Clinton Says He Understands How Bush Blew It On Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Globe and Mail

July 23, 2003

Washington — U.S. President George W. Bush's erroneous reference to an Iraqi-Africa uranium link was understandable, former president Bill Clinton said Tuesday, in part because Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had not accounted for some weapons by the time Mr. Clinton ended his term in 2001.

Mr. Clinton's comments reinforce one of the pillars of Mr. Bush's defence of the war in Iraq - that his Democratic predecessor was never satisfied Mr. Hussein had rid himself of weapons of mass destruction.

"When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for," Mr. Clinton said on CNN's Larry King Live.

Mr. Clinton said he never found out whether a U.S.-British bombing campaign he ordered in 1998 ended Mr. Hussein's capability of producing chemical and biological weapons.

"We might have gotten it all, we might have gotten half of it, we might have gotten none of it," he said.

In his state of the union speech in February, justifying the planned war in Iraq, Mr. Bush referred to British intelligence reports that Mr. Hussein had tried to purchase uranium for nuclear-weapons production. His administration said it now believes those reports were based in part on forged documents.

Mr. Clinton confined his remarks to biological and chemical weapons and did not say whether he would consider credible any report Mr. Hussein had wanted to build nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, he suggested Mr. Bush's mistake was par for the course - and it is time to move on now that Mr. Bush has acknowledged the error.

"You know, everybody makes mistakes when they are president," he said.

"I mean, you can't make as many calls as you have to without messing up once in a while. The thing we ought to be focused on is what is the right thing to do now."

Mr. Clinton said ending tensions in Iraq should be the priority now - another echo of the current White House's talking points.

"We should be pulling for America on this. We should be pulling for the people of Iraq."

Mr. Clinton made his remarks as a call-in guest on a program observing the 80th birthday of Bob Dole, his rival for the White House in 1996.