US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday defended the US-led war on Iraq in 2003, shrugging off allegations by a former White House press secretary that US President George W. Bush had misled Americans into going to war.
Asked how the United States can lead an international consensus on rebuilding Iraq in the context of the charges by Scott McClellan, Rice said she would not comment on a book that she had not read. But the case for war was clear, said Rice, who was national security adviser when the Iraq war began.
"The concerns about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were the fundamental reasons for dozens of resolutions within the (UN) Security Council from the time that Saddam was expelled from Kuwait in 1991 up until 2003," Rice told reporters after a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Rice is in Stockholm to attend an international conference on Iraq.
"It was not the United States of America alone that believed he (Saddam) had weapons of mass destruction, that he was hiding weapons of mass destruction that led him to throw (UN) inspectors out, effectively leading the Clinton administration to take military action against Iraq," Rice said.
"It was not the United States of America alone that knew Saddam Hussein had of course used weapons of mass destruction both against his own population and against Iranians."
If the world did not believe at the time that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, "then I would ask: why was Iraq under some of the most severe sanctions that the international community has ever imposed?" said Rice.
"The story is there for everyone to see. You can't now transplant yourself into the present and say we should have known what we in fact did not know in 2001, 2002 and 2003," she said.
"The record on weapons of mass destruction was one that appeared to be very clear," she added.
Rice said Saddam was indeed a threat to the Iraqis and to the international community as well. "The threat from Saddam Hussein was well understood," she said.
Asked what was Washington's biggest mistake in Iraq, Rice said it is premature to judge history.
"It is the character of history to not understand the full implications of what has been done until well into the future," she explained.
"There are many things that can be done differently," she admitted. But she was firm that the 2003 Iraq War was not a mistake.
"The one thing I am certain was that it was not a mistake to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein," she said.
In his book "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception ", McClellan says Bush made a decision to invade Iraq at least in 2002, if not even earlier.
"He (Bush) signed off on a strategy for selling the war that was less than candid and honest," writes McClellan.
McClellan argues that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq and Iraq's connection to al-Qaida following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2008)