WASHINGTON – Defending his decision to invade Iraq, President Bush said that although stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons have not been found, Saddam Hussein (search) had the capacity to produce such arms and could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.
Bush denied he led the United States into war under false pretenses, but he acknowledged that some prewar intelligence apparently was inaccurate. He did not directly respond to election-year allegations that his administration exaggerated intelligence to bolster a march to oust the Iraqi president.
"We will find out about the weapons of mass destruction that we all thought were there," Bush said in the interview taped Saturday in the Oval Office (search) with Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press." It was broadcast Sunday.
Bush, who pledged after the Sept. 11 attacks to get suspected mastermind Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," said Sunday: "I have no idea whether we will capture or bring him to justice."
Bush said former chief weapons inspector David Kay (search), who has said that U.S. intelligence was "almost all wrong" about Saddam's arms, said Saddam found the "capacity to produce weapons." Bush went on to speculate about what happened to the weapons.
"They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq," Bush said. "They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out."
Bush said he decided to go to war based on the intelligence he had at hand about Saddam, but said CIA Director George Tenet's job is not in jeopardy. "I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet," he said.
While Bush heavily based the decision to wage war on the rationale that Saddam had forbidden weapons at the ready, the president continued in the interview to emphasize his contention about Saddam's dictatorial rule — that Saddam brutalized Iraqis and had connections to terrorist groups.
"I repeat to you what I strongly believe, that inaction in Iraq would have emboldened Saddam Hussein," Bush said. "He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time — I'm not saying immediately, but over time. ... We would have been in a position of blackmail. In other words, you can't rely upon a madman."
Among the other issues discussed in the interview, Bush:
—pledged to cooperate with the commission he set up last week to examine intelligence lapses. "I will be glad to visit with them," he said.
—defended his National Guard service during the Vietnam War. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, has accused Bush of being "AWOL," or absent without leave, for a year in the early 1970s after Bush transferred to an Alabama unit.
"I served in the National Guard," Bush said. "I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge."
The president dismissed news reports saying there is no evidence he reported for duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972. "They're just wrong," Bush said.
—said his policy to cut taxes was responsible for driving the economic rebound and putting the country on the road to recovering the more than 2 million jobs lost since he took office in 2001.
—expressed indifference to polls that showed him trailing Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is leading the race to be the Democratic presidential nominee. "I'm not going to lose," Bush said. "I don't plan on losing."
—said he would "perhaps" submit to questions from the commission reviewing the Sept. 11 attacks.
The interview came at a time when Bush's approval rating has dipped to 47 percent in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in early February; that compares with 56 percent just a month ago.