The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that was largely unsurprising to anyone who's been following things: the intelligence of Iraq having WMD was very very bad.
Two things strike me about the report. First is that it says nothing about Bush's blame or culpability. They were charged at this time with only reporting on the intelligence, not how it was used. They are working on how it was used too, but that report will come later.
Democrats on the committee wanted it to be included, but the report had already taken more than twice as long as they anticipated to get this much done. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) said on This Week that it wouldn't take long because they already have the intelligence, and they just needed to compare it to administration's public statements. But that would be a naive and unuseful exercise. Did Tenet misrepresent the NIE to Bush? What was said in the private discussions, by whom? How did Bush and Cheney arrive at some of their statements about 45 minutes and mushroom clouds? You can see some of the picture from the existence evidence, but you can't tell how it came about.
Both sides agree it is more important to get it right than to get it done before the election. So they released the first part now, and will release the next part when it is done. I hope they start on it right away amd get it done right as soon as possible.
Second, there's the issue of "pressure." The report states that, "The committee did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities." The Democrats wanted this part of the report changed, saying there was pressure. Now, these simple facts have caused many on the left to scream about the truth being withheld for partisanship, but the fuller facts lead me to think the Democrats wanted to include subjective, unsubstantiated, opinion for partisanship.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D) said on Meet the Press that there are lots of kinds of pressure, and that repeated questioning creates pressure, such as what Richard Clarke mentioned in his book, about how Bush kept coming back and asking them to look again.
Senator Pat Roberts (R) responded to the claim with several important facts that this Democratic analysis leaves out. Most importantly, they questioned around 200 CIA analysts, asking them specifically if their product was coerced, intimidated, or manipulated, politically or otherwise. Every one of them said no. And when they asked two officials (who claimed some sort of problems) for specific details, one of them said he overheard it in a cafeteria, and neither gave details, and both concluded there was "no real pressure to change the product."
Further, as to the question of repetitive questions, they found there was evidence of such questioning only on the subject of terrorism, where the end product was good; where the product was bad -- the WMD intelligence -- there was no evidence of such questioning. Indeed, Roberts claimed that such repetitive questioning improved the quality of the terrorism product.
Rockefeller gave no direct responses to these facts. It seems to me that the Republicans were right on insisting that there is no evidence of such pressure as has been alleged.
One other thing came up in the Meet the Press interview. Russert said, OK, Wolfowitz gave three reasons for war -- WMD, terrorism, and humanitarianism -- and said the latter was unsufficient on its own to justify war. Now that the first two have been dispensed with: was the war justified? The question is silly. Only certain parts of the first two have been dispensed with (and, incidentally, the only two major arguments I was never convinced of to begin with). WMD is a much bigger issue than whether WMD existed, and terrorism a much bigger issue than whether Hussein was involved in 9/11 (or even with al Qaeda).
We know Iraq was in significant material breach of UN resolutions regarding its lack of cooperation with UNMOVIC, which is part of the WMD issue. We know that Iraq gave material support to terrorists, including payments to families of suicide bombers and haboring of terrorists like Abu Nidal -- as well as less direct support in which he knowingly allowed terrorists to remain in Iraq -- which is part of the terrorism issue. To say WMD and terrorism have been dispensed with as justifications -- something Rockefeller agreed with, bogglingly -- is nonsense.
Lies, Lies, Lies
Now, I've spent a significant amount of time in this space slamming people on the left for their lies, especially Howard Dean and Michael Moore, and including John Kerry and his supporters. A common response to this is some form of, "well, but Bush/Cheney/Rush/Coulter lies!"
There are three major points I have in response to this:
- You're right.
- I don't mention it much because I tend to spend more time criticizing the left than I do the right (and in the case of the more popular right-wing commentators, I don't pay attention to what they say enough to notice anyway).
- I do mention it, fairly often, but not necessarily in this space.
It's in this last point which I have perhaps been negligient, and so I wish to rectify that now.
Bush's campaign has run an extremely deceptive campaign against John Kerry, in certain areas. Let us show some of the more significant ways.
- They state as a matter of fact that Kerry is the most liberal Senator, or has the most liberal voting record. Unless this is qualified as "according to National Journal," I call it deception.
- While it is fundamentally factual that Kerry voted for "higher taxes" well over 300 times, as it is said in a Bush ad, it is very deceptive to say so without qualification. In fact, many of those times had Kerry voting against a tax cut, or voting for a smaller tax cut than someone else wanted. The statistic is essentially meaningless because we can't tell from it what Kerry actually voted for or against, without digging a lot deeper.
- Bush's latest ad is called "First Choice," and it features John McCain saying great things about Bush as President and why he should be reelected. The ad itself is not deceptive, but in the title of the ad, and in statements about it, the Bush campaign says McCain was Kerry's first choice for VP, something which has not been verified by anyone who knows.
- According to one Bush ad, Kerry wanted to greatly increase the gas tax, but that was many years ago, and he abandoned it long ago.
Some of these things seem silly. Of course we know that "most liberal" is a matter of opinion, and that the gas tax was abandoned years ago! But the problem is, most people don't know those things. I saw one guy saying one of the reasons he is voting for Bush is because Kerry wants to increase the gas tax. Stuff like that can be a bit shocking when most of the people you talk to on a regular basis are reasonably well-informed.
Now, I don't want to dwell on Kerry, but just for comparison, the same thing happens both ways. I saw one lady on This Week say she leans toward Kerry because she doesn't like jobs going overseas. Kerry voted for NAFTA, and has reaffirmed his committment to it over and again, and has never been remotely against the principle of sending jobs overseas (except in campaign speeches, of course). The real answer, given that the press does a poor job of informing the voters, is for voters to learn to be skeptical, and learn how to find out the real answers. I know, fat chance.
Lots of people have been criticizing the Bush strategy of attacking Kerry. Usually, it's the other way around, with the incumbent staying above the fray, and the challenger attacking him. Bush, they say, is not acting like he's the incumbent. The Presidential election is always a referendum on the incumbent, if there is one, they say, so you should emphasize your positives, not their negatives.
The problem is that this is not a normal election. Fareed Zakaria noted on This Week that you can usually predict if an incumbent will win by job approval polls and economic conditions six months before an election, but for the first time in 40 years, those two numbers are going in opposite directions. And a big reason for this -- probably the reason -- is, of course, the war.
What this means is that Bush has high negatives: there's a certain percentage of people who will not vote for Bush under any circumstances, and a certain number who are leaning against him, and these numbers are higher for him than they would be without a war. Bush's negatives may even be as high as the 40 percent range, which means he needs to try to get a majority of voters when barely a majority of voters are even willing to vote for him at all. And on the flipside, Bush's positive numbers won't get much better, no matter how good he makes himself look.
Only events can make Bush look better or worse at this stage, and you usually don't create events with advertising, you talk about events. So what Bush needs to do is two things: first, put Kerry into the same boat, to help create a number of voters that will not vote for him, because of his record, because of his statements about the Vietnam War, because of his views about gay marriage and abortion. Second, he needs to convince the swing voters -- in the areas Bush is weak, such as trustworthiness -- that Kerry is no better.
And while I don't condone his (or Kerry's) deceptions, I think Bush has done a very effective job here. I think the strategy is a good one and that it is working.
Senator Zell Miller, a Demorat, has a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican convention. When was the last time a sitting member of Congress spoke at the other party's convention? I can't think of a time.
On the other hand, apparently Ron Reagan -- son of our 40th President -- will be speaking at the Democratic convention about stem cell research, the latest pet project he and his mother share. Ron has never really been a good little Republican, and has often opposed his father's views.
Don't be fooled, though, as many have been by statements that "the Reagan family" supports stem cell research. Michael Reagan -- the President's eldest son, who has been a member of the Reagan family longer than anyone else who's yammering about these things, including Nancy -- is a staunch Republican, and opposes stem cell research.
William F. Buckley, Jr., one of the leading figures of the modern conservative movement, is stepping down as CEO of National Review. A few years ago he ended doing his Firing Line TV show, and now this. He will be sorely missed. He provided a nice treat to viewers this weekend, as he made a rare televised appearance on Meet the Press.