It was a powerful argument for war made by a politician with long years of experience in the White House.
“[I]ntelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program,” said this national leader.
“[I]f left unchecked,” the politician argued, “Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capability 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.
“This much is undisputed,” declared this Democrat as she voted to authorize the war in Iraq.
The question now is: Why did Sen. Hillary Clinton get it so wrong?
Had she–to use the formulation Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is now using to attack President Bush–“manufactured and manipulated intelligence”? Did Hillary lie America into war?
No, she did not.
Sen. Clinton got her bad intelligence the same place President Bush got his: the CIA. Specifically, from George Tenet, the man President Clinton appointed Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).
The entire chain of custody on the intelligence Sen. Clinton used in her October 10, 2002 Senate floor speech ran through Democratic politicians back to a Democrat-appointed DCI.
In 2002, Democrats controlled the Senate, and Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida chaired the Intelligence Committee. On Sept. 9, 2002, Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Intelligence Committee, wrote Clinton-appointed Tenet asking for a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD programs.
NIEs, the Intelligence Committee later said in its unanimous bipartisan investigative report on Iraq intelligence, “are intended to provide policymakers in both the executive and legislative branches with the best, unvarnished, and unbiased information.”
An NIE, the committee quoted a CIA document as explaining, “is the Director’s estimate, and its findings are his.”
DCI Tenet was no Bush crony or Republican hack. His career was largely propelled by Democrats. In the mid-1980s, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont made Tenet his Intelligence Committee aide. Former Intelligence Chairman David Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat, later made Tenet the committee’s staff director. President Clinton named him to his National Security Council staff, then deputy DCI, then DCI.
Tenet delivered the NIE requested by Sen. Durbin at the beginning of October 2002. Its key judgments included that Iraq “is reconstituting its nuclear program,” “had chemical and biological weapons,” was developing unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents,” and that “all key aspects–research & development (R&D), production and weaponization–of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons (BW) program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.”
Two months later, according to Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, Tenet sat in the Oval Office and twice emphatically told President Bush it was a “slam dunk” Iraq had WMDs.
Did Tenet and his CIA lie to Congress about Iraq to help President Bush deceive Sen. Clinton and other Democrats into voting for war? Did he lie to Bush?
On March 31, the presidential Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Democratic Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia and senior federal appellate court judge Laurence Silberman, published its report. It concluded the judgments about Iraq’s WMD programs in the October 2002 NIE were “all wrong.” However, it also concluded, after “querying in detail those analysts involved in formulating pre-war judgments about Iraq’s WMD programs,” that “[t]hese analysts universally assert that in no instance did political pressure cause them to change any of their analytical judgments.”
The CIA Ombudsman for Politicization, the commission reported, “also found no evidence, based on numerous confidential interviews with the analysts involved, that political pressure had caused any analyst to change any judgments.”
The Intelligence Committee’s unanimous report likewise concluded: “The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities.”
Reasonable people could and did disagree on whether it was wise to invade Iraq. President Bush and Sen. Clinton, relying on the same intelligence, happened to agree.
But reasonable people can draw only one conclusion now on the argument advanced by some of Sen. Clinton’s Democratic colleagues that President Bush lied America into war. It is simply preposterous.