Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who Knew

We live in a time when the gap between what people think has happened and what has happened is enormous. The Iraqi antiquities museums and ancient archaeological sites were carefully preserved for decades, then damaged by the wanton American attack on Saddam in 2003 and viciously looted of everything after the invasion because the U.S. did not protect them. Except they weren't, apparently. But it will take a generation at least for reality to catch up to a politically convenient topos.

Here's another one that keeps coming up in discussions around me. I don't know how it is for you, but many of my peers in journalism take it as self-evident that certain Democratic politicians who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning did so because they were "right" about the reality of Iraq and the consequences of an invasion, and they were "not fooled" by the Bush Administration sales pitch for regime change then and there.

It looks like this:

In the end, 156 members of Congress from 36 states had enough information and personal insight and wisdom to make the correct decision for our national and the world community.

These discerning, courageous leaders are exactly what our country needs to lead us out of the present abyss in Iraq under the Bush Administration. We can trust their judgment!

Most often, this year, this has been brought up to scold Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, which opened the door for the overthrow of Saddam.

The resolution passed the Senate Oct. 11, 2002, by a vote of 77-23. The 23 who voted against it -- and who now have taken on an aura of "discerning" "courageous" "rightness" to my anti-war friends -- were:

Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Jon Corzine (D-NJ)
Mark Dayton (D-MN)
Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Bob Graham (D-FL)
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Paul Wellstone (D-MN)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Lincoln Chafee (R-RI)
Jim Jeffords (I-VT)

So I went looking to see if they truly were among that perhaps mythical sect of American leaders who were not fooled by Shrubbie McChimplerburton's propaganda on Saddam's non-existent WMD. Of course anyone can claim that -- now. The trick is to prove you really knew it back then. With senators, their stated opinions are on the record.

Here's what I can find on the Senate's anti-war immortals and their opinion on Saddam and WMD as of October 2002. Most are from floor speeches or debates during the discussion of the resolution. In all cases, emphasis is added by me:

  • Akaka: "Saddam Hussein is not the only dictator who oppresses his people, attacks his neighbors, and is developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."

    Now, you can parse that and reply, "he does not say Saddam HAS the weapons; only that he is developing them." (Even that turns out to have been an exaggeration of Saddam's capabilities in 2002.) But I submit that is not a legalistic cleverness on Mr. Akaka's part, simply a casualness of rhetoric. As you will see, his fellow die-hard opponents of the 2002 Iraq measure had no qualms about making positive assertions at this point about Saddam's WMD. And Akaka continued to vote alongside them for resolutions that made positive assertions about them.

    And if Senator Akaka or any of them had had an inkling that no WMD at all would be found, rather than hinting at it in Akaka's soft phrase they would have brayed it from the rafters, since they had already emptied every possible point of argument in the bin, including but not limited to Bob Byrd's Loeb Classics library, Herman Goering, and the D.C. Beltway sniper.

    Later (Oct. 10), Akaka said:

    Congressional testimony, reports by the intelligence community and outside analysts, state that Iraq’s WMD capability is much less now than it was before the Gulf War. A recent CIA public report states that Iraq’s chemical weapons capability "is probably more limited now than it was at the time of the Gulf war ..." Although it is probable that Iraq’s biological weapons program is more advanced than it was before the war, its delivery capability, according to the respected Londonbased International Institute for Strategic Studies, "appears limited." I agree that we must neutralize Iraq’s WMD threat. The question is how to do that most effectively while minimizing the loss in American lives.

    The argument that an inspection system cannot guarantee the elimination of Iraq’s WMD program is certainly true but misses the point. There are few absolutes in this world. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld insists that we need American troops on the ground, rummaging through every Iraqi nook and cranny for evidence of WMD. Even with our troops doing so, there would be no guarantee that every item would be uncovered or how long it would take. ....

    But what aggressive inspections can do is destabilize the Iraqi WMD program, keep it bottled up, frustrate efforts at gaining new technologies and additional supplies, and force Iraqi technicians to hide and keep moving constantly. It will not be disarmament, but, if implemented effectively, it will be dismemberment of the Iraqi WMD program, splitting it in parts and preventing it from becoming whole.

    The argument has its merits. But for my inquiry here, it hardly sounds like the words of someone skeptical over the prevailing intelligence about Saddam's WMDs. Rather than being right about them, Akaka was wrong like everyone else in the Senate and the Administration. Unlike the supporters of the resolution, who embarrassed themselves with absolutist "slam-dunk" rhetoric, his statements were more tempered. But they were aligned to the prevailing wisdom, and thus as wrong as it turned out to be.

    Akaka also ponders what sort of Iraqi government might follow Saddam and asks some questions about it, such as: "Can we be assured that the new regime will be committed to getting rid of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, especially as Iraq’s traditional adversary, Iran, has an even more advanced program of weapons of mass destruction?"

    The positions of the other nay-saying senators turn out to be essentially the same.

  • Boxer: said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 3, 2002: "I do not doubt that Iraq is up to no good. I know they are. That is why I voted for the Iraq Liberation Act. We know that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons and that they used them against Iran and against its own Kurdish minority. We know that following the Persian Gulf war, Iraq promised to abide by the demands of the U.N. but failed to live up to its commitment. They have not allowed unfettered inspections. They have lied about chemical and biological weapons programs. And they continue to seek the capability to produce nuclear weapons."

  • Byrd: said in a Senate floor speech on Oct. 3, 2002: "The last U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capability. Intelligence reports also indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons but has not yet achieved nuclear capability."

    And also, later in the same speech: "Iraq may be a weaker nation militarily than it was during the Persian Gulf war, but its leader is no less determined and its weapons are no less lethal. During the Persian Gulf war, the United States was able to convince Saddam Hussein that the use of weapons of mass destruction would result in his being toppled from power. This time around, the object of an invasion of Iraq is to topple Saddam Hussein, so he has no reason to exercise restraint."

    He seems to have forgotten his own words by the time of this interview:

    But shouldn't they have questioned more vigorously the administration's rationale for the war?

    Well, I have no reason to doubt that they did question it. In our conferences, I don't remember any senator who did not question to some degree -- but [it was] not enough. As far as I was concerned, I didn't believe it, and said so at the time. But this administration misled senators and House members. I think the stories this administration told -- I remember the vice president, I believe it was on Aug. 26, 2002, when he spoke before the VFW national convention, said something like, "Simply stated there is no doubt that Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." That's the vice president of the United States, and he's saying, "There is no doubt that Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." And Rumsfeld said, "We know where they are. They're outside Baghdad, in the north, in the east, in the west." Now, that's what I'm sure John Kerry and all the other senators who voted that way [based] their decisions on.

    And so did the senators who voted against giving the president the authorization to use the U.S. armed forces to deprive Saddam of such weapons. They had their reasons, some of them good, patriotic, Constitutional, American, Christian reasons. But I think they should not pretend a knack for seeing through Bush & Co. lies, or a godly judgment about what is hidden in foreign lands, is among them.]

  • Conrad: "Saddam Hussein is a menace to the whole region of the Middle East, and a vicious tyrant who harms and oppresses his own people. He has waged war against neighboring nations, and he has attacked the people of his own country.

    He has acquired chemical and biological weapons. He is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver those weapons using ballistic missiles."

    Again, it is possible to raise the Akaka objection, that he is not saying anything about Saddam in the present tense. But Conrad, too, never even hints toward a positive assertion that Saddam may now have no WMD, and that that assertion was a propaganda fiction published by the White House.

  • Dayton: Submitted an amendment (SA 4870) to the joint resolution S.J. Res. 45, to authorize the use of force against Iraq, reading in part: "Since Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations." The amendment never came up for a vote.

  • Durbin: "There is no one in this Senate Chamber making apologies for Saddam Hussein or his weapons of mass destruction."

  • Feingold: "And with regard to Iraq, I agree that Iraq presents a genuine threat, especially in the form of weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons. I agree that Saddam Hussein is exceptionally dangerous and brutal, if not uniquely so, as the President argues. And I agree, I support the concept of regime change."

    Feingold also said, in a floor speech Oct. 9, 2002:

    "Before we vote on this resolution, we need a credible plan for securing WMD sites and not allowing materials of concern to slip away during some chaotic course of action. I know that is a tall order, but it is a necessary demand."

    An appeal to the danger posed by Saddam's WMD as a reason to proceed cautiously before going to war against him: An argument used almost universally by the opponents of the Bush-approved authorization resolution.

  • Graham: "Saddam Hussein’s regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity. But the briefings I have received suggest our efforts, for instance, to block him from obtaining necessary nuclear materials have been largely successful, as evidenced by the recent intercept of centrifuge tubes, and that he is years away from having nuclear capability."

  • Kennedy: "The question is not whether we will disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction but how. And it is wrong for Congress to declare war against Iraq now before we have exhausted the alternatives."

    And in a Senate floor speech on Oct. 4, 2002, he said: "We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."

  • Leahy: "The question we face is not whether Saddam Hussein is a menace to his people, to his neighbors and to our national security interests. The Iraqi regime has already invaded Iran and Kuwait, gassed members of its own population, and repeatedly flouted international conventions against armed aggression. It is clear that Iraq has tried to develop a range of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, with which Iraq might threaten the entire Gulf region."

  • Levin said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 4, 2002: "At the outset, it must be noted that, whatever differences there may be among us, the one thing on which we can all agree upon is that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East. He has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and against Iran; he has launched invasions of Iran and Kuwait; and for the last eleven years he has defied the will of the entire world as expressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions by refusing to destroy his weapons of mass destruction and prohibited ballistic missiles."

  • Mikulski, in a Senate floor speech Oct. 8, 2002, in support of the Levin amendment, said:

    But make no mistake, I firmly believe that Saddam Hussein is duplicitous, deceptive, and dangerous. I despise him. Saddam is a brutal, totalitarian dictator and history shows us how dangerous Iraq is under his rule. He invaded Kuwait and used chemical weapons against his own people. I do believe he has developed chemical and biological weapons, and I also believe he is pursuing nuclear weapons, defying the will of the international community and also denying the agreement that he made at the end of the gulf war.

    In voting against the authorization, she said:

    "Iraq has grim and ghoulish weapons to carry out his evil plans. As part of the Gulf War cease-fire agreement, Saddam Hussein committed to destroying its chemical and biological and nuclear weapons programs and longerrange missiles. Instead, Saddam Hussein is trying to add nuclear weapons to an arsenal that already includes chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles."

  • Stabenow said in a Senate floor speech Oct. 4, 2002: "The issue before the Senate is not whether the regime of Saddam Hussein is good or evil. We know, in fact, that he is a despicable dictator. He has gassed and poisoned thousands of his own people. He rules not by choice but by decree, backed by brutal force, and he blatantly defies United Nations resolutions by his continual development of weapons of mass destruction. I strongly oppose his regime. He is a growing threat to the United States and our allies, and his policies have devastated the lives of his own Iraqi people."

    And later in her speech she asked: "Given the widely supported belief that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons, how do we assure he will not use them against us when we attack him first?"

  • Wellstone: "I support ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction through unfettered U.N. inspections, which should begin as soon as possible. Only a broad coalition of nations, united to disarm Saddam, while preserving our war on terror, is likely to succeed. Our primary focus now must be on Iraq's verifiable disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. This will help maintain international support, and could even eventually result in Saddam's loss of power."

  • Jeffords: "Once again, we need a strong United Nations to step up to Saddam Hussein. The United Nations must take the lead in enforcing its demands that Iraq give up its biological and chemical weapons stockpiles and production capabilities. The United Nations also demanded that Iraq dismantle its nuclear weapons program."

They voted "no" in spite of believing that. In fact, their language regarding Saddam's WMD is not all that different from that used by Democrats who voted for the authorization. Hillary Clinton's vote on that measure haunted her through the campaign of 2008. But her language was not much different than those who were held up as wiser heads on the issue:

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. ... It is clear, however, 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.

Or, for that matter, the position taken (and later repudiated) by John Edwards: "Saddam Hussein’s regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal.

Iraq has continued to seek nuclear weapons and develop its arsenal in defiance of the collective will of the international community, as expressed through the United Nations Security Council."

Here's Joe Biden on the WMD question:

For two decades, Saddam Hussein has relentlessly pursued weapons of mass destruction. There is a broad agreement that he retains chemical and biological weapons, the means to manufacture those weapons and modified Scud missiles, and that he is actively seeking a nuclear capability. It remains less clear how effective his delivery vehicles are, whether they be the al-Hussein missiles, with a 650 kilometer range, short-range missiles, or untested and unmanned aerial vehicles for the dispersion of chemical and biological weapons.

Shifting weather conditions, the likely incineration of much of the chemical or biological agent in a warhead explosion, and the potential blowback on Iraqi forces, all complicate the Iraqi use of these weapons. But we are right to be concerned that, given time and a free hand, Saddam would improve this technology.

In fact, the belief in Saddam's WMD was a key part of the argument for voting against the war:

"This appears to suggest that an attack on Iraq could trigger the very thing that our president has said he is trying to prevent, the use of chemical or biological weapons by Saddam. In view of this report, the policy of a pre-emptive strike is troublesome. Haste in attacking Iraq would place untold numbers of people in harm's way."

So said Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., "a leader of the effort to defeat the war resolution."

Boxer, in her Senate floor speech cited above, included among the reasons to be cautious about authorizing war:

Will Iraq use chemical or biological weapons against our troops?

Will Iraq launch chemical or biological weapons against Israel? How will Israel respond? What impact will that have?

How will we secure Iraqi chemical and biological weapons once the fighting starts? How do we make sure such weapons do not get into the hands of terrorists or terrorist nations? How do we make sure that Iraqi weapons experts, from Iraq, do not migrate to terrorist organizations or terrorist states?

And a week later:

"Will weapons of mass destruction be launched against our troops? Against Israel? If you read the CIA declassified report—declassified report—they are telling us that the chance that he will use them is greater if he feels his back is up against the wall. Everybody knows the underlying resolution implies regime change. It implies regime change. What I think is important about the Levin resolution is that it goes to the heart, the core of the matter, which is dismantlement of the weapons of mass destruction. If Saddam knows his back is against the wall, he will use these."

All of which were good, legitimate questions at that time.

Kennedy, too, raised this specter in his floor speech: "Such a war would also pose great risks to our armed forces. Some who advocate military action against Iraq assert that air strikes will do the job quickly and decisively, and that the operation will be complete in 72 hours. But there is no persuasive evidence that air strikes alone over the course of several days will incapacitate Saddam and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Experts have informed us that we do not have sufficient intelligence about military targets in Iraq. Saddam may well hide his most lethal weapons in mosques, schools and hospitals. If our forces attempt to strike such targets, untold number of Iraqi civilians could be killed."

And later: "We cannot go it alone in attacking Iraq and expect Saddam to keep his weapons of mass destruction at bay against us or our ally Israel."

Others among the opponents of the authorization spoke in similar terms:

Wellstone: "Unlike the gulf war, many experts believe Saddam would resort to chemical and biological weapons against our troops in a desperate attempt to save his regime if he believes he and his regime are ultimately threatened."

Durbin: "As we know—it has been declassified this week—our intelligence community tells us the most likely scenario of weapons of mass destruction to be used against Americans is if we launch an invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein knows today if those weapons move or are used in any way against us and our allies, he will pay a terrible price."

Then there is the Levin amendment (SA 4862), a Democratic alternative to the joint resolution authorizing use of military force to disarm Saddam, requiring that first all diplomatic means be exhausted. It would have required President Bush to get approval from the U.N. Security Council or Congress before launching an attack.

Its language on WMD was unequivocal: Congress supports: "the President's call for the United Nations to address the threat to international peace and security posed by Saddam Hussein's continued refusal to meet Iraq's obligations under resolutions of the United Nations Security Council to accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of its weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons-usable material, ballistic missiles with a range in excess of 150 kilometers, and related facilities, and to cease the development, production, or acquisition of such weapons, materials, and missiles;"

The text was “To authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces, pursuant to a new resolution of the United Nations Security Council, to destroy, remove, or render harmless Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons-usable material, long-range ballistic missiles, and related facilities, and for other purposes.”

The language here is blunt:

Iraq continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, in violation of its commitments under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 (1991) and subsequent resolutions, and the regime of Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction against its own people and other nations.

The co-sponsors were: Reed, Bingaman, Boxer, Mikulski, Stabenow, Akaka, Jeffords, and Corzine. The amendment was postponed indefinitely, but voting "yea" on it were the sponsors, as well as the rest of the 23 naysayers to the authorization (along with Feinstein, Harkin, Kohl, and Rockefeller).

I have not found significant speeches from Bingaman, Chafee, Corzine, Inouye, Murray, Reed, Sarbanes, or Wyden in the period leading up to the vote. If they thought differently from their peers quoted above, apparently they did not say so in public. They voted for the same measures as the others.

The researching of this was enlightening. I don't suppose writing about it will make a damn bit of difference.