Second Presidential Debate -- Question Two
Washington University in St. Louis - St. Louis, MO -
October 8, 2004

GIBSON: Mr. President, I would follow up, but we have a series of questions on Iraq, and so I will turn to the next questioner.

The question is for President Bush, and the questioner is Robin Dahle.

: Mr. President, yesterday in a statement you admitted that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, but justified the invasion by stating, I quote, "He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction and could have passed this knowledge to our terrorist enemies."

Do you sincerely believe this to be a reasonable justification for invasion when this statement applies to so many other countries, including North Korea?

BUSH: Each situation is different, Robin.

And obviously we hope that diplomacy works before you ever use force.  The hardest decision a president makes is ever to use force.  After 9/11, we had to look at the world differently.  After 9/11, we had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us.

In the old days we'd see a threat, and we could deal with it if we felt like it or not.  But 9/11 changed it all.

I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect the American people.  That's why we're bringing Al Qaida to justice. Seventy five percent of them have been brought to justice.

That's why I said to Afghanistan: If you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist.  And the Taliban is no longer in power, and Al Qaida no longer has a place to plan.

And I saw a unique threat in Saddam Hussein, as did my opponent, because we thought he had weapons of mass destruction.

And the unique threat was that he could give weapons of mass destruction to an organization like Al Qaida, and the harm they inflicted on us with airplanes would be multiplied greatly by weapons of mass destruction.  And that was the serious, serious threat.

So I tried diplomacy, went to the United Nations.  But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions.  He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason: He wanted to restart his weapons programs.

We all thought there was weapons there, Robin.  My opponent thought there was weapons there.  That's why he called him a grave threat.

I wasn't happy when we found out there wasn't weapons, and we've got an intelligence group together to figure out why.

But Saddam Hussein was a unique threat.  And the world is better off without him in power.

And my opponent's plans lead me to conclude that Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and the world would be more dangerous.

Thank you, sir.

GIBSON: Senator Kerry, a minute and a half.

: Robin, I'm going to answer your question.

I'm also going to talk -- respond to what you asked, Cheryl, at the same time.

The world is more dangerous today.  The world is more dangerous today because the president didn't make the right judgments.

Now, the president wishes that I had changed my mind.  He wants you to believe that because he can't come here and tell you that he's created new jobs for America.  He's lost jobs.

He can't come here and tell you that he's created health care for Americans because, what, we've got 5 million Americans who have lost their health care, 96,000 of them right here in Missouri.

He can't come here and tell you that he's left no child behind because he didn't fund no child left behind.

So what does he do?  He's trying to attack me.  He wants you to believe that I can't be president.  And he's trying to make you believe it because he wants you to think I change my mind.

Well, let me tell you straight up: I've never changed my mind about Iraq.  I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat.  I always believed he was a threat.  Believed it in 1998 when Clinton was president.  I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force if necessary.

But I would have used that force wisely, I would have used that authority wisely, not rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.

I would have brought our allies to our side.  I would have fought to make certain our troops had everybody possible to help them win the mission.

This president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside.  And Iran now is more dangerous, and so is North Korea, with nuclear weapons.  He took his eye off the ball, off of Osama bin Laden.

GIBSON: Mr. President, I do want to follow up on this one, because there were several questions from the audience along this line.


GIBSON: Go ahead. Go ahead.


GIBSON: Well, I was going to have you do the rebuttal on it, but you go ahead.


You're up.

BUSH: You remember the last debate?

My opponent said that America must pass a global test before we used force to protect ourselves.  That's the kind of mindset that says sanctions were working.  That's the kind of mindset that said, "Let's keep it at the United Nations and hope things go well."

Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorist enemies.  Sanctions were not working.  The United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein.

GIBSON: Senator?

KERRY: The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein, it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction.  And, Mr. President, just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they worked.  He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. President.  That was the objective.

And if we'd used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq.  And right now, Osama bin Laden might be in jail or dead.  That's the war against terror.