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Top official says case for war erroneous

Robert Burns Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The top policy adviser to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says the Bush administration erred by building its public case for war against Saddam Hussein mainly on the claim that he possessed banned weapons.

The comment by Douglas J. Feith, in an interview with the Associated Press, is a rare admission of error about Iraq by a senior administration official. Feith, who is leaving after four years as the undersecretary of defense for policy, said he remains convinced that President Bush was correct in deciding that war against Iraq was necessary.

“I don’t think there is any question that we as an administration, instead of giving proper emphasis to all major elements of the rationale for war, overemphasized the WMD aspect,” he said.

The administration claimed the now-deposed Iraqi president possessed mass-killing chemical and biological weapons at the time of the March 2003 invasion and cited them most prominently as justification for attacking.

No such weapons have been found. In March, a bipartisan presidential commission said U.S. spy agencies were “dead wrong” in most of their prewar assessments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

One of the architects of the administration’s strategy for the war on terror, Feith strongly defended the decision to invade Iraq.

“It would have been better had we done a better job of communicating in all of its breadth the strategic rationale for the war,” Feith said in an hour-long interview this week at his home in suburban Washington.

The broader rationale, Feith said, included the danger posed by Iraq’s potential to resume building chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons – know-how that the Iraqi regime developed before the 1991 Gulf War.

“Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error, as to the stockpiles” of weapons it assured Bush existed in 2003, Feith said. Thus that part of the administration’s argument for why war was necessary was overdone, he said, adding, “Anything we said at all about stockpiles was overemphasis, given that we didn’t find them.”

Another element of the administration’s reasoning was a belief, still held, that if the tyrannical regime in Baghdad could be replaced with democratic institutions, it could have a beneficial effect in transforming the politics of the Middle East. That alone, however, was not a sufficient reason to go to war, Feith said.

“Had Saddam Hussein not been a supporter of terrorism and a guy who developed and used WMD, I don’t think that simply saying he’s a tyrant and we have a chance to replace a tyrant would have motivated the war,” he said.

Feith, who served in the White House and at the Pentagon during the administration of President Reagan, said one of his most important contributions during his four years working for Rumsfeld was helping break down communication and cultural barriers between Pentagon civilian and military officials.

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