tampabay.com

Backers of war haul out excuses

By PHILIP GAILEY
Published January 14, 2007


Democrats who supported the war in Iraq before they opposed it have been explaining themselves lately, especially the ones with presidential ambitions.

John Kerry and John Edwards now say flat-out they were wrong to vote for the war - but for different reasons. Kerry says he was misled; Edwards said he made the mistake of trusting President Bush. Hillary Clinton refuses to repent for her prowar vote. Her only problem with the war apparently is the way it has been mismanaged - a just war bungled by the incompetence of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld team.

Others Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, say had they known at the time Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, they never would have voted for the resolution authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq.

Of course, no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. But what if they had existed? Knowing how this war has turned out, would Nelson and other "we wuz had" Democrats argue that ridding Iraq of biological and chemical weapons was worth the price we have paid so far - more than 3,000 American soldiers killed, thousands more wounded, $400-billion in treasure and a more volatile Middle East?

It is a question you will not hear in the Great War Debate that erupted last week on Capitol Hill after Bush announced plans to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq to join the 132,000 already there. Secretary of State Condi Rice was blasted right and left when she came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend the latest twist in Bush's war strategy.

Nelson told Rice the president's "surge" strategy compelled him to oppose the war he once supported. "I have not been told the truth," the senator said. "I have not been told the truth over and over again by administration witnesses, and the American people have not been told the truth."

Nelson didn't say which administration officials had misled him or how. Is he suggesting he was brainwashed? Florida's other senator at the time, Bob Graham, heard the same administration officials, read the same intelligence reports and voted against the war resolution. A few months ago, I asked Nelson if Graham knew something he didn't. Nelson suggested that Graham, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had access to classified information he never saw.

The fact is, Graham did not oppose the war resolution because he didn't believe the Iraqi dictator had weapons of mass destruction. He didn't cite faulty intelligence reports or accuse the administration of misleading Congress.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post shortly after the vote, Graham wrote: "I voted against the resolution - not because our nation has nothing to fear from Hussein but because I am convinced that the resolution misstates our national priorities in a dangerous way ... Right now the most urgent threats to our security are posed by the shadowy networks of international terrorist organizations that have the capabilities to repeat the tragedy of Sept. 11 - not Saddam Hussein."

Graham argued that Hussein posed no immediate threat to U.S. security and that an invasion of Iraq would divert attention and resources from the larger war on terrorism in Afghanistan and other places where al-Qaida had training bases.

"If this were 1938," Graham wrote, "the course advocated by the president - and endorsed by Congress - would be the equivalent of the Allies declaring war on Mussolini's Italy but ignoring Hitler's Germany."

Unlike most Senate Democrats, Graham was more concerned about the consequences of going to war than the politics of opposing the war.

John Edwards, meanwhile, wants to set the record straight - he was not fooled by the administration into supporting the war. And, he adds, neither was any other senator.

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the latest issue of the New Yorker, Edwards said: "I was convinced that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and was doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons. There was some disparity in the information I had about how far along he was in that process. I didn't rely on George Bush for that. And I personally think there's some dishonesty in suggesting that members of the United States Senate relied on George Bush for that information, because I don't think it's true. It's great politics. But it's not the truth."

Edwards refused to single out anyone, but Goldberg wrote that he appeared to be referring to John Kerry, who chose Edwards as his 2004 presidential running-mate. Like Nelson, Kerry claims he was misled and "given evidence that was not true."

"I was on the Intelligence Committee," Edwards went on, "so I got direct information from the intelligence community. And then I had a series of meetings with former Clinton administration people. And they were all saying the same thing. Everything I was hearing in the Intelligence Committee was the same thing I was hearing from these guys. And there was nary a dissenting voice."

For Edwards, the question at the time was not whether the information he was getting was accurate but whether to trust George Bush. "I decided to do it, and I was wrong."

He should have listened to Bob Graham.