WASHINGTON – The No. 2 man at the Pentagon tried to put out a diplomatic fire Friday after an article in a magazine quoted him saying that the top officials in the Bush administration decided weapons of mass destruction (search) would be the most convincing reason for war with Iraq.
While visiting Singapore, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) said that a story in the June issue of Vanity Fair magazine omitted crucial parts of comments he made about the United States' justification for war in Iraq.
The article quoted Wolfowitz as saying "bureaucratic reasons" led officials to focus on Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal of weapons.
"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on," Wolfowitz was quoted as saying.
Prior to the quote, author Sam Tanenhaus (search) did write that Wolfowitz conceded "Iraq's supposed cache of WMD had never been the most compelling casus belli [justification for war]."
In Singapore, where he is due to speak Saturday at the Asia Security Conference of military chiefs and defense ministers from Asian and key Western powers, Wolfowitz urged readers to go to the Pentagon's Web site to look at the transcript from the original interview.
"What I said very clearly is that we have from the beginning had three concerns. One was weapons of mass destruction, the second was terrorism, and the third — and all three of these by the way are in Secretary Powell's presentation at the U.N. — the third was the abuse of Iraqis by their own government. And in a sense there was a fourth overriding one, which was the connection between those first two, the connection between the weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. All three of those have been there, they've always been part of the rationale and I think it's been very clear," he said.
According to the transcript, Wolfowitz also said the abuse of Iraqis by Saddam Hussein by itself "is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it.
"That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an Al Qaeda group in northern Iraq," he said.
Wolfowitz also was quoted in the article as saying that a "huge" reason for going to war would be to enable the United States to withdraw American forces from Saudi Arabia.
About 5,000 troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia since the first Gulf War in 1991. But ties with the desert kingdom have been strained as Islamic fundamentalists in the country have expressed outrage at their presence. Earlier this month, terrorists set off three bombs in a complex housing expatriates, killing 25 innocents, including eight Americans.
Within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, the United States announced it was removing most of its troops, relocating many to the military's main regional command center in Qatar.
The Pentagon's decision to relocate troops around the world has not been a secret and Congress held hearings earlier this month to discuss where the U.S. military would be leanest and meanest. Wolfowitz said Friday that the United States will reorganize its forces worldwide to confront the threat of terrorism.
"We are in the process of taking a fundamental look at our military posture worldwide, including in the United States," Wolfowitz said. "We're facing a very different threat than any one we've faced historically."
But recent remarks about the weapons search by U.S. military officials have angered opponents of the Iraq war, who say the United States tried to play the world for fools by arguing that Iraq was a risk to global security.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested this week that Saddam might have destroyed his banned weapons before the war began.
On Friday, commander of U.S. Marines in Iraq said he was surprised that extensive searches have failed to discover any of the chemical weapons that U.S. intelligence had indicated were supplied to front line Iraqi forces at the outset of the war.
"Believe me, it's not for lack of trying," Lt. Gen. James Conway told reporters. "We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there."
Conway refused to call the inability to find weapons an intelligence failure.
So far, specialized teams of U.S. troops have been through about 220 of 900 identified "sensitive sites." Beginning next week, a new group of experts, scientists and investigators, many of them civilian — will be inside Iraq hunting for weapons of mass destruction. The Iraq Survey Group is made up of 1,400 people from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia under the leadership of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Still, Europeans like former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen said he doesn't know if the United States can be trusted.
"It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?" he said.
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, said he doubted Iraq had any such weapons.
"The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, 'Hit Saddam before he hits us,' " Cook told British Broadcasting Corp. "It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place."
President Bush is on tour in Europe this week, in part, to try to put an end to the divisiveness that has marked relations since before the war. Before his arrival in Poland, he told a reporter for Polish television that the coalition did in fact succeed in finding weapons of mass destruction.
"We found biological laboratories ... They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them," he said.
Fox News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.