WASHINGTON — US President George W. Bush said in an interview set for broadcast Monday that he came to office "unprepared for war" and that his "biggest regret" was the US intelligence failure on Iraq.
But Bush, speaking to ABC television, refused to say whether he would have ordered the March 2003 invasion if he had known that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.
"That's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate," said the US president, who took office in January 2001 and hands the keys to the White House to Barack Obama on January 20.
"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," Bush said. "I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."
Bush launched the war in Iraq after a months-long public campaign centered on the charge that Saddam possessed vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but no such arsenal was ever found.
"A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington DC, during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence," Bush told ABC.
Asked what his greatest accomplishment was, the US president replied: "I keep recognizing we're in a war against ideological thugs and keeping America safe."
Asked what he was most unprepared for when he took office in January 2001, Bush replied: "I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.'"
"In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen," he said.
Bush, whose administration recently accepted a formal timeline for withdrawing from Iraq, also stood fast behind his refusal for years to set a pull-out timetable.
"It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm's way, you go in to win," he said.
"It was a tough call," he said, because "a lot of people" were advising him to bring US forces home. "But ultimately, I listened to this voice: I'm not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I'm going to do what it takes to win in Iraq."
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