls that have shown him trailing Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Asked about his re-election chances, Bush said, "I don't intend to lose."

"I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom," he added. "And we have changing times in America, too."

On the nation's sluggish economy, Bush said the factors that hurt the U.S. economy primarly began before his presidency and said his economic policies were "making a big difference."

Criticisms about his administration's spending -- some from conservative sources such as radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and the Heritage Foundation -- are "wrong," he said.

"I'm more worried about the fellow looking for the job," Bush said. "That's what I'm worried about. I want people working. I want people to find work. And so, when we stimulate the economy, it's more likely that person is going to find work. And the best way to stimulate the economy is not to raise taxes but to hold the low taxes down."

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