June 15, 2011 | National Review Online


The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on prewar statements is a disgrace.

Democrats and two useful Republican idiots on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) have colluded in a disgraceful sham, published late last week as a report on “whether public statements regarding Iraq by U.S. government officials were substantiated by intelligence information” prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

All one really needs to know about this exercise in legerdemain is revealed by SSCI Chairman Jay Rockefeller’s diktat — over Republican protest and adopted without a vote — that the Committee would focus myopically on prewar statements made by administration officials. That is, the SSCI opted to overlook the overflowing stream of bellicose commentary, often less restrained, by Democrats.

The reality is that SSCI Democrats, among other Democrats, had access to the exact same intelligence about Iraq that Bush officials had. Indeed, many of them had it for years before there was a Bush administration. Like back in October 1998, when those selfsame Democrats were passing the Iraq Liberation Act, signed by none other than President Bill Clinton, which made regime change — the removal of Saddam Hussein from power — the official policy of the United States.

As a result, the SSCI report does not consider, for example, the public statements made by one Jay Rockefeller on the Senate floor on October 10, 2002, explaining his vote in favor of using force in Iraq: “Saddam Hussein represents a grave threat to the United States, and I have concluded we must use force to deal with him if all other means fail.” (And how curious that the Chairman’s speech, for some reason, is no longer available on the Senate website.)

“[A]ll U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons,” argued Senator John Kerry at the time. The longtime SSCI member, emerging then as the leading contender for the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nomination, elaborated, “There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons.… If Iraq could acquire [fissile] material from abroad, the CIA estimates that it could have a nuclear weapon within one year.” “In addition,” Kerry warned, “Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents, which could threaten Iraq’s neighbors as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf.”

The committee didn’t think those statements were worth assessing. Nor, to take another example, did the SSCI scrutinize this gem by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who claimed to have consulted her own advisors rather than simply relying on the available intelligence or the Bush administration:

    It is clear . . . that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security. . . . [T]his much is undisputed.

Not any more. Now, it is very much disputed. Now that Iraq hasn’t gone according to plan. Now that it has proved to be difficult.

So now, six years later, these profiles in Democrat courage, who did not merely vote in favor of the war but pressed for the opportunity to do so (the better to package themselves, on the eve of the 2002 mid-term elections, as tough on national security), have withdrawn their assent. Now, they busy themselves with the spade work of shoring up the far Left theology that “Bush lied and people died” — while, of course, “supporting our troops” by limning their efforts as illegitimate.

The word treachery does not begin to describe such betrayal. And the circle of shame includes Senators Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe, the two SSCI Republicans. They were also for the war before they were against it, and now they conspire with committee Democrats in this charade of a report.

The deceit does not stop with the report’s tunnel-vision design. Its substance is risible.

Rockefeller expounds on the report’s rationale in “additional views” he has appended. He theorizes that administration officials hyped intelligence by making public statements in “declarative and unequivocal terms” about Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs — statements that failed to convey more nuanced assessments from some corners of the intelligence community.

Surely it would be hard get more “declarative and unequivocal” than this: “When you look at what Saddam Hussein has at his disposal, in terms of chemical, biological and perhaps even nuclear weapons, we cannot ignore the threat that he poses to the region and the fact that he has fomented terrorism throughout his reign.” Not a lot of nuance there. But it turns out that this statement was made on national television by a leading Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin. He was speaking to CNN’s Larry King only three months after 9/11, back when it was expedient for congressional Democrats to rouse the stunned nation against the Iraqi tyrant — part of the press campaign to present themselves as trustworthy on national defense.

Because the statement was made by a Democrat, the SSCI report ignores it. The same for this statement by Senator Chris Dodd during the October 2002 debate: “There is no question that Iraq possesses biological and chemical weapons and that he [sic] seeks to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons. That is not in debate.” Declarative. Unequivocal. And ignored.

In fact, to make such statements at the time was not to hype. It was, to the contrary, to rely on exactly what the intelligence community represented in a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. “Baghdad,” the NIE concluded, “has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade.” Saddam’s regime, the intelligence community maintained, was “reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” It had “chemical and biological weapons,” and “mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents.”

Still, President Bush did not label Iraq an “imminent” threat, as Democrats claim in their tireless project to rewrite history. No, that was done by . . . Jay Rockefeller. In the aforementioned disappearing speech, the SSCI Chairman declared: “I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11th that question is increasingly outdated.”

That, of course, was precisely the point: In the post-9/11 world, it would have been irresponsible for those charged with protecting American lives to leave in power a tyrannical enemy of the United States who had cultivated ties with Islamic radicals and had a history of producing and using chemical weapons.

Though this still seems elementary, because President Bush said it, Democrats allege it was a sly way of framing Iraq as complicit in 9/11. The administration, however, never made that claim. The connection it drew was between the evil of Saddam’s regime and post-9/11 threat environment — not the 9/11 plot. It was precisely the same connection drawn by Rockefeller. And it was drawn even more ominously by the two Democrat senators from New York, epicenter of the 9/11 terror. As Chuck Schumer forcefully contended in the October 2002 Senate debate:

    [I]t is Hussein’s vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and his present and potential future support for terrorist acts and organizations that make him a terrible danger to the people of the United States.

Hillary Clinton, laying the groundwork for her eventual presidential run, drew deeper from the well of melodrama:

    And finally, on another personal note, I come to this decision from the perspective of a Senator from New York who has seen all too closely the consequences of last year’s terrible attacks on our nation. In balancing the risks of action versus inaction, I think New Yorkers who have gone through the fires of hell may be more attuned to the risk of not acting. I know that I am.

Well, at least she used to be.

As was her husband. President Clinton was supportive of the Iraq invasion back when it happened. No surprise there. Clinton had fired 400 cruise missiles at Baghdad in December 1998. That was after making Saddam’s removal U.S. policy. It was also after August 1998 when, in retaliation for al-Qaeda’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Clinton launched missiles at the al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan.

Why al Shifa? Because U.S. intelligence concluded it was a chemical weapons venture jointly run by Iraq, al-Qaeda, and Sudan (then dominated by the National Islamic Front whose leader, Hassan al-Turabi, had been instrumental since the early 1990s in brokering ties between Saddam’s regime and radical Islam). And though Democrats don’t like to talk about it much these days, the former president and top Clinton national security officials later told the 9/11 Commission that they stand by that assessment. (See 9/11 Commission Final Report, pp. 117-18: Despite “scalding criticism that the action was too aggressive … President Clinton, Vice President Gore, [National Security Advisor Sandy] Berger, [CIA Director George] Tenet, and [Counterterrorism Chief Richard] Clarke insisted to us that their judgment was right,” pointing to a soil sample at al Shifa that had tested positive for EMPTA, a precursor chemical for VX nerve gas.)

Is it any wonder then that, in December 2002, after President Bush famously placed Iraq squarely in the “axis of evil,” former Vice President Gore echoed the sentiment? As he chimed in at the time: “As far as I’m concerned, there really is something to be said for occasionally putting diplomacy aside and laying one’s cards on the table. There is value in calling evil by its name.” Gore’s memory got shorter as Iraq got tougher, but mightn’t the SSCI report have taken a couple of lines to remind us that, back in the day, the Democrats’ favorite Noble laureate told Americans Iraq was “a virulent threat in a class by itself”? Mightn’t the Senators have recounted that, after ruing the U.S. failure to remove Saddam in 1991, Gore’s 2002 advice was: “Failure cannot be an option, which means that we must be prepared to go the limit”?

The SSCI report’s outright mendacity regarding Iraq’s terror connections may be the most reprehensible of all its flaws. All these years later — after it’s long been known that Saddam courted and underwrote jihadists, adorned Iraq’s national flag with the jihadist cry of “Allahu Akbar!”, and hosted conventions in which the world’s most hunted Islamic radicals convened in the safety of Iraq — the Committee faults the administration for claiming that Iraq and al-Qaeda had an “operational partnership and joint involvement in carrying out the attacks of September 11th.”

This, of course, is the ballgame. If Iraq and radical Islam are unconnected, then there can be no nexus between Iraq and the wider war on terror. So mere partnership cannot be enough. It has to be operational; if it’s not, then Bush lied and people died. Yet, the administration never called the relationship “operational” — and, as noted above, Democrats came just as close, or closer, to pinning 9/11 on Saddam.

It’s all nonsense. The relationship was operational. And how could it not be? Islamic terrorist networks are in a global jihad. Their time is divided between killing and trying to elude capture. Do you actually suppose they have time for casual relationships? With rogue regimes that just happen to share their hatred of the United States? Do Democrats really believe that? And if they do, why are we thinking of putting them in charge?

Democrats can only even get into the ballpark of pretending there was no “operational” relationship by turning a blind eye to al-Qaeda’s components. As they well know, however, a thorough, Pentagon-commissioned study by the Institute for Defense Analyses concluded earlier this year that “Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda’s stated goals and objectives.”

The investigation, scrutinizing intelligence seized in Iraq since the U.S. invasion, confirmed that Saddam’s intelligence service supported Zawahiri’s attacks against the Egyptian government, and had a similar arrangement with Omar Abdel Rahman, the infamous “blind sheikh” who inspired the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and who bin Laden has publicly credited with issuing the fatwa that approved the 9/11 attacks. (In 1995, a prosecution team I led secured his convictions for, among other things, conspiring to wage war against the United States and to murder Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.) Further, Saddam subsidized Gilbuddin Hekmatyar, the most anti-Western of the Afghan mujahideen’s tribal leaders and an intimate of both bin Laden and the blind sheikh.

Need more? Even the SSCI Democrats can’t deny that the Bush administration was right in its prewar claim that Iraq was harboring jihadists: “Statements that Iraq provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq] and other Qaeda-related terrorist members were substantiated by the intelligence assessments.” As the invaluable analyst Thomas Joscelyn notes, the report concedes: “Postwar information supports the prewar assessments and statements that … Zarqawi was in Baghdad and that al Qaeda was present in northern Iraq” before American and coalition forces entered the country.

In a better time, when Democrats in the mold of Joe Lieberman held sway and both parties aligned against America’s enemies, the SSCI report would have been unthinkable. For the Democrats of today’s Obama Left, it’s another day at the office.

– Andrew C. McCarthy is author of Willful Blindness: Memoir of the Jihad and director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.