On Sunday Jay Rockefeller told Chris Wallace: “I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.” Today Senator Rockefeller issued a press release responding to those of us (including the estimable Bill Bennett and Seth Liebsohn) who have raised questions — termed “unfounded criticism” by his flack — about his statement:
“It is ridiculous to suggest that any sensitive information was revealed during my January 2002 Middle East trip. Every aspect of this trip was sanctioned by and coordinated with the State Department and the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I was accompanied in each country by either our U.S. Ambassador or our Deputy Chief of Mission, and each of our U.S. officials specifically praised my meetings and the message I delivered. I conveyed my belief that President Bush was very serious about taking action in Iraq. I had no knowledge of specific Bush Administration plans to invade Iraq, and I certainly never suggested that I did. I raised this issue on Sunday to make the point that while I hadnt made up my mind until October of 2002, I believe the president had decided to go to war long before, and continued down that path into 2003 even as some of the intelligence was being called into question. Once again, it appears that Republican defenders of the president are trying to distract from the real issue whether the president was straight with the American people about the war in Iraq.”
Senator Rockefeller’s press release rewrites his original assertion to mitigate its inculpatory aspects. President Bush’s “predetermined set course” of invasion has become “conveyed my belief that President Bush was very serious about taking action in Iraq.” He appears to be saying that it was wrong to take his statement to Wallace too seriously; he was merely making a rhetorical point regarding his “Bush lied” lie. I get it.
Nevertheless, Senator Rockefeller’s press release leaves a few questions open:
1. While Senator Rockefeller stated on Sunday that he took his trip to Syria “by myself,” he now claims that it was “sanctioned and coordinated” by the State Department, as well as the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committees. Which was it? Did he act alone or did he act with approval and coordination of his committee and the Department of State? If the latter, who approved the trip?
2. Senator Rockefeller now claims each of the public officials involved “specifically praised my meetings and the message I delivered.” Really? To whom? And if this is true, is Senator Rockefeller saying that it was State Department policy to allow and approve of individual Senators to visit with certified state sponsors of terror (who in this case were allied with Saddam) in order to convey the message to Saddam’s ally that we were going to war with Saddam — all before Bush made any public case at all? If so, we should know that too. The State Department should confirm or deny this.
3. To repeat the facts as we know them: Syria is and was a state sponsor of terror, on the Department of State’s list as being so; Syria was an ally of Iraq; Syria is a place now contemplated by serious people as a haven for Iraq’s WMDs; and a known place from whence terrorists travel into Iraq. Just why would a respected United States Senator tell a sponsor of terrorism and an ally of the regime we were to liberate something they otherwise had not heard, something the President had not said? And just what might that ally of the Iraqi regime have done with that information? In sum, what business of Senator Rockefeller’s was it to speculate openly to the head of an enemy regime, and a sponsor of terror (when we were at war with terror), that the President was to go to war with that enemy’s ally?
Just wondering, in case any journalist on good terms with Senator Rockefeller thinks the answer to any of these questions might be of interest to his or her readers, as it would be to ours.