"Now, I have to say, when it came to making the most important foreign
policy decision of our generation, the decision to invade Iraq, Sen.
Clinton got it wrong," Barack Obama said Sunday in response to a Clinton
campaign ad that suggests only Hillary Clinton would be ready to answer
a late-night emergency phone call to the White House. "She didn't read
the National Intelligence Estimate. Jay Rockefeller (the present Senate
Intelligence Committee chairman who endorsed Obama) read it, but she
didn't read it.
"I don't know what all that experience got her, because I have enough
experience to know that if you have a National Intelligence Estimate and
the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, 'You should read
this, this is why I'm voting against the war,' that you should probably
read it. I don't know how much experience you need for that."
Obama is correct that Clinton failed to read the 90-page NIE report
before voting to authorize the use of U.S. military force in Iraq in
October 2002. But if you watched that clip, you likely would think that
Rockefeller read the NIE, then, as a consequence, voted against the war.
Wrong. The West Virginia Democrat read the NIE, then voted for the war.
Obama's campaign explains that Obama didn't get his facts mixed up. When
Obama referred to the chairman of Senate Intelligence, he was referring
to Bob Graham, the then-committee chairman who opposed the war.
CNN aired Obama's remarks more than once Monday without clarifying that
Rockefeller actually voted for the war. While the New York Times
reported on Rockefeller's pro-war vote, other news stories repeated the
Obama quote without setting the record straight.
It seems Clinton has a point when she complains about Obama getting
cushy treatment from the media. Because stories that didn't clarify
Rockefeller's vote leave the impression that a senator who read the NIE
would have voted against the war.
To the contrary, Rockefeller read the NIE and concluded, "There is
unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to
develop nuclear weapons" actually, the NIE language was less
conclusive and that Hussein's "existing biological and chemical
weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America."
Rockefeller also said in his statement before his war vote, "There has
been some debate over how 'imminent' a threat Iraq poses. I do believe
that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after Sept.
11, that question is increasingly outdated." Like much of Washington at
the time, Rockefeller lived in complete dread of the possibility that
U.S. intelligence was underestimating Baghdad's WMD capabilities, as it
had done before.
In a short-attention-span nation, many voters have forgotten the serious
deliberations that preceded the war. They forget that the NIE asserted
without reservation that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological WMD.
They only know that some intelligence officials had doubts about Iraq's
nuclear capability and that the administration announced that President
Bush should not have included a sentence about Iraq's attempts to obtain
uranium in his 2003 State of the Union address. They use the above to
claim that Bush lied America into war even though Bush delivered that
speech three months after Congress voted to authorize the use of force
Clinton added to the Bush-lied pile-on when, undeterred by the fact that
then-CIA chief George Tenet was appointed by her husband, she wrote in
2005 that America went to war based on "false" as opposed to
tragically erroneous intelligence.
Now Clinton finds herself on the receiving end. Since Democrats won't
recognize any legitimacy to the WMD case, Clinton's pro-war vote must be
a sign that she was duped or she didn't do her homework.
The anti-war crowd needs to have a bogeyman and he can't be Saddam
Hussein, whose cooperation with U.N. inspectors would have prevented
this war. If the U.S. intelligence was wrong, it can't be because
Hussein successfully tricked the world into believing he had WMD, which
it seems, he no longer possessed. The culprit must be, to borrow from a
former first lady, "a vast right-wing conspiracy."