Rumsfeld Defends Pre- and Post-Iraq War Actions
Rumsfeld said in testimony before the committee, ”The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass murder.”
“We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light, through the prism of our experience on September 11th.”
Rumsfeld’s comments come on the heels of a White House announcement that a previous assertion that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from the West African country of Niger was based on information in forged documents. President Bush included the accusation in his January 28 State of the Union address.
The assertion also appeared in a British dossier on Iraq issued last September but Prime Minister Tony Blair has said his government had independent evidence that Iraq tried to obtain nuclear materials from Africa.
“The evidence that we had that the Iraqi government had gone back to try to purchase further amounts of uranium from Niger did not come from these so-called ‘forged’ documents, they came from separate intelligence,” Blair told a parliamentary committee Tuesday, according to the BBC.
President Bush declined to discuss the specifics of the Niger accusation, saying instead that the decision to remove Saddam was correct.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world peace,” Mr. Bush said. “I am absolutely confident in the decision I made.”
Rumsfeld echoed the president’s statements during his appearance before the Senate committee, saying Saddam’s continual defiance of the international community proved he was committed to keeping and hiding weapons.
“The objective in the global war on terror is to prevent another attack like September 11th, or a biological, nuclear or chemical attack that would be worse, before it happens,” Rumsfeld said. “We can say with confidence that the world is a better place today because the United States led a coalition of forces into action in Iraq.”
Rumsfeld added that uncovering Saddam’s weapons could be a lengthy process, reminding senators that “combat operations ended less than 10 weeks ago.”
“The Iraqi regime had 12 years to conceal its programs, to move materials, hide documents, disperse equipment, develop mobile production facilities and sanitize known WMD sites, including four years with no U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground,” Rumsfeld said. “Needless to say, uncovering those programs will take time.”
The defense secretary also said U.S. forces have control of Iraq, despite the fact that 30 Americans have been killed, many in ambush-style attacks, since the end of major operations on May 1.
“There seems to be a widely held impression that the regime loyalists are operating freely throughout the country, attacking coalition forces at will,” Rumsfeld said. “That’s clearly not the case. Large portions of Iraq are stable.”
Rumsfeld added that, “the problem is real, but it’s being dealt with in an orderly and forceful fashion by coalition forces.”
Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked why the United States has not shared more of the policing burden with its allies, especially NATO.
“The whole world has a stake in the stability of Iraq,” Levin said. “It is a mystery to me why apparently we have not reached out to NATO and to the United Nations as institutions.”
Rumsfeld said the United States is communicating and working with NATO and that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had specifically asked NATO officials to contribute to the Iraq effort.
General Tommy Franks, who stepped down as head of Central Command and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq this week, appeared before the committee alongside Rumsfeld.
Franks reported on stabilization efforts in Iraq and spoke of the need to shore up military and political security in countries under the jurisdiction of Central Command.
“The precision, determination, expertise of our military forces and our coalition partners has brought about the liberation of both Afghanistan and Iraq in lightning speed with minimum bloodshed,” Franks said. “However, these two nations have only taken the first steps toward freedom. The United States and our coalition partners must be there to support the whole journey.”