Loose Canons

Congressional Chernobyl

Da, Comrades. We all glowing with good cheer.

By 11.20.05

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There are those who want to prevent Iraq from becoming another Vietnam. There are those who don't care if it does, and those who are doing their level best to ensure it will be before the 2006 congressional election. After their act of political pusillanimity last week, it is still clear that Senate Republicans fall within one of the first two categories. But as to which we are entitled to wonder. When Churchill described some of his opponents as "decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent," he might have had the Senate Republicans in mind.

The Senate reached a new low when it passed a Republican-sponsored resolution distancing the president's party from his position that the war in Iraq must be won before American troops are withdrawn. To understand this thoroughly, it must be placed in the context of the political Chernobyl the Senate has become.

As the Thanksgiving recess came upon it, the Senate had reached an impasse on the renewal of the soon-to-expire Patriot Act. It punted the Alito nomination to next year, and still failed to confirm other urgent presidential nominations such as Deputy Defense Secretary-nominee Gordon England. It failed to enact tax cuts or even the minuscule $50 billion (over five years) in budget cuts proposed as their fainthearted attempt to reduce federal spending. There has been nothing done about Social Security, illegal immigration, and just about everything else the country needs it to accomplish. (Surely, this is not all the Senate's fault. But the White House can't take all the blame for the utter failure of the Senate leadership to get things done). The Senate did, however, manage to allow an automatic pay raise for members to take effect -- another $3,100, raising to $165,200 the pay scale for rank-and-file members. It's labeled a cost-of-living increase because none of the congressional leaders on either side of the hill have the chutzpah to call it a merit pay raise.

Researching my forthcoming book on China I've come across Unrestricted Warfare by Cols. Qiao Liang and Wang Xangsui, two influential Chinese military intellectuals. They say, as though they were addressing Bill Frist and John Warner, that "victory is an accumulation, and so is defeat." This past week the Senate Republicans first defeated Democrat Carl Levin's attempt to establish a schedule for withdrawal from Iraq. And then they passed a resolution that makes it clear to every one of America's friends and foes that they are perfectly willing to let Iraq go the same way as Vietnam.

The Senate Iraq irresolution is in three parts. First, it requires the president to report quarterly on progress in Iraq. Second, it admonishes the administration to "tell the leaders of all groups and political parties in Iraq that they need to make compromises necessary to achieve the broad-based and sustainable political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency." Third, it directs the president to "explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq." Quarterly reports are just paper-pushing. And pushing the Iraqis to make compromises they don't want to make is contrary to democracy and perfectly consistent with the failed tactic employed by former Iraq consul L. Paul Bremer. He tried to do that, and thus helped propel Iraq into the mess it's in now. Strategy? I thought we were in a war against global terrorism, which includes success in Iraq but clearly cannot stop there without leaving failure in our wake. Maybe we lost the war. No, once again we've misplaced it.

The Senate Republicans' desperate maneuver to distance themselves from the Iraq war leaves them in the position to do more next year if the Iraq situation isn't as perfect as they'd like it to be, or if they see losses in the coming election (or both). The president needs to veto this legislation. If he doesn't, he can expect no better from the Senate next year. Those who have accomplished this retreat, and paved the way for the next, are helping accumulate a defeat.

Instead of retreating, Senate Republicans should be charging ahead because the Dems have -- thanks to one of their own -- lost the "Bush lied us into war" argument resoundingly.

Former Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham was the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 9-11 and during the 2002 buildup to the 2003 Iraq invasion. In his Sunday op-ed, Graham unwittingly destroys the "Bush lied" argument more thoroughly than any Republican could. It's more than a little useful to follow Graham's chronology.

He says that because he was dissatisfied with the intelligence on September 5, 2002, Graham invoked the SSCI's power to demand that the CIA create a National Intelligence Estimate on the rationale for a preemptive war on Iraq. Three weeks later -- make it about September 26 -- the new NIE was presented by George Tenet. As Graham explains, this NIE, like all the others, represents a consensus among the State and Defense Departments as well as the CIA.

Against the new NIE, Graham says that there was "particular skepticism" about Saddam's purchase of aluminum tubes thought to be used for refining uranium, and that, "As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked. Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary."

Graham then claims that, though he was well-informed about the defective intelligence from his advantaged position, his fellow Dems were left in the dark between the mid-September advent of the new questionable NIE and the October 11 vote on the Iraq war resolution. But just what was Graham doing in those intervening weeks? Graham makes no claim that there wasn't adequate time for him to act. Obviously there was.

One of the jobs of the SSCI chairman -- in fact of all committee members -- is to digest information other senators cannot see and report to them without divulging secrets. There are only two possibilities that arise from Graham's statements: either Graham and his fellow SSCI Dems didn't try to warn others that the administration's case for the war (and the evidence supporting it) was fallacious, or the other Dems simply didn't believe him. There's no third choice.

Bob Graham was in a position of power and responsibility from which he could have raised objections publicly, and warned both his colleagues and the American people that the case for war was a fraud if that is what he believed. He could have taken detailed classified objections to the president, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense, as well as the director of the CIA. But he didn't. Why? Because he didn't believe the case against the war? Or because he didn't believe then what he conveniently believes now.

What Graham wrote destroys the "Bush lied" case utterly. We should hear no more of it. But we will, because the Bill Frists of the Senate lack the intestinal fortitude to fight to win, either in Iraq or on Capitol Hill.

TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.