WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's second ranking official says the United States must be prepared to act on less than perfect intelligence in a world where the main threat is terror, even though information about terrorism is inherently murky.
"If you wait until the terrorism picture is clear, you're going to wait until after something terrible has happened," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"And we went to war, and I believe we are still fighting terrorists and terrorist supporters in Iraq, in a battle that will make this country safer in the future from terrorism."
Making the rounds of television talk show, Wolfowitz told "Fox News Sunday" that "Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism."
He similarly linked the U.S.-led invasion and its aftermath to President Bush's war on terror. At the same time, he emphasized that intelligence dealing with terrorists is intrinsically "murky."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said he was struck by Wolfowitz's use of the word.
"Boy, it sure didn't sound murky before the war," Levin said. "There were clear connections, we were told, between al-Qaida (terrorists) and Iraq. There was no murkiness, no nuance, no uncertainty about it at all. ... That's the way it was presented to the American people."
Critics of the Bush policy of pre-emptive attack based on intelligence revealing a threat to U.S. security, on which the Iraq invasion was based, have contended that spying is too uncertain to support such a policy.
Wolfowitz did not say specifically that the Iraq campaign resulted from murky intelligence. But he said a congressional intelligence report released last week blamed the administration for not discerning, from bits of evidence, the terrorist threat that was borne out on Sept. 11, 2001. Critics are trying to have it both ways, he said.
Wolfowitz said he was unsure whether a recent upsurge in American combat deaths in Iraq represented a trend or merely a spike triggered by the killing last week of two sons of deposed President Saddam Hussein.
There were 13 deaths in the seven days ending Saturday, one of the bloodiest weeks of the war. Another soldier died Sunday.
"The sacrifices that our troops are making are spectacular. It's difficult conditions, it's dangerous conditions, and it takes a lot of ingenuity to figure out how to do some of these civil military things they're doing," Wolfowitz said on Fox.
"But it is a sacrifice that is going to make our children and our grandchildren safer, because the battle to win the peace in Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism, and what these troops are doing - and they understand the mission - is something that's going to make our country safer."
Wolfowitz, just back from a visit to Iraq, said it appears the deaths of Odai and Qusai Hussein last Monday had led to better cooperation from Iraqis in providing intelligence to U.S. personnel.
"This is a war that's going to be won not by smothering the country with individual guard posts; it's going to be won by better and better intelligence, and intelligence was improving even before Monday, and I think it's improved since then," he told Fox.
While he insisted the occupation was going well, Wolfowitz added: "I don't want to paint a rosy picture; there are real problems. The security problem is real, and the security problem is making it difficult to solve other problems like getting the power and electricity restored."
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