The president was sure Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (search) somewhere. And despite the fact none were found after U.S. troops and investigators spread out throughout Iraq, Bush refused to admit that he had made a mistake.
Asked by FOX News in September 2003 what his theory was on where the weapons may have gone, Bush said he thought Saddam hid them.
"I think he dispersed them. I think he is so adapted at deceiving the civilized world for a long period of time that it's going to take a while for the troops to unravel. But I firmly believe he had weapons of mass destruction. I know he used them at one time."
The decision to go to war with Iraq was a defining moment of President Bush's first term in office. Watch the FOX News Channel on Sunday at 9 p.m. EST for "George W. Bush: Behind the Headlines," Brit Hume's special one-hour look at the Bush presidency.
Now, as Bush prepares to take the oath of office for a second term, members of the CIA Iraq Survey Group have stopped looking for the deadly weapons and are shuffling through tens of thousands of pages of documents relating to Saddam's weapons programs.
The head of the group, Charles Duelfer (search), is now in Washington, preparing the final report, which sources say will be closely consistent with the interim report Duelfer submitted in September. That report said Iraq destroyed its chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s. Officials say those findings are expected to stand in the final report to be published in the coming months.
Part of the reason the group pulled out of Iraq just before Christmas was concern about the dangers faced by members on the hunt for weapons. They have faced attacks by terrorists and other insurgents. Reports have indicated that nearly a dozen people working for or with weapons inspectors have been killed.
Nonetheless, Bush's critics have demanded that the president explain why the weapons have not surfaced. Critics say they deserve an answer since the Bush administration claimed more than two years ago that Saddam had been reconstituting the weapons program that was decimated after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, a point the president repeatedly stressed in the buildup to war.
"Saddam Hussein is a man who has told the world he wouldn't have weapons of mass destruction, and yet he deceived the world," Bush said on Nov. 1, 2002.
"We will not permit Saddam Hussein to blackmail and/or terrorize nations which love freedom," Bush said on Nov. 20, 2002.
"He used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors, he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people," he said weeks later.
During the buildup to Operation Iraqi Freedom (search), Bush wasn't the only one who believed Saddam possessed chemical or biological weapons.
"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction," Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy said.
But when weapons weren't found, it was the president and ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) who took the heat for what was deemed a spectacular intelligence failure.
"The administration has made many assertions for which they have yet to produce any evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a former presidential contender, said in June 2003.
Bush has also said that the world is a better place without Saddam. But with the body count on the rise in Iraq, criticism continued throughout 2004. Vice President Cheney said most of the time, he and Bush learned to shake off the wilting attacks.
"We sometimes joke about things that are said about both of us," Cheney told FOX News. "I was shaving one morning and watching Don Imus on television, and he was talking about some guy named Pork Chop Boy. And I finally figured out, that's me. He's talking about me."
FOX News contributor and Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon said Bush is also good at not letting the press get the better of him by drawing him into their traps, especially ones set by the White House press corps seeking for him to admit he was wrong about weapons in Iraq.
"There was sort of a little obsession about, 'Let's get the president to admit he made a mistake.' And he just wasn't interested in it," Sammon said.
Even though Bush enjoys joking with the media, he does not trust them, Sammon said, describing an incident in which Bush tried to make a point using a book written by an ex-CBS correspondent that deals with what the author calls media distortion of the news.
"I remember once when the book 'Bias' came out by Bernard Goldberg. The president made a point of taking that book and holding it in such a way where the letters BIAS were very photographable, shall we say," Sammon said. "It sent a very not-so-subtle message that, 'you know, I think you're biased.'"
The president also doesn't like it when the press tries to criticize his family, and he is intensely protective of his father, the first President Bush. He said while he got his hackles up when his father was criticized, he isn't going to let attacks on himself get his dander up.
"You know, look, I love my dad a lot. And I didn't like when people said bad things about him. And I'm kind of a feisty guy at times and made it clear I didn't like what they said," he said. "But I'm in a different position. I'm in a position now where I must set goals and inspire and lead. And I believe firmly that I'm doing the right thing for our country by promoting an active foreign policy that makes the world more peaceful and more free."
Watch the FOX News Channel on Sunday at 9 p.m. EST for "George W. Bush: Behind the Headlines," Brit Hume's special one-hour look at the Bush presidency.