PRESIDENT BUSH has a surprising defender of his contention that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction--Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. "The intelligence from Bush 1 to Clinton to Bush 2 was consistent" in concluding Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and was trying to develop a nuclear capability, Clinton said this morning. And Saddam's expulsion of weapons inspectors and "the behavior" of his regime "pointed to a continuing effort" to produce WMD, she added.

The senator said she did her own "due diligence" by attending classified briefings on Capitol Hill and at the White House and Pentagon and also by consulting national security officials from the Clinton administration whom she trusts. "To a person, they all agreed with the consensus of the intelligence" that Saddam had WMD.

Clinton isn't normally a defender of the Bush administration. And on other issues, especially Bush's handling of postwar Iraq, she was highly critical. But she agreed, with qualifications, that preemptive military action may be necessary in certain cases, as Bush has argued was the case with Iraq.

Clinton's comments came during an appearance before dozens of reporters at a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. She had no trouble brushing aside questions about her own plans, if any, of running for president in 2004 or later, and she declined to assess other Democratic candidates or discuss any role she had in creating the candidacy of General Wesley Clark. Clinton simply reiterated that she is not running in 2004 but that her "overriding goal . . . is to elect a Democratic president."

But reporters did not give up easily. She was asked if she might not be interested in returning to the White House "some day." "That's not what I'm thinking about," she said. But couldn't she foresee running for president at some point? "No," Clinton answered.

On preemption--attacking an enemy before he attacks you--Clinton said the president shouldn't have announced it as a doctrine. "It's a strategy, it's a choice, it's not a doctrine," she insisted. But she said it would be justified in certain circumstances, citing a possible terrorist attack or proliferation of WMD.

If WMD are not found in Iraq, she said this would suggest a huge intelligence problem. And a probe would be needed to find what sources were being relied on and why the United States was "so misled, so wrong."

Clinton passed up the opportunity to defend the charges of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy that the war in Iraq was a "fraud" cooked up in Texas by the Bush administration and that the president has been bribing foreign leaders to help out in Iraq. Instead she defended Kennedy himself, not his accusations. "I respect Senator Kennedy as much as any one of my colleagues. I respect his opinion . . . He has every right to express his opinion."

And she declined to discuss any similarities between Republican dislike of President Clinton and Democratic "hatred" of Bush. "I don't think that's a useful exercise," she said.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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