As a Senator, Bob Graham was known for the most part as a sensible fellow. So when he entered the Democratic presidential race, I thought he would join Joe Liberman and Richard Gephardt in the adult wing of that fracas, with the hope of being the token southerner on the ticket after Howard Dean or John Kerry won the nomination. It didn’t quite work out that way, either as to his behavior as a candidate or his status when the fracas was over.
Yesterday, Graham wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that gave his account of the pre-war intelligence available to him and his colleagues. It is not an honest piece. Scott has already shown, through the comments of Seth Leibsohn, how Graham’s recollection of why he voted against the Iraq war resolution does not comport with the statements he made at the time about the reasons for his vote. Perhaps Graham didn’t think he should level with the American people at the time we were making up our mind about whether to go to war. Or perhaps Graham is just making it up now.
In addition, Graham states that “I . . .presumed the president was being truthful — until a series of events undercut that confidence.” What events allegedly caused Graham to believe that the president was lying? He cites a statement by Tommy Franks that preparation for war in Iraq was hurting our effort in Afghanistan, his own view that the administration wasn’t moving fast enough to fix the CIA, the fact that as of early September 2002 the White House hadn’t requested a National Intelligence Estimate from the CIA, the fact that the NIE wasn’t very good, and the fact that the condensed, unclassified version of it didn’t include as much hedging as the full version.
How does this series of events suggest that the president was being untruthful? The first two events have nothing at all to do with the issue of Bush’s veracity with respect to Saddam Hussein. The last three may go to the quality of the CIA’s work, but they don’t show that Bush was untruthful when he told Congress and the public that, in his view, Saddam possessed WMD and constituted a threat to our security. Graham himself concedes that the full NIE supported Bush’s view and that it contained dissents.
Graham concludes his piece by stating, “On Oct. 11, I voted no on the resolution to give the president authority to go to war against Iraq. I was able to apply caveat emptor. Most of my colleagues could not.” But in what sense were his colleagues not able to apply caveat emptor? As even Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus admit, Senate Democrats were entitled to view the full report before they voted. And they had access to Graham, who was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. To the extent that Democrats voted for the war resolution they did so (a) because they reasonably believed, as the president did, that Saddam had WMD and that this constituted too great a threat to our security in the post 9/11 environment or (b) because they believed, as a matter of politics, they needed to vote for the resolution. And to the extent that these Democrats didn’t read more about the subject it’s because they were too lazy or too indifferent.