If it's Sunday, President Bush must have a creative new way of defending the invasion of Iraq. The first half hour or so of Bush's much-anticipated interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press focused on pre-war intelligence on Saddam's non-existent WMD's and the rationale for war. (Full transcript here.) While admitting that no stockpiles of weapons had been found in Iraq, Bush focused on Saddam's "capacity to produce weapons."
"There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America ... because he had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon. We thought he had weapons. The international community thought he had weapons. But he had the capacity to make a weapon and then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network."
So, it was Saddam's "capacity to have a weapon" that constituted such an imminent threat to the United States. Although, hold on, Bush said he never called the threat "imminent." Bush: "I think, if I might remind you that in my language I called it a grave and gathering threat, but I don't want to get into word contests." Russert shied away from an all-out "word contest" with the president, but we'll throw in this link to a recent Daily Misleader that documents the multiple times White House officials, including Dick Cheney, used the word "imminent" to describe Saddam's threat to the United States.
But Bush said today that Saddam's threat didn't need to be "imminent," anyway, to justify war. "I don't think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent. It's too late if they become imminent. It's too late in this new kind of war, and so that's why I made the decision I made."
Would Congress have approved the Iraq resolution if the White House flatly said it wasn't sure Saddam had WMD's, Russert asked. Bush's response will surely be a GOP general election talking point, especially if the Democratic nominee ends up being a senator who voted for the resolution: "Congress saw the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had ... And all of us, you know, made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed."
There it is -- "all of us," John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Cheney and me. We made the decision together.
On other topics, Bush defended his National Guard duty and suggested, as have the RNC's Ed Gillespie and other Bush defenders, that questioning gaps in his military record is akin to slamming guardsmen everywhere.
"BUSH: Political season is here. I was -- I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge ... I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though. And the reason I wouldn't, is because there are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq."
On the deficit and taxes: "RUSSERT: How about no more tax cuts until the budget is balanced?
BUSH: Well, that's a hypothetical question which I can't answer to you, because I don't know how strong the economy is going to be. I mean, the president must keep all options on the table.
Finally, Russert showed Bush some dim polling data that shows what a polarizing figure he is.
RUSSERT: Why do you think you are perceived as such a divider?
BUSH: Gosh, I don't know, because I'm working hard to unite the country. As a matter of fact, it's the hardest part of being the president.
The Center for American Progress compares Bush's claims on Meet the Press with the facts in this special edition of its daily Progress Report.