WASHINGTON – President Bush on Sunday defended the invasion of Iraq, calling it a "catastrophic success" despite continued violence and the lack of weapons that drove the country to war.
"We did not find the stockpiles that we thought would be there," Bush said at a rally in the northern part of West Virginia, a swing state he won in 2000 that remains vital to his re-election.
"I want to remind you that Saddam Hussein (search) had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that capability on," Bush said a day before his nominating convention opened in New York.
Bush, in an interview with Time magazine, suggested he still would have gone into Iraq, but with different tactics had he known "that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."
He called the swift military offensive that led to the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 "a catastrophic success" even though fighting continues despite the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government.
That brought an immediate response from Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards (search).
"President Bush now says his Iraq policy is a catastrophic success. He's half right," Edwards said. "It was catastrophic to rush to war without a plan to win the peace."
In West Virginia, Bush stumped in steel country, meeting before the rally with six workers. Unions representing steelworkers, however, have endorsed Democrat John Kerry.
Bush touted the tariffs his administration slapped on imported steel in 2002 to help the struggling industry, but withdrew 20 months later to threats by the European Union to retaliate against U.S. products.
"I thought I needed to stand up for steel, and I did stand up for steel," Bush said to cheers.
Bush is swinging through battleground states before heading to New York for his convention acceptance speech that is likely to outline in more detail his second-term agenda.
West Virginia has traditionally been Democratic territory, but Bush won the state and its five electoral votes by 6 percentage points in 2000.
Sunday's visit was Bush's 13th as president and seventh this year. Kerry has campaigned in the state five times. Edwards and also Vice President Dick Cheney both have campaigned there.