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September 10, 2006
The Disingenuousness Of Jay Rockefeller

Senator Jay Rockefeller has provided one of the loudest voices decrying the Bush administration after the release of the Phase II reports this week, but last night's headline is simply jaw-dropping. Claiming that the White House "duped" America regarding Iraq and its ties to terrorism, he now says that the US and the Iraqis would have been better off with Saddam still in charge (via AJ Strata):

"The absolute cynical manipulation, deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion and 69 percent of the people, at that time, it worked, they said 'we want to go to war,'" Rockefeller told CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. "Including me. The difference is after I began to learn about some of that intelligence I went down to the Senate floor and I said 'my vote was wrong.'"

Rockefeller went a step further. He says the world would be better off today if the United States had never invaded Iraq — even if it means Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq.

He said he sees that as a better scenario, and a safer scenario, "because it is called the 'war on terror.'"

Does Rockefeller stands by his view, even if it means that Saddam Hussein could still be in power if the United States didn't invade?

"Yes. [Saddam] wasn't going to attack us. He would've been isolated there," Rockefeller said. "He would have been in control of that country but we wouldn't have depleted our resources preventing us from prosecuting a war on terror which is what this is all about."

Sorry, but this simply won't fly. Rockefeller doesn't learn about intelligence from the White House or from press releases -- he's the ranking member of the Senate committee on intelligence. He sees the same raw data that the President gets, and he has access to the same analysts that confer with the White House. The SSCI had ample opportunity for years to question the intel provided to them by the entire range of intelligence agencies regarding Iraq, and most of that well before the Bush administration took office.

Rockefeller cannot say with any degree of honesty that the White House misled him on the nature of the intelligence, unless he wants to claim that Bush stole his capacity for independent thought. Rockefeller saw the same data and reached the same conclusions as the White House. Now that the intel has been proven faulty, he wants to escape responsibility for it by turning the intel failure into a partisan smear campaign.

In fact, Rockefeller even went farther than the White House in describing Saddam Hussein as an "imminent threat". On October 10, 2002, he told the Senate that insisting on further intel would put Americans at risk:

“There has been some debate over how ‘imminent’ a threat Iraq poses. I do believe Iraq poses an imminent threat. I also believe after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated. … It is in the nature of these weapons that he has and the way they are targeted against civilian populations, that documented capability and demonstrated intent may be the only warning we get. To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? I do not think we can.”

Why did he think that? Let's turn to that Phase II report to see (page 75 forward):

The ability of al-Qa’ida to procure training in chemical and biological weapons (CBW) particularly concerned the Intelligence Community prior to the war. Prewar reporting about training varied in reliability and was often contradictory. Regarding Iraqi provided CB W training to al-Qa’ida, Iraqi Support for Terrorism judged:

Details on training range from good reports from senior al-Qa’ida members to those of second-hand sources of varying reliability, often the result of long and opaque reporting chains or discussions of future intentions rather than evidence of completed training. The general pattern that emerges is of al-Qa’ida’s enduring interest in acquiring
CBW expertise from Iraq.

CIA also stated that:

Some of the most ominous suggestions of possible Iraqi-al-Qa’ida cooperation involve Bin Ladin’s CBW ambitions. Although Iraq historically has guarded closely its strategic weapons information, experts, and resources, Baghdad could have offered training or other support to al-Qa’ida.

The CIA relied heavily on the information obtained from the debriefing of detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Lib& a senior al-Qa’ida operational planner, to assess Iraq’s potential CBW training of al-Qa’ida. The January 2003 paper, Iraqi Support for Terrorism, reported that al-Libi told a foreign intelligence service:

Iraq-acting on the request of al-Qa’ida militant Abu Abdullah, who was Muhammad Atif’s emissary-agreed to provide unspecified chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qa’ida associates beginning in December 2000. The two individuals departed for Iraq but did not return, so al-Libi was not in a position to know if any training had taken place.

The September 2002 version of Iraqi Support for Terrorism stated that al-Libi said Iraq had “provided” unspecified CBW training for two al-Qa’ida associates in 2000, but also stated that al Libi “did not know the results of the training.“ In the June 2002 paper, Iraq and al Qa ‘ida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship, the CIA also stated that al-Libi claimed Iraq had “provided” unspecified CBW training for two al-Qa’ida associates in 2000. That report
omitted the qualification that al-Libi did not know the results of the training.

The CIA provided testimony from a senior al-Qaeda figure claiming that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to AQ operatives. The information had at least the same level of provenance as later assertions by captured Iraqi leaders that they did not provide such training, and at any rate the evidence before Rockefeller and Bush at the time appeared very clear. Even al-Qaeda leadership figures claimed that Iraq had provided support for their efforts to expand their arsenals into WMD. Given that testimony, the contemporaneous analysis seems very reasonable. George Tenet himself testified to that very analysis in September 2002.

In fact, the SSCI conlcludes on page 79 that the CIA's conclusions on CBW training were "reasonable" given the intelligence they had at the time. Al-Libi recanted, but after the war had already begun (in January 2004). In February, the CIA revised their estimates based on the recantation -- but that was 16 months after Rockefeller himself declared Saddam an "imminent threat" based on this and other information, and warned that waiting for further evidence would put Americans at risk.

Now let's address the notion that leaving Saddam Hussein in power would have been good for either the Iraqis or Americans. Condoleezza Rice had to address that silly notion on this morning's Fox News Sunday:

The notion, somehow — and I've heard this — the notion, somehow, that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power seems to me quite ludicrous.

Saddam Hussein had gone to war against his neighbors twice, causing more than a million deaths. He had dragged us into a war in 1991 because he invaded his neighbor Kuwait. We were still at war with him in 1998 when we used American forces to try and disable his weapons of mass destruction. We went to war again with him, day in and day out, as he shot at our aircraft trying to patrol no-fly zones. This was a mass murderer of more than 300,000 of his own people, using weapons of mass destruction.

The United States and a coalition of allies finally brought down one of the most brutal dictators in the Middle East and one of the most dangerous dictators in the Middle East, and we're better off for it.

Rice misses two larger points that make it more clear why we had to dispose of Saddam Hussein in the post-9/11 world. Everything she says about Hussein is true; he's a genocidal dictator who went to war against his neighbors on at least two occasions, and he slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people, in at least one case using WMD to do it. That doesn't really make a dispositive case, however, because we don't just declare war on genocidal tyrants, and Sudan provides the latest case in point.

Saddam's Iraq posed special considerations. Mainly, Saddam never complied with the requirements of the 1991 cease-fire. As Rice noted, he would shoot at Coalition aircraft, which should have prompted a massive invasion after the first violation, as an obvious act of war. Firing a few missiles at presidential palaces in response did nothing to correct the problem, and neither did 16 UN Security Council resolutions demanding compliance over a dozen years. His nation also sat between two state sponsors of terrorism in their own rights, Syria and Iran.

The US took out Saddam Hussein in order to establish our credibility in the Middle East. We had allowed Saddam to thumb his nose at us for twelve years, and the sanctions regime had all but collapsed. We either had to resolve the ongoing defiance of Saddam or pull out altogether, especially after 9/11. Had we retreated from Iraq, we would have sent yet another signal that the United States would not risk anything in its own defense. We already had enough examples of this, from Teheran to Beirut to Somalia, when we thought it would decrease the threat against us. We could hardly afford to add another after 9/11 stripped those illusions from us.

It also allowed us to put pressure on the two terrorist supporting states, in two ways. First, having 140,000 American troops on their borders made it more difficult for them to act with reckless abandon; it had a direct impact on Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon after the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Second, the rise of a democracy in the center of Southwest Asia would have an enormous transformative impact on both nations, if successful.

Rockefeller, unfortunately, has succumbed to partisan lunacy rather than realistic responsibility in all its forms.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 10, 2006 11:24 AM

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» Rockefeller did you teller - Rocky Rises from Macsmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense
Well, well, Rocky Rises from under his rock to tell us that that Iraq would be better off WITH Saddam. “But after 2 1/2 years of reviewing pre-war intelligence behind closed doors, the lead Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. John Rockef... [Read More]

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» The Sneaky Leaky Snake in the Senate -Updated from Chickenhawk Express
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» Who Said This Before The Iraq Invasion? from SoCalPundit
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