WASHINGTON – President Bush forcefully disputed the findings of a leaked intelligence report Tuesday, declaring that it was not a mistake to go into Iraq, and that U.S. forces stationed there have not caused a rise in terror around the world.
Bush said he was declassifying part of a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed last April because he wanted the public to be able to read the conclusions without filters that "create confusion in the minds of the American people."
"Some people have, you know, guessed what's in the report and have concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree. I think it's naive. I think it's a mistake for people to believe that going on the offense against people that want to do harm to the American people makes us less safe," Bush said from the East Room, where he was holding a press conference with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
Bush said he agreed with one conclusion — that the effort in Iraq had forced Al Qaeda cells to become more diffuse and independent. But he questioned why such an old document had appeared on the front pages of major newspapers just six weeks ahead of the November midterm election.
"Some people have guessed what's in the report and concluded that going in to Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree," Bush said. "Someone took it upon themselves to leak classified information for political purposes."
The president said that the leak distressed him because, in part, it shows that someone in the government is trying to play politics, but moreso, because it hurts the intelligence collection process.
"I think it's a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there's a leak because it means it's going to be hard to get good product out of our analysts," he said.
The president rejected claims that the U.S. presence in Iraq has increased terror threats, saying the United States wasn't in Iraq when America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001; or when the USS Cole was hit; or when the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed.
"If we weren't in Iraq, they'd find some other excuse because they have ambitions. They kill to achieve their objectives," Bush said. "The best way to protect America is to defeat these killers overseas so we don't have to face them at home."
Karzai, whose country is facing an increase in terror after the Taliban were defeated in late 2001, interjected to offer a similar plea.
"Terrorism was hurting us way before Iraq or September 11 ... These extremist forces were killing people in Afghanistan for years, closing schools, burning mosques, killing children, uprooting vineyards," Karzai said. "They came to America on September 11, but they were attacking you before September 11 in other parts of the world. We are a witness in Afghanistan.
"Do you forget people jumping off the 80th floor or 70th floor when the planes hit them? Can you imagine what it will be for a man or woman to jump from that high?" Karzai asked recalling some of the more shocking scenes from the World Trade Center bombing. "How do we get rid of them? ... Should we wait for them to come and kill us again?"
Bush and Karzai spoke together one day ahead of a three-way meeting with Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, whom Karzai says must do more to close extremist schools that teach terror.
Bush said Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants are trying to shut down Karzai's government because they see a threat from democratic institutions. Bush said Afghan forces are working with soldiers from dozens of nations under the NATO banner to make sure that the Taliban can't regroup.
"We've adjusted tactics and we're on the offense to meet the threat and defeat the threat," Bush said in a press conference with the Afghan leader.
"Our country will stand with the free people of Afghanistan," Bush added. "I know there are some in your country who question whether or not America has the will to do the necessary work to help you succeed. We've got that will."
Karzai thanked Bush for the military commitment as well as U.S. investment in economic reconstruction and education. Karzai said he was moved by stories he heard at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he met a wounded female soldier with six children who had gone to Afghanistan to help build a stretch of mountain road.
"There's nothing more that any nation could do for another country than send a woman with children to build a road" in another country, Karzai said.