By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 21, 2007 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has long believed that removing Saddam Hussein was "the right thing to do," a top Defense Department spokesman said yesterday. In a news briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell countered media reports that suggest Gates did not agree with the president's view that it was necessary to topple Saddam's regime.
In an interview Sept. 17 with a newspaper reporter after a speech in Williamsburg, Va., the secretary was asked: "Now, do you think in retrospect, knowing what we know about (weapons of mass destruction), it was worth doing?"
Morrell said Gates deliberately rephrased the question before answering and replied, "If I'd known then what I know now, would I have done the same? And I think the answer is, I don't know."
"He is not referring to the initial decision to invade Iraq," Morrell said. "That doesn't in any way ... take away from his belief that ... ousting Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do."
Morrell said that Gates believes Hussein was a "destabilizing influence in the region who was intent, if he didn't have them already, on developing weapons of mass destruction."
"In light of that, he believed and still does believe that the right course of action was to topple Saddam Hussein," Morrell said.
In a White House news conference, President Bush expressed support for his defense secretary and said he was "absolutely convinced Secretary Gates knows that removing Saddam was the right thing."
"And I'm absolutely convinced he believes we will succeed in Iraq," the president continued. "I've got a lot of trust in the man. He's doing a fine job as the secretary."