Blind Spot

This column was written by Greg Sargent.
In recent weeks, pundits and bloggers have done a heck of a job, as the president might put it, of demolishing the Bush administration's mendacious claims that Democrats had access to the same intelligence on Iraq in the run-up to the war. Democrats have powerfully demonstrated that in fact, George W. Bush and company did deprive them of huge amounts of intel in their rush to stampede the nation into undertaking their invasion.

But the picture remains incomplete. Anyone who honestly reckons with what happened in the prelude to the war has to acknowledge an uncomfortable fact: While there's no longer any real question that the Bush administration lied and twisted and withheld intelligence, Democrats can't seriously claim to have supported the war simply because they were duped into it.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed that will likely serve as a template for many future Democratic mea culpas, John Edwards wrote: "I was wrong," adding, "The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate." But Edwards and every other Dem should have known that some of the intelligence was questionable — even before the war. In the six months leading up to the invasion, there was already a great deal of evidence in plain view, for anyone who cared to see it, that Bush and company were manipulating intelligence to sell Congress and the nation a bill of goods. But even as this evidence mushroomed, many Democrats all but ignored it, or at least didn't let it dent their support for Bush's invasion.

As Mel Goodman, a longtime CIA analyst who has attacked Bush's we-all-had-the-same-intelligence claims, put it recently, "If Congress was hoodwinked, then it helped to apply its own blinders." He's right.

To be sure, no Democrat could possibly have known just how much intel the Bush administration had kept hidden or could have imagined depth and breadth of Bush administration mendacity, as Kevin Drum has effectively demonstrated. Nonetheless, to read over the public record in the months-long pre-war frenzy is to relive a truly awful period, in which one sign after another of Bush-Cheney's deceptions came to light but had little impact on the pro-war sentiment that had gripped some leading figures in D.C.'s liberal-Democratic establishment.

Way back in early October 2002, in the days leading up to the vote on the war resolution, Florida Senator Bob Graham, then the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, already was publicly warning fellow Democrats that Bush and Cheney were withholding intelligence critical to evaluating the administration's claims about Iraq. After exerting much pressure, Graham compelled then-CIA director George Tenet to release previously-classified portions of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. This intelligence made it absolutely clear that the CIA disagreed with one of Bush's most incendiary claims: that Saddam might without provocation place WMDs in the hands of terrorists who could use them to attack America.

Given that this intelligence, which was reported by major news organizations, was only squeezed out of Tenet after considerable effort, and given that even more intelligence remained classified, this episode alone was a clear sign that extensive manipulation might be taking place. (Several days later, leading congressional Democrats, anxiously eyeing the upcoming midterm elections, voted for the war resolution anyway.)


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