WUERZBURG, Germany - Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said yesterday that the Bush administration was justified in toppling Saddam Hussein, regardless of whether prewar American intelligence indicating that Iraq had stockpiled unconventional weapons was proved wrong.
"You have to make decisions based on the intelligence you have, not on the intelligence you can discover later," Wolfowitz said during a visit here with troops of the 1st Infantry Division, which is scheduled to go to Iraq in coming weeks.
The invasion of Iraq, he said, was about more than biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
"We have an important job to do in Iraq, an absolutely critical job to do, and that is to help the Iraqi people to build a free and democratic country," he said.
Last week, David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector for Iraq, testified that his team had gathered no evidence that Iraq had produced or amassed any large stockpiles of unconventional weapons just before the American invasion, contradicting a cornerstone argument in the case for war. Bush administration officials have said they want to await the final report of the weapons inspection team, called the Iraq Survey Group, and have rejected calls for an outside investigation.
Wolfowitz said that "it's important to understand where you got it right and where you got it wrong," but he was not asked and did not comment on any of the continuing inquiries or proposals for examining the record of American intelligence on Iraq.
Although it is still too early to declare victory in Iraq, he said, "we're heading there, and it's going to be a very important turning point in the whole war on terrorism."
The Middle East, he said, "has been heading down the wrong road" for the past 20 years, but "the Iraqi people have a chance now to start turning the course of history."
Wolfowitz, regarded as the intellectual architect of the administration's Iraq policy, spent a sizable part of his day in classified briefings about the coming troop rotation to Iraq, the largest movement of American forces since World War II.
Maj. Gen. John R.S. Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said his troops would have two parallel missions after arriving in north-central Iraq.
"On one hand, we will be killing and capturing terrorists and foreign fighters," he said in brief comments to reporters traveling with Wolfowitz. "Simultaneously, we've got our work cut out with respect to stability and support operations to set the conditions for Iraqi civil-military self-reliance."
Wolfowitz greeted soldiers wearing the infantry's famous patch - the Big Red 1 - and told their spouses, "You are heroes."
In a morning meeting with the spouses, whose work here is called "the rear detachment," he was told that family members supported the mission, but that they craved greater predictability from the military.
One wife questioned whether the Army was too small, citing her husband's frequent deployments. Another suggested that first lady Laura Bush could help by recording a videotape explaining the Iraq mission to the worried children of departing soldiers.