Recently, President George W. Bush sat down with ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson for an interview. In discussing issues ranging from the state of the economy to foreign affairs, President Bush responded to questions touching on his "greatest disappointments and accomplishments." Near the end of the discussion, Gibson asked the president if he had made one decision while in office that he would "do-over" if he could. President Bush responded, "[T]he biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq....I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess." Today the economy continues to be the focus of every national news outlet. Congress is preoccupied with finding a way to hand billions of taxpayer dollars to every industry approaching Capitol Hill while not infuriating their constituents. Nonetheless, the president, in an unguarded response to this question concerning his most prominent blunder and posed in the waning days of his last term, reverted to what seemed to him to be the obvious. The obvious response had nothing to do with the economy. It had to do with intelligence. It had to do with the "intelligence failure in Iraq" regarding "weapons of mass destruction." I could not agree more. Before I continue, it is important that you understand how unique this agreement is.
For example, agreeing with George W. Bush on major policy initiatives was not my strong suit. As a conservative Republican member of the House of Representatives, I opposed his proposal to downsize the military during a time of war, his initiative to expand federal intrusion into the states' public education mission, and his desire to grow the number of entitlement programs. From these issues to those of federalizing marriage law in the constitution and wiretapping of citizens without the use of warrants, the president and I essentially agreed to disagree. However, none of these disagreements compare with the most controversial parting-of-ways that I had with the leader of my party.
In October 2002, I was one of six Republican members of the House to vote against authorizing the president to invade Iraq. Given the overwhelming support for the authorization in the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate, my opposition drew little concern. At home, however, contempt for my difference with the commander in chief's approach to the "global war on terror" was significant. Therefore, you may think this latter day agreement between the outgoing president and me could be a sign of a belated reconciliation. But it happens that not long after this agreement, I must continue my role as the contrarian.
While I concur with President Bush that his failure to properly assess the intelligence available to his administration was regretful, I do not wish the intelligence had been different. After my colleagues in the House and I were briefed on multiple occasions by numerous experts from the various intelligence agencies, I concluded that the evidence did not support the claim that an ongoing program of weapons of mass destruction was being directed by Saddam Hussein. In fact, in a speech on the House floor prior to the vote on the Iraq War resolution, I stated that such a conclusion about the evidence was "tenuous at best." The simple fact of the matter is the tenuous nature of the intelligence led me to the correct conclusion. The work of the intelligence community made my job relatively easy. Unable to deliver substantial evidence to the contrary, they effectively informed me that a full-scale military conflict with Iraq was unnecessary. The intelligence did not fail me. This was one time when my contrarian nature gave way to a much more profound precept. If we are not sure that a foreign nation poses an imminent threat to our way of life, we must not send our fellow citizens' sons and daughters into harm's way for what might be.
In conclusion, I don't regret that the intelligence was not different. I do regret that the one who was entrusted with the power to utilize the blood and treasure of our republic in its defense could not be trusted to judiciously expend those precious resources in the execution of his duty.