Did former Secretary of State Colin Powell really "blast" President Bush about the war?
"Today" show co-host Meredith Vieira says he did. Vieira, who once attended an anti-war rally, described Powell's interview with "Meet The Press's" Tim Russert this way: "[Powell's] former boss cannot be happy about what he is saying."
But Powell did no such thing. In fact, he backed the president on the war in virtually every conceivable way. Powell believes we sent an insufficient number of troops, but considers it too soon to predict the outcome of the war. Powell said the president acted in good faith. No, said Powell, he didn't feel "used." And no, when some of the United Nations presentation information turned out wrong -- specifically WMD-related aluminum tubes and mobile labs -- he never thought about resigning. True, Saddam possessed no stockpiles of WMD, but our intelligence agencies reasonably assumed otherwise. Furthermore, the dictator fully intended to reconstitute his chemical and biological weapons program. And anyone who thinks otherwise, said Powell, suffers from a "naive belief."
Did the president lie or mislead us?
Powell: "We went to war on the basis that we have a terrible regime . . . it's been terrible forever. What makes it so terrible now -- in the aftermath of 9/11 -- is that they had demonstrated that they will use these weapons. They've used them against their own people, they've used them against the enemy. They had them at the time of the first Gulf War . . . . And the intelligence community said and had every reason to believe that they not only had the capability of having them again, but they have stockpiles. And that was the precipitating cause. . . . I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone. But the case that we took to the world and the case that we took to the American people rested not just in his human rights abuses or his cheating on the Oil-for-Food program, it rested on the real and present danger of weapons of mass destruction that he could use against his neighbors, or terrorists could use against us."
Did you have doubt that Saddam possessed stockpiles of WMD?
Powell: " . . . [W]hen we prepared for this presentation at the UN . . . it was not something that was made up just for that presentation. It reflected the consistent view of the intelligence community over time . . . and also reflected the kind of intelligence that President Clinton was being given in 1998 when he . . . executed Operation Desert Fox, which bombed Iraq for a period of four days. . . . I worked for seven weeks to get UN resolution -- a unanimous resolution, as it turned out -- 1441, and that resolution had a get-out-of-jail card for Saddam Hussein. It gave him, I think it was 30 or 60 days, to come forward and answer all the questions that are outstanding about your capability and your stockpiles and what you've done with it. And, instead of seriously trying to answer that question, he just dumped a whole bunch of stuff on us that really wasn't credible or believable. It was at that point that [Saddam] set us on the road to war. He had a chance to stop this.
" . . . [W]hen I briefed the president in August of 2002 about the potential consequences of the war, he said, 'What do we do?' I said, 'I recommend we go to the UN.' . . . But I said to the president at that time, ' . . . [Saddam] could satisfy us, and if he satisfies us, if he makes it clear that here is it -- here it all is, then you have to be prepared to accept that, and there may not be a war, and we may have a changed regime but not a regime change.' [The president] understood that."
So you gave your presentation before the United Nations in good faith?
Powell: "I spent five days out at the CIA going over every single piece of information that was going to be in my presentation. There were a lot of other pieces of information that different people . . . wanted me to use, and it was all rejected. Everything in that statement was blessed by the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet; his deputy, John McLaughlin; and all of their senior officials. . . . And so I went to the UN having dumped a lot of stuff on the side of the road because it wasn't multiple source. It might have been right, but it wasn't multiple source and I wouldn't use it. And the reason you see Director Tenet sitting behind me [at the UN] is because [he and] I wanted to make sure . . . that people understood I was not making a political statement. I was making a statement of the facts as we knew them."
Nevertheless, the "Today" show graphic ran: "Breaking His Silence: Powell Blasts Bush's War Policies." Except he didn't.