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Sunday, February 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Rumsfeld passionately defends invasion

By The Washington Post and The Associated Press

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MUNICH, Germany — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reaffirmed the administration's doctrine of pre-emptive military action yesterday and offered an impassioned defense of the decision to invade Iraq, saying Saddam Hussein's defiance had forced the United States to act.

While acknowledging that the decision to attack an enemy before being attacked depends on having "elegant intelligence" about the opponent's intentions and arsenals, Rumsfeld argued forcefully for striking first, particularly in cases involving the potential use of a biological agent or other weapons that could cause thousands of deaths.

"The greater the risk and the danger, the lower the threshold for action," he said, speaking at a conference on U.S. and European security issues here.

The invasion of Iraq marked the first application of the Bush administration's pre-emptive approach. The disclosure recently of errors and gaps in the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iraq's weapons programs before the war has raised fresh concerns about the U.S. doctrine, both in the United States and abroad.

"I agree you can't wait to absorb the first blow," Josef Joffee, editor of the German publication Die Zeit, told Rumsfeld during a question-and-answer session. "But what are we going to do about intelligence in a situation where intelligence is absolutely vital so we don't shoot the wrong guy?"

Rumsfeld responded that gathering intelligence in a world of secretive governments, fiber-optic cabling and underground tunneling is "a very difficult thing to do." But he said he hoped the new U.S. presidential commission announced Friday would lead to improvements.

The commission is to investigate intelligence shortcomings.

Rumsfeld delivered a spirited defense of the invasion, arguing Saddam brought it on himself. He noted decisions by Kazakstan, Ukraine, South Africa and, most recently, Libya to open their arsenals of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction to inspection, and contrasted this openness with Saddam's "path of deception and defiance" before the war.

"It was his choice," Rumsfeld said. "If the Iraqi regime had taken the steps Libya is now taking, there would have been no war."
Without mentioning the administration's prewar claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, Rumsfeld said the war was worth the cost.

"The last 12 months has provided to the world's rogue regimes two different models of behavior: the path of cooperation and the path of defiance," he said.

"The lessons from those experiences should be clear: Pursuit of weapons of mass murder can carry with it costs. By contrast, leaders who abandon the pursuit of those weapons and the means to deliver them will find an open path to better relations with the free nations of the world."

Facing some critical audience questions, Rumsfeld became animated and loud at times. Asked what the United States could do to improve its deteriorated image in the world, Rumsfeld blamed news coverage by Arab television networks for contributing to the decline by promoting "highly negative" stories.

"I know in my heart and brain that America ain't what's wrong with the world," he said.

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