What do erstwhile Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein and the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, have in common? They both seem to have been so keen to defeat George W. Bush that their subordinates resorted to laying traps for the President and his administration.
According to press reports, Saddam personally endorsed the initiative conjured up by senior Iraqi intelligence officers involving an 11th-hour deal to stave off Operation Iraqi Freedom. One can be forgiven for wondering whether Senator Rockefeller also had prior knowledge of the trap described in a memorandum written by his staff involving the cynical use of the Intelligence Committee’s traditional non-partisanship for political advantage at the President’s expense. After all, the Senator adamantly refuses to disavow this memo or its contents.
The Iraqi dictator clearly hoped that he would be able to do to Bush 43 what he did to Bush 41: Outlast him. Saddam must have calculated that he could survive the son’s efforts to topple him, just as he did the father’s, by offering some last-minute concessions via a trusted interlocutor, Bush II Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle.
The bait? At a meeting last March in London, a Lebanese-American interlocutor told Mr. Perle that, among other things: two thousand FBI agents could enter Iraq to look around for weapons of mass destruction (WMD); a terrorist wanted in connection with the first World Trade Center attack (who happened to be living in Iraq!) would be turned over to the U.S.; and elections could be held in Iraq in two years.
Fortunately, as Mr. Perle said on ABC’s Sunday news program “This Week,” this gambit was recognized by the Bush Administration as the “trap” it was. U.S. weapons inspectors would likely have fared no better in trying to find the unaccounted-for Iraqi WMD in Saddam’s police state than did their UN counterparts. (Even after Saddam was toppled, 1200 military and other personnel have thus far been stymied in their search for more than evidence of related manufacturing programs and concealment efforts.)
Understanding the danger posed by a state-sponsor of terror, the Administration was also unmoved by the offer of a single terrorist (even a most-wanted one), just as it understood the dubious value of any elections Saddam would be willing to allow. After all, he had won the last one with 100% of the vote!
As for the Rockefeller staff initiative, a Democratic colleague from Indiana, Sen. Evan Bayh, has observed that the Intelligence Committee’s Vice Chair has been under intense pressure to use the panel for partisan purposes. Evidently, the hope has been that Democrats would also be able to do to Bush 43 what they did to Bush 41 in 1992: Deprecate his military victory as incomplete or otherwise flawed and seek to elicit at the polls a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.
Since the Rockefeller staff memo was revealed two weeks ago by talk-radio and television host Sean Hannity, the nature of the trap it proposed for President Bush has been the topic of intense debate on and off Capitol Hill. What has not been explicitly recognized is that the plan the trap envisioned by this memo is already far advanced.
Last July, the Intelligence Committee took extensive testimony from senior Defense Department officials concerning the nature of the intelligence in hand before Iraqi Freedom was launched, how it was handled within the Bush Administration and whether it was manipulated, hyped or otherwise distorted so as to induce members of Congress or the public to support an otherwise unwarranted war against Saddam Hussein.
In late September, Committee Chairman Pat Roberts agreed to a further request for information from Sen. Rockefeller. It took the form of a joint letter sent to the Pentagon asking additional questions. In the course of preparing this letter, however, Senator Roberts declined to include a number of those proposed by the minority. Senator Rockefeller, however, subsequently sent them along over his own signature.
This is precisely the strategy described in the Rockefeller staff memo: “Pull the majority along as far as we can on issues that may lead to major new disclosures regarding improper or questionable conduct by administration officials…. [And] prepare to launch an independent investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the majority. The best time to do so will probably be next year.”
By implementing this strategy, the minority staff and perhaps others in the Senate’s Democratic ranks have already undermined the non-partisan character of the Intelligence Committee. They have indeed set the stage to “pull the trigger” on an investigation designed specifically to go after the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary of State John Bolton, two of the Bush Administration’s most import loci of intellectual horsepower, strategic vision and commitment to principled security policies.
For this reason, the Bush Administration would be well-advised to avoid this trap, as well. It should refuse to cooperate further with the Committee’s investigation, at least until, as Democratic Senator Zell Miller put it last week “The ones responsible be they staff or elected or both should be dealt with quickly and severely sending a lesson to all that this kind of action will not be tolerated, ignored or excused. Heads should roll!”
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the President of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for the Washington Times.
(This update courtesy of the Center for Security Policy.)