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Iraq Transition

Bush adviser: Intelligence accusations 'flat wrong'

Hadley says Bush acted on "roughly the same intelligence that the Clinton administration saw."


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's national security adviser defended the administration Sunday against accusations that it misled the nation about the need for war with Iraq as Democrats stepped up their attacks on the president's candor.

Stephen Hadley told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that those claims were "flat wrong."

"We need to put this debate behind us," he said. "It's unfair to the country. It's unfair to the men and women in uniform risking their lives to make this country safe."

Top Bush administration officials argued before the 2003 invasion that the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was working toward a nuclear weapon.

Hadley said the intelligence Bush used for those arguments "was roughly the same intelligence that the Clinton administration saw."

"They drew the conclusion that Saddam Hussein was a threat to peace, that he had weapons of mass destruction. They acted against him militarily in 1998," Hadley said, referring to the administration of Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

Bush warned that Saddam's government could provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, like the al Qaeda network behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Those warnings spurred the House and Senate, with the support of many top Democrats, to authorize military action against Iraq. But no such weapons were found once Hussein's government collapsed in April 2003.

Two and a half years later, with more than 2,000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and support for the war dropping sharply in recent months, Democrats have pounded the administration on the intelligence issue, and the White House has begun firing back.

On Friday, Bush said it was "deeply irresponsible to rewrite how that war began."

Former Sen. John Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential candidate, wrote Sunday in The Washington Post that he had made a mistake in voting to give Bush the authorization to go to war.

"The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate," Edwards wrote. "The information the American people were hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war."

And Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, who opposed the invasion as a 2004 presidential candidate, said Bush "misled America when he sent us to war." He told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Bush "left the impression" that Iraq was tied to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"He never actually came out and said just that," Dean said. "But in every speech he gave during the campaign and afterwards, he left the impression. He left the impression with 65 percent of the American people, who agreed that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It was dishonest, what he did."

Hadley acknowledged that there was "an issue of our intelligence, and obviously we need to do a better job of our intelligence."

But he pointed out that investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the bipartisan Silberman-Robb Commission found no evidence to support claims the administration twisted the intelligence to argue that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, as it claimed before the invasion of Iraq.

"Yes, we were all wrong in the intelligence," he said. "But to go back now and to argue that the president somehow manipulated the intelligence -- somehow misled the American people in a rush to war -- is flat wrong."

And Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona -- a member of the Silberman-Robb Commission -- said the accusation that Bush lied to Americans to sell the war is "a lie."

"Were there intelligence failures? Yes," McCain said. "Were they colossal? Yes. But they do not mean in any way that the president lied to the American people."

The renewed controversy over the war, and the related indictment of a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, also have taken a toll on Bush's own popularity. Numerous recent polls have put his approval rating in the mid- to upper 30 percent range. Senior White House officials told CNN last week they were working on a "campaign-style" response to the criticism.

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