After it became clear that we invaded Iraq to rid it of stuff that didn’t exist there (WMD, terrorists, African yellowcake uranium, imminent threats), the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, or “sucky” to its friends) agreed to hold hearings on what went wrong. The report was divided, so that first SSCI would evaluate the failures of the intelligence committee, and then look at the way that intelligence was used and abused by public officials selling the war. Phase I was finished pretty fast under the chairmanship of Senator Pat “Memory Pills” Roberts, and while it softpedaled a lot, like political pressure to produce flawed intelligence, it was generally seen as tolerably accurate. Phase II was delayed and delayed. Two years ago, Senator Reid complained that “the Intelligence Committee is not being run by Senator Roberts. It’s being run by the vice president, and that makes it very difficult” to get answers on intelligence matters.” Six months before that, he called the Senate into closed session, stopping the business of the Senate to demand action on that long-delayed report.
At long last, the Democratic Senate has completed Phase II. SSCI Chairman Rockefeller explains the major findings:
–Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.
–Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.
–Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.
–Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.
–The Secretary of Defense’s statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.
–The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.
In other words, the flawed intelligence that existed was not enough to sell the war, and the administration went well beyond what the intelligence supported.
Most troublingly, John McCain and Dick Cheney continued to peddle the absurd notion that Iraqis would “greet us as liberators” long after the publication of an Intelligence Community Assessment stating, according to the Phase II report that “Iraq was a deeply divided society that likely would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it.”
Yet, when General Shinseki and prescient bloggers (and, notably, then-state-senator Obama) suggested that we needed a bunch of troops to maintain peace in Iraq post-invasion, we were treated like dirty hippies by wise old men like McCain, who continues to claim that “I supported [the war] because I believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as did every intelligence agency in the world and every assessment.” Except the ones he chose to ignore.
On a happily now-irrelevant note, Senator Clinton ignored those assessments, too, or at least voted the wrong way given what she knew about them.
The next President has to push hard for revision of government classification systems, so that critical intelligence assessments like this can be made public before our Armed Forces get bogged down in an aimless occupation. And news outlets need to consider their own culpability in repeating White House propaganda. McClatchy (née Knight-Ridder) got it right. Any pundit who uncritically accepted White House spin should be editorially banned from TV or print until after the election, with a probationary fact-checking period to follow. Reporters who failed to get their facts right should have been canned years ago, and this report gives editors a guide for choosing which reporters bought a bill of goods. Hopefully they, and the American public, will use this time for some long-delayed housecleaning.