WASHINGTON (AFP) — An influential architect of the war in Iraq defended the case for US military action on Monday, saying the failure to find weapons of mass destruction did not mean the decision to invade was a mistake.
Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy from 2001 to 2005, said Saddam Hussein posed a serious threat to the United States due to his links to terrorist groups and his regime's potential to produce biological and chemical weapons.
"And even based on what we have learned since, even though we didn't find the WMD stockpiles that the CIA had said we would find in Iraq, what we did find ... was a serious WMD threat in Iraq because Saddam had maintained programs for biological and chemical weapons," he said at a news conference promoting his new memoir, "War and Decision."
Feith said government documents show the Iraqi dictator had experts and resources in place so that his regime could manufacture chemical and biological weapons within three to five weeks.
While the failure to find presumed stockpiles of dangerous weapons "was catastrophic to our credibility," he said, it was not a result of government deception.
"It was an honest error, not a lie," he said. "Even if you correct for that error, what we found in Iraq was a serious WMD threat."
Feith, who has been accused by Democratic lawmakers of manipulating intelligence to back the rationale for war, said he wrote the book to clarify what he considers inaccurate accounts of White House decisions with documented records of policy deliberations before, during and after the invasion.
He denied widespread reports that President George W. Bush's administration was intent on going to war in Iraq from an early date or that it failed to carry out detailed post-war planning.
A debate was underway before the attacks of September 11, 2001 about how to handle Iraq, and afterwards, administration officials concluded the United States had to take action against Saddam to prevent future terrorist attacks, he said.
"The main point was that he (Saddam) was clearly the head of the regime that was very hostile to us, very dangerous and had confronted us in the past," Feith said.
"We feared we would be in conflict with him down the road, and in that conflict with him down the road he could either directly or through terrorist groups hurt us perhaps by supplying WMD.
"Those were perfectly sensible, valid things for the president of the United States to worry about."
He said the administration had anticipated possible sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam's regime, but assumptions that the Iraqi army would remain intact and that police would stay on the job "turned out to be totally wrong."
Feith said possible pitfalls and risks of going to war were openly discussed with the president before the 2003 US-led invasion.
In a memo dubbed "the parade of horribles," then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld set out a list of what could go wrong, including the possibility that weapons of mass destruction might not be found.
"And he included things like the war could turn out to be bloodier, and costlier and more protracted than anybody expects. And we could get bogged down and preoccupied with Iraq" allowing US enemies to exploit the situation, he said.
He said his book illustrates how Iraq presented a dilemma for Bush.
"I think the main point that comes out was how difficult the president's decision was in weighing the risks of acting against Saddam or weighing the risks of inaction. Either course -- removing Saddam or leaving Saddam in power -- involved enormous risks," he said.
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