Speaker: Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)
Moderator: Glenn Kessler, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post
Council on Foreign Relations
Friday, March 05, 2004
(Note: The opening remarks and question-and-answer session have been transcribed from the meeting. Senator Kennedy's remarks appear here as prepared for delivery.)
GLENN KESSLER: I'm Glenn Kessler. I'm a diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post. And we have a very interesting event here. First, I have cards here that tell me what I'm supposed to do, which is: I would like everyone in the audience to turn off his or her cell phone. Unlike most Council events, today's meeting with Senator Kennedy is on the record. And, lastly, we will end promptly at 1:30.
Senator Kennedy is someone who truly needs no introduction, but I will try to hit some of the highlights. He has represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate since he was first elected in 1962 to finish the term of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. Since then, he has been re-elected seven times, and he is now the second most senior member of the Senate.
Senator Kennedy is active on a wide range of issues, most notably health care, where many laws bear his imprint. Senator Kennedy is also deeply involved in all aspects of homeland security and national defense, helping the unemployed, improving secondary and elementary schools and making colleges more affordable, strengthening civil rights laws, assisting individuals with disabilities, improving immigration and environmental laws, and dealing with judicial nominations.
Senator Kennedy is the senior Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the Senate. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee, is the senior Democrat on the Immigrations Subcommittee, and the [Committee on] Armed Services where he is the senior Democrat on the [Subcommittee on] Seapower.
He is also a member of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, a founder of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, and a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
Senator Kennedy is the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. [He] is a graduate of Harvard [University], and the University of Virginia Law School. His home is in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife Vicky Reggie Kennedy and children Curran and Caroline. He also has three grown children, Cara, Edward Junior, and Patrick, and four grandchildren.
He is not running for president this year. [Laughter.] The junior senator from Massachusetts is. But he was recently named best supporting actor by my colleague [Washington Post reporter] David Broder— [laughter]--for his invaluable assistance to the Kerry campaign. And somehow I sense that President Bush will make sure we will see a lot of Senator Kennedy in campaign advertisements this year. [Laughter.] Please welcome Senator Kennedy for what I am sure will be a provocative and interesting— [applause]--
SENATOR TED KENNEDY: Thank you, Glenn Kessler, for that generous introduction. As you all know, Glenn does an outstanding job covering diplomacy and foreign policy for The Washington Post.
It's a privilege to be here today with the Council on Foreign Relations. The Council and its members have a distinguished record of notable contributions to the national debate over the years. On the most important foreign policy issues confronting our nation and the world, the Council is at the forefront. Your views and analyses are more important than ever today, as America tries to find its way in this vastly transformed modern world.
The nation is engaged in a major ongoing debate about why America went to war in Iraq, when Iraq was not an imminent threat, had no nuclear weapons, no persuasive links to Al Qaeda, no connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Over two centuries ago, John Adams spoke eloquently about the need to let facts and evidence guide actions and policies. He said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." Listen to those words again, and you can hear John Adams speaking to us now about Iraq. "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
Tragically, in making the decision to go to war in Iraq, the Bush administration allowed its wishes, its inclinations, and its passions to alter the state of facts and the evidence of the threat we faced from Iraq.
A month ago, in an address at Georgetown University, CIA Director George Tenet discussed the strengths and flaws in the intelligence on Iraq. Tenet testified to several Senate and House committees on these issues, and next Tuesday, he will come before our Senate Armed Services Committee. He will have an opportunity to explain why he waited until last month to publicly state the facts and evidence on these fundamental questions, and why he was so silent when it mattered most— in the days and months leading up to the war.
If he feels that the White House altered the facts, or misused the intelligence, or ignored it and relied on dubious sources in the Iraqi exile community, Tenet should say so, and say it plainly.
It is not sufficient for Tenet to say only, as he did last week to the Senate Intelligence Committee, that we must be patient. When he was appointed Director of Central Intelligence in 1997, Tenet said to President Clinton. "… I have believed that you…and the vice president must be provided with … complete and objective intelligence. ... We must always be straight and tell you the facts as we know them." The American people and our men and women serving in Iraq deserve the facts and they deserve answers now.
The rushed decision to invade Iraq cannot all be blamed on flawed intelligence. If we view these events simply as an intelligence failure— rather than a larger failure of decision-making and leadership— we will learn the wrong lessons.
The more we find out, the clearer it becomes that any failure in the intelligence itself is dwarfed by the administration's manipulation of the intelligence in making the case for war. Specific warnings from the intelligence community were consistently ignored as the administration rushed toward war.
We now know that from the moment President Bush took office, Iraq was given high priority as unfinished business from the first Bush administration.
According to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's account in Ron Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," Iraq was on the agenda at the very first meeting of the National Security Council, just 10 days after President Bush's inauguration in 2001. At that meeting, the president quickly— and wrongly— concluded that the U.S. could not do much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said we should "pull out of that situation," and then turned to a discussion of "how Iraq is destabilizing the region."
Secretary O'Neill remembers: "Getting Hussein was now the administration's focus. From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country. And, if we did that, it would solve everything. It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it— the president saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'"
By the end of February 2001, the talk on Iraq was mostly about how— and how quickly— to get rid of Saddam Hussein. President Bush was clearly frustrated with what the intelligence community was providing. According to Secretary O'Neill, on May 16, 2001, he and the other principals of the National Security Council met with the president to discuss the Middle East. Tenet presented his intelligence report, and told the president that it was still only speculation whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or was even starting a program to build such weapons.
Secretary O'Neill says, "Everything Tenet sent up to Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney about Iraq was very judicious and precisely qualified. The president was clearly very interested in weapons or weapons programs— and frustrated about our weak intelligence capability— but Tenet was clearly being careful to say, here's the little that we know and the great deal that we don't. That wouldn't change, and I read those CIA reports for two years," said O'Neill.
Then came 9/11. In the months that followed, the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden had obvious priority. Al Qaeda was clearly the most imminent threat to our national security. In fact, in his testimony to Congress in February 2001, one month after President Bush's inauguration and seven months before 9/11, Tenet had said, "Osama bin Laden and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat." That testimony emphasized the clear danger of bin Laden in light of the specific attacks in previous years on American citizens and American institutions.
In February 2002, five months after 9/11, Tenet testified, "Last year, I told you that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network were the most immediate and serious threat this country faced. This remains true despite the progress we have made in Afghanistan and in disrupting the network elsewhere."
Even during the buildup to the war in Iraq, in February 2003, Tenet again testified, "The threat from al Qaeda remains. ... We place no limitations on our expectations on what al Qaeda might do to survive. … Al Qaeda is living in the expectation of resuming the offensive."
In his testimony last week to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet repeated his earlier warnings. He said again that Al Qaeda is not defeated and that "We are still at war. … This is a learning organization that remains committed to attacking the United States, its friends and allies."
Tenet never used that kind of strong language to describe the threat from Iraq. Yet despite all the clear and consistent warnings about Al Qaeda, by the summer of 2002, President Bush was ready for war with Iraq. The war in Afghanistan was no longer in the headlines or at the center of attention. Bin Laden was hard to find, the economy was in trouble, and so was the president's approval rating in the polls.
[White House political adviser] Karl Rove had tipped his hand earlier by stating that the war on terrorism could bring political benefits as well. The president's undeniable goal was to convince the American people that war was necessary— and necessary soon, because soon-to-be-acquired nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein could easily be handed off to terrorists.
This conclusion was not supported by the facts, but the intelligence could be retrofitted to support it. Greg Thielmann, former director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, put it bluntly last July. He said, "Some of the fault lies with the performance of the intelligence community, but most of it lies with the way senior officials misused the information they were provided." He said, "They surveyed the data, and picked out what they liked. The whole thing was bizarre. The secretary of defense had this huge Defense Intelligence Agency, and he went around it." Thielmann also said, "This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude, its top-down use of intelligence: we know the answers; give us the intelligence to support those answers. … Going down the list of administration deficiencies, or distortions, one has to talk about, first and foremost, the nuclear threat being hyped," he said.
David Albright, the former weapons inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency, put it this way: "Leaders will use worst-case assessments that point to nuclear weapons to generate political support because they know people fear nuclear weapons so much."
Even though they make semantic denials, there is no doubt that senior administration officials were suggesting the threat from Iraq was imminent.
At a roundtable discussion with European journalists last month, Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld insisted, "I never said imminent threat."
In fact, Secretary Rumsfeld had told the House Armed Services Committee on September 18, 2002, "…Some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent— that Saddam is at least 5-7 years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain."
In February 2003, with war only weeks away, then Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked why NATO allies should support Turkey's request for military assistance against Iraq. His clear response was, "This is about an imminent threat."
In May 2003, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked whether we went to war. "Because we said WMD [weapons of mass destruction] were a direct and imminent threat to the United States." Fleischer responded, "Absolutely."
What else could National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have been suggesting, other than an imminent threat— an extremely imminent threat— when she said on September 8, 2002, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
President Bush himself may not have used the word "imminent," but he carefully chose strong and loaded words about the nature of the threat— words that the intelligence community never used— to persuade and prepare the nation to go to war against Iraq.
In the Rose Garden on October 2, 2002, as Congress was preparing to vote on authorizing the war, the president said the Iraqi regime "is a threat of unique urgency."
In a speech in Cincinnati on October 7, President Bush echoed Condoleezza Rice's image of nuclear devastation: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof— the smoking gun— that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
At a political appearance in New Mexico on October 28, 2002, after Congress had voted to authorize war, and a week before the election, President Bush said Iraq is a "real and dangerous threat."
At a NATO summit on November 20, 2002, President Bush said Iraq posed a "unique and urgent threat."
In Fort Hood, Texas, on January 3, 2003, President Bush called the Iraqi regime a "grave threat."
Nuclear weapons. Mushroom cloud. Unique and urgent threat. Real and dangerous threat. Grave threat. This was the administration's rallying cry for war. But those were not the words of the intelligence community. The community recognized that Saddam was a threat, but it never suggested the threat was imminent, or immediate, or urgent.
In his speech last month at Georgetown, CIA Director Tenet stated that, despite attempts to acquire a nuclear capability, Saddam was many years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Tenet's precise words were: "We said Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon, and probably would have been unable to make one until 2007 to 2009."
The acquisition of enough nuclear material is an extremely difficult task for a country seeking nuclear weapons. Tenet bluntly stated that the intelligence community had "detected no such acquisition" by Saddam. The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate also outlined the disagreement in the intelligence community over whether the notorious aluminum tubes [Iraq had tried to import] were intended for nuclear weapons or not.
Tenet clearly distanced himself from the administration's statements about the urgency of the threat from Iraq in his speech at Georgetown. But he stopped short of saying the administration distorted the intelligence or relied on other sources to make the case for war. He said he only gave the president the CIA's daily assessment of the intelligence, and the rest he did not know.
Tenet needs to explain to Congress and the country why he waited until last month— nearly a year after the war started— to set the record straight. Intelligence analysts had long been frustrated about the way intelligence was being misused to justify war. In February 2003, an official described the feelings of some analysts in the intelligence agencies to The New York Times, saying, "I think there is also a sense of disappointment with the community's leadership that they are not standing up for them at a time when the intelligence is obviously being politicized."
Why wasn't CIA Director Tenet correcting the president and the vice president and the secretary of defense a year ago, when it could have made a difference, when it could have prevented a needless war, when it could have saved so many lives?
It was Vice President Cheney who first laid out the trumped up argument for war with Iraq to an unsuspecting public. In a speech on August 26, 2002, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he asserted, "…We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. … Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon." As we now know, the intelligence community was far from certain. Yet the vice president had been convinced.
On September 8, 2002, Cheney was even more emphatic about Saddam. He said, "[We] do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon." The intelligence community was deeply divided about the aluminum tubes, but Cheney was absolutely certain.
Where was the CIA Director when the vice president was going nuclear about Saddam going nuclear? Did Tenet fail to convince the policymakers to cool their overheated rhetoric? Did he even try to convince them?
One month later, on the eve of the watershed vote by Congress to authorize the war, President Bush said it even more vividly. He said, "Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes…which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed…Saddam Hussein would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists."
In fact, as we now know, the intelligence community was far from unified on Iraq's nuclear threat. The administration attempted to conceal that fact by classifying the information and the dissents within the intelligence community until after the war, even while making dramatic and excessive public statements about the immediacy of the danger.
In a February 2004 article in the Atlantic Monthly, Ken Pollack, a former CIA analyst who supported the war, said, "…Time after time senior administration officials discussed only the worst case and least likely scenario, and failed to mention the intelligence community's most likely scenario." In a January interview, Pollack added, "Only the administration has access to all the information available to various agencies of the U.S. government— and withholding or downplaying some of that information for its own purposes is a betrayal of that responsibility."
In October 2002, the intelligence agencies jointly issued a National Intelligence Estimate stating that "most agencies" believed that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program after inspectors left in 1998, and that, if left unchecked, Iraq "probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade." The State Department's intelligence bureau, however, said the "available evidence" was inadequate to support that judgment. It refused to predict when "Iraq could acquire a nuclear device or weapon."
The National Intelligence Estimate cited a foreign government report that, as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of nuclear material to Iraq. The estimate also said, "Reports indicate that Iraq has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo." The State Department's intelligence bureau, however, responded that claims of Iraq seeking to purchase nuclear material from Africa were "highly dubious." The CIA sent two memos to the White House stressing strong doubts about those claims.
But the following January, the president included the claims about Africa in his State of the Union Address, and conspicuously cited the British government as the source of that intelligence.
Information about nuclear weapons was not the only intelligence distorted by the administration. On the question of whether Iraq was pursuing a chemical weapons program, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded in September 2002 that "there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has— or will— establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities."
That same month, however, Secretary Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Saddam has chemical-weapons stockpiles. He said that "we do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction," that Saddam "has amassed large clandestine stocks of chemical weapons," that "he has stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons," and that Iraq has "active chemical, biological and nuclear programs." He was wrong on all counts.
Yet the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate actually quantified the size of the stockpiles, finding that "although we have little specific information on Iraq's CW [chemical weapon] stockpile, Saddam probably has stocked at least 100 metric tons and possibly as much as 500 metric tons of CW agents— much of it added in the last year." In his speech at the United Nations on February 5, 2003, Secretary of State [Colin] Powell went further, calling the 100-500 metric ton stockpile a "conservative estimate."
Secretary Rumsfeld made an even more explicit assertion in his March 30, 2003, interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." When asked about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, he said, "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."
The second major claim in the administration's case for war was the linkage between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
Significantly here as well, the Intelligence Estimate did not find a cooperative relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. On the contrary, it stated only that such a relationship might happen if Saddam were "sufficiently desperate"--in other words, if America went to war. But the estimate placed "low confidence" that, even in desperation, Saddam would give weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda.
A year before the war began, senior al Qaeda leaders themselves had rejected a link with Saddam. The New York Times reported last June that a top al Qaeda planner and recruiter captured in March 2002 told his questioners last year that "the idea of working with Mr. Hussein's government had been discussed among al Qaeda leaders, but Osama bin Laden had rejected such proposals." According to the Times, an al Qaeda chief of operations had also told interrogators that the group did not work with Saddam.
Mel Goodman, a CIA analyst for 20 years, put it bluntly: "Saddam Hussein and bin Laden were enemies. Bin Laden considered and said that Saddam was the socialist infidel. These were very different kinds of individuals competing for power in their own way and Saddam Hussein made very sure that al Qaeda couldn't function in Iraq."
In February 2003, investigators at the FBI told The New York Times they were baffled by the administration's insistence on a solid link between al Qaeda and Iraq. One investigator said, "We've been looking at this hard for more than a year and you know what, we just don't think it's there."
But President Bush was not deterred. He was relentless in using America's fears after the devastating 9/11 tragedy. He drew a clear link— and drew it repeatedly— between Al Qaeda and Saddam.
In a September 25, 2002, statement at the White House, President Bush flatly declared, "You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."
In his State of the Union Address in January 2003, President Bush said, "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda," and that he could provide "lethal viruses" to a "shadowy terrorist network."
Two weeks later, in his radio address to the nation, a month before the war began, President Bush described the ties in detail, saying, "Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct, and continuing ties to terrorist networks …"
He said, "Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document-forgery experts to work with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training. An al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases. We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad."
In fact, there was no operational link and no clear and persuasive pattern of ties between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda. That fact should have been abundantly clear to the president. Iraq and al Qaeda had diametrically opposing views of the world.
In the march to war, the president exaggerated the threat anyway. It was not subtle. It was not nuanced. It was pure, unadulterated fear-mongering, based on a devious strategy to convince the American people that Saddam's ability to provide nuclear weapons to al Qaeda justified immediate war.
Why would the administration go to such lengths to go to war? Was it trying to change the subject from its failed economic policy, the corporate scandals, and its failed effort to capture Osama bin Laden? The only imminent threat was the November congressional election. The politics of the election trumped the stubborn facts.
Early in the Bush administration, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had raised concerns about politics pervading the process in the White House. Comparing the Bush administration and previous Republican administrations, he said, referring to Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and [adviser] Karen Hughes, "The biggest difference … is that our group was mostly about evidence and analysis— and Karl, Dick, Karen, and the gang seemed to be mostly about politics."
In the late winter and early spring of 2002, in the aftermath of the Enron and other corporate scandals, as Ron Suskind, the author of the O'Neill book wrote, "…Rove told numerous administration officials that the poll data was definitive: the scandals were hurting the president, a cloud in an otherwise blue sky for the soaring, post-Afghanistan Bush."
The evidence so far leads to only one conclusion. What happened was not merely a failure of intelligence, but the result of manipulation and distortion of the intelligence and selective use of unreliable intelligence to justify a decision to go to war. The administration had made up its mind, and would not let stubborn facts stand in the way.
Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired Air Force intelligence officer who served in the Pentagon during the buildup to the war, said, "It wasn't intelligence— it was propaganda … they'd take a little bit of intelligence, cherry pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, usually by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't belong together."
As it now appears, the Iraqi expatriates who had close ties to the Pentagon and were so eager for the war may well have been the source of the hyped intelligence. They have even begun to brag about it.
The Pentagon's favorite Iraqi dissident, Ahmad Chalabi, is actually proud of what happened. "We are heroes in error," Chalabi recently said. "As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords, if he wants."
Our men and women in uniform are still paying with their lives for this misguided war in Iraq. CIA Director Tenet could perform no greater service to the armed forces, to the American people, and to our country, than to set the record straight, and state unequivocally what is so clearly the truth: the Bush Administration misrepresented the facts to justify the war.
America went to war in Iraq because President Bush insisted that nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his ties to Al Qaeda were too dangerous to ignore. Congress never would have voted to authorize the war if we had known the facts.
The Bush administration is obviously digging in its heels against any further serious investigation of the reasons we went to war. The administration's highest priority is to prevent any more additional stubborn facts about this fateful issue from coming to light before the election in November.
This debate will go on anyway in Congress and in communities across the country. The most important decision any president makes is the decision on war or peace. No president who misleads the country on the need for war deserves to be re-elected. A president who does so must be held accountable. The last thing our nation needs is a sign on the desk in the Oval Office in the White House that says, "The buck doesn't stop here any more." Thank you very much. [Applause.]
KESSLER: Well, thank you very much. I assume this is on. [Laughter.]
KENNEDY: I think so. Yeah, I'm on.
KESSLER: We'll now have about a little under 20 minutes for questions. And a few rules, which I will read here. Please wait for the mike. When it's brought to you, please stand and state your name and affiliation. And keep your questions concise to allow as many members as possible to speak. And since I'm host here, I can ask the first question [Laughter.].
You've put down quite a challenge for Mr. Tenet in your speech, and I was wondering, how much can we expect the CIA director to actually go into the White House and say to the president, "You're misusing the data that I've laid out for you." And— the way I believe it works is the intelligence community comes up with the information, and then the policymakers actually derive their opinions and make policy decisions based on that information. So, are you asking too much here of Mr. Tenet when people may take his information and twist it in ways that he might not agree with?
KENNEDY: Well, I would hope not. I think whatever criticisms that I have of Mr. Tenet, he felt it was appropriate for him to sort of clear the record now, just a few weeks ago, about what the position of the agency was. If he had cleared the record prior to the time that the Congress voted on the reauthorization, I think [we] may very well have had certainly a different debate and a different outcome. But the real— the matter— whatever the deficiencies in the intelligence, and we'll have a chance to review that, although with the commissions that have been established, they are not reviewing and evaluating [what] the intelligence was giving and how it was used. They're talking about what the intelligence was giving and what they're finding over in Iraq. But they've eliminated that kind of possibility, which would be the key to accountability. Whatever the deficiencies in the intelligence, there is no— it pales, it pales against the irresponsible governmental action with the misuse, distortion, and misrepresentation of intelligence by the administration to bring us to war. We shouldn't lose sight of that.
And that is where the American people can have accountability in the form of the election. That ought to be our principal focus. I would certainly hope that Mr. Tenet, when he's questioned next Tuesday and asked directly about this, [will] be honest and responsive. And we'll wait to see for that.
KESSLER: Alright. Sir, over there. There's a mike coming over. There you go.
QUESTIONER: Dan Schorr, National Public Radio. Senator, that's a strong speech, and obviously it took a great deal of research and a great deal of effort and thought to go into it. Now, you conclude that, this being true, that President Bush does not deserve to be re-elected. But if all this is true, there's something more that it implied. I mean, does this not fit the criteria for high crimes and misdemeanors? [Laughter.]
KENNEDY: Well, I'll leave that for another day to be talked about. [Laughter.] I think it's a— my sense is, the responsibility— we have the opportunity to change this and change it in November, and that's where this ought to be changed. There's no greater responsibility that a president has than bringing a country to war and its commitment to our armed forces overseas. That is the No. 1 responsibility: the protection and the security of this nation and its people and sending people to war. And if we cannot have the confidence in the president to explain and to lay out to the American people the factual situations on war and peace, then I think that that confidence and trust is violated, and we have to go in a different direction. I think the elections are the time for accountability myself, but accountability there should be.
KESSLER: Over there, sir.
QUESTIONER: My name's Phil—
KESSLER: Stand up.
QUESTIONER: My name is [inaudible]. I work for the State Department's Washington File. In the run-up to the war, [Senator] Robert Byrd [D-West Virginia] was almost the only voice in Congress making a case against the war. Where were the other members of Congress at that time?
KENNEDY: The question is Robert Byrd spoke out brilliantly against the war; where were the others? They weren't behind Robert Byrd where they should've been. [Laughter.] I was glad to be there with Robert Byrd on that issue, but the— clearly, we shouldn't have been there. I reached that— my decision— as a member of the Armed Services Committee [by] listening to members of the military testify and predicting exactly what was going to come. You listen to General [Joseph P.] Hoar [USMC (ret.)], the principal former leaders both of the Marines and the military, [and] men and women who had experience and had been over in that region of the world, [and they] absolutely predicted exactly what was going to happen. And it was so powerful, clear, and convincing, that the decision was an easy one for me.
Quite frankly, our colleagues, some of those that were on the Armed Services Committee, reached the similar conclusion. Senator Byrd is on that Armed Services Committee. But it was the— we— I think what they would say is they didn't have the kind of balanced information that many of the rest of us had. There's no question, as I mentioned in the talk, that the presentation that was made to the members of the United States Senate misrepresented and distorted the intelligence information. And we have to have, as any democracy has to have, confidence in both what the president is going to tell you and what the president's representatives are going to tell you. And when they had the kind of series of misrepresentations that I've reviewed, this is an indictment of this administration in its own words. That's what that speech was about. No one could hear those words and put them in [a] kind of order and think that that was a balanced representation of what was considered by the members of the United States Senate when they were asking them to pass a resolution to bring this country to war. And that's unconscionable, I think. And I think that history is going to show it.
QUESTIONER: You mentioned that very early on in this administration, Senator, they made a decision that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not something that should be considered seriously, I guess, and they should look to Iraq as being the real threat in terms of the war on terror. Would you comment on that, as to why they did this?
KENNEDY: Well, I think— I reached that conclusion just as an observer of what the administration failed to do in terms of the Middle East for such a long time before they announced its path for peace. But clearly what [was] report[ed] in the Suskind book, and that's been reaffirmed by others that have been in the room, that this president stated at the— 10 days after he'd been inaugurated that [he] effectively threw up his hands on the Israeli-Palestine issue. And reading through the book on the report of that meeting, Secretary [of State Colin] Powell indicated a dissenting opinion and indicated that the United States couldn't possibly abandon the interests that we have, that that would be a tragic action. Nonetheless [there was a] virtual indifference in the failure [to act], [although] no one minimizes the complexities and difficulties. But there [are] also, [as] we have seen, some extraordinary efforts that have been made in that region, and the United States constantly has to be a country that tries to identify those forces that exist in that region that are— want to advance the cause for peace and give them encouragement, help, and assistance. And effectively, we've certainly put all of that on hold.
I think there was rather a simplistic judgment that was made by a number of those that were at the meeting and [by] advisors to the president that if they get Iraq all worked out, this would help solve the Middle East. I think they got it backwards. You're going to have to work that out in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian [conflict] over any period of time for any kind of security— long-range security interests in that region.
KESSLER: Yes, sir.
QUESTIONER: Mr. Senator, my name is Joe Hurd. I'm from Boston,
Massachusetts, and I'm very proud to be one of your constituents. It's a very powerful speech. My question to you is this: What do you say, given that we are on the brink of an election, to young people in America whose faith in this administration and in the American political process given what you've just laid out, is shaken?
KENNEDY: Vote for John Kerry. [Laughter, applause.] That's the way we planned that, didn't we? The Boston— [Laughter.]
QUESTIONER: I'll take the check! [Laughter.]
KENNEDY: See you in Boston tonight. [Laughter.]
KENNEDY: John Kerry's— right. Seriously, in the— I find, as someone that's been around a bit in the campaign, that young people are involved in this campaign. And I found it in— even in places where it didn't look like there were going to [be] hot contests. [I found the involvement] in upper New York state, where the candidates hadn't really appeared and people always feel they don't care about upper New York state, and yet, nonetheless, in the number of people that were turning out.
We had in Massachusetts— we had 440,000 people that turned out in a virtually uncontested— that voted for Senator Kerry, and then 100,000 voted for John Edwards, and virtually that's a big, big turnout that [you] would have in that state in a primary. I mean, people— there's a new energy. I find that many young people are involved because they know what's at stake.
And I find that for students and others— you mentioned that the next president's going to name Supreme Court justices. If they care about their rights, if they care about their liberties, if they care about [what] this society is going to do, if they can't get out of bed every single morning and understand the next six months are the most important days of their life, they haven't got a mind or a conscience. And I'm finding a lot of them are turning up.
KESSLER: Yes, sir? Here.
QUESTIONER: Senator, Jim Moody with Morgan Stanley. Senator, you indicted this administration in their predictions about— of the whole run-up to the war, but you didn't indict any of their predictions about what would happen after the war.
QUESTIONER: And you'll remember the debate within the armed services about how many men were needed— I'm sorry— troops would be needed—
KENNEDY: Yes. Sure.
QUESTIONER: --the important panels that convened to say, "You have to
protect the museums"—
QUESTIONER: --"that we've got 3,000 years of culture there"—
QUESTIONER: --you have to have a constabulary, you have to"— all of that was downplayed by the administration as, "No, no, no, that won't be necessary." You didn't indict any of that. Are you interested in covering that topic?
KENNEDY: Well, I think you heard the question. And I [will] try to do that at another time. But you're absolutely right. I happened to be the— I was the chairman of the Immigration and Refugees [Subcommittee], and I've spent a lot of time on refugee issues. And the preplanning with regards to the human dimension just was non-existent, and all with the outcomes the way you've described. I don't think— there was a general sense among the military people that there would be this kind of internal turmoil and many of them predicted a civil war. And all of us are prayerful that that isn't going to happen. If you look at what's happening today, the Shiite council is refusing to sign that kind of
agreement. There are many very, very thoughtful people that believe that we may very well be in the eve of a civil war in Iraq. That was predicted by a number of the other people.
But the administration says this. They said, "Oh, we planned— had a postwar plan, but we were just planning for the wrong thing. We can't anticipate everything." If you listen to their point, they said, "We thought we were going to have millions of people on the move," which didn't happen. [It] really didn't happen a lot in the previous Gulf War. There were probably 5[00,000] or 600,000 [refugees]. That's a lot of people, but in terms of the kind of scope that they were looking at, they said that that didn't happen. They thought the oil fields would burn down, so we were all set to [deal with] that. That didn't happen. So their answer will be, "Look, we had the two major kinds of issues. It wasn't the flood in terms of the refugees; we didn't have the oil fields attacked. That's with all of the humanitarian aspects of it. So we ended up with looting and civil war in the country. We can't predict everything." [Laughter.]
The fact is— let me just end up— we are so poorly equipped as a nation for postwar eventualities. We should have learned that out of [our involvement in] Bosnia. We should have learned it in Haiti; we are reminded again of the disaster. We are very good in sending troops, [but not very good] in follow-up. That's been the truth in country after country; we do not do that. It's a clear failure, and we learn and relearn the lessons every single time, and we're learning them more harshly this time than ever before.
I think we're learning them even from a military point of view. We have the thin-skinned Humvees. We've lost 17 young people from Massachusetts. A third of them have been killed because we haven't got the fully armed Humvees. That's inexcusable of the military. They appeared before the Armed Services Committee, said we can't have them fully there till 2005. [Yet] they're sending these kids out on patrol and they're getting blown up every day. [We] lost 10 of them just this last month. That's inexcusable.
I mean militarily, for the equipment they have over there, not to understand [that] the streets are going to be more narrow so that you can't use certain kinds of trucks, you got to use— someone should have been thinking about this, but of course they didn't. I mean, they thought it was all— you're very familiar. They thought they could just eliminate the top of the military and bring in the other military and there wouldn't be the civil unrest [we've seen]. There was just going to be a quick change and [leader of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed] Chalabi was going to come in there and everything was going to be hunky-dory. And they were going to distribute those oil— read that part of the Suskind book about how they were racking up the oil deals, as well, in the— and were— that doesn't quite— that may not be a judicious way of putting it. [Laughter.] They were overlooking the oil fields, various contracts. But—
KESSLER: A question there in the back.
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]--University of California, Berkeley. I agree with your analysis. I think it's very compelling. How do you interpret the administration's view on Libya and [Libyan leader Muammar al] Qaddafi giving up his nuclear weapons? I mean, they now say this shows that this is an effective policy, that the Middle East will be changing. I don't particularly buy this. I'd like to hear your interpretation.
KENNEDY: I basically reject it. I think it's been a long— I've followed it very closely. [The aftermath of the Libyan involvement in the bombing of] Pan Am [flight] 103 [over Lockerbie, Scotland]: I've been very much involved. We've got 13 families. I'm the author of the economic sanctions on Libya. I follow that very closely.
Finally, Saddam— I mean Qaddafi was economically strangled. He's been trying to get out of this loop for some period of time. He's still been always reluctant. He said he's partially responsible. The international community said, "No, you've got to go to the trial." So he goes to the trial. They sort of back off, he won't pay the compensation [to the Lockerbie bombing victims' families]. Then he tries inadequate compensation. I mean, he's been trying to buy his way in for the last years and get out of this kind of— I think it's the economic sanctions.
I think economic sanctions are limited but they work in some places. They worked in South Africa. I defy anyone that says they didn't in Africa. I was down in South Africa 18 months before we imposed it. We offered those things, [former Republican Connecticut governor and senator] Lowell Weicker and others. In 15 months, [despite] those leaders that said that it wouldn't work,[Nelson] Mandela was on his way out of jail and [they] were beginning to move towards an interracial government. They could not— the fact was, you had the Europeans supporting it. Everybody supported it.
This didn't work completely with regards to Libya. You had a number of the countries that were circumventing the sanctions there, but it worked very effectively.
I don't— I mean, I don't buy that. They say it, but I don't— myself, I think it's much more the economic sanctions. Most of the European leaders, who know it best— I mean, the Italians obviously are the ones who have had the strongest relationship with the Libyans, don't buy it either. You talk to any of their principal members of the government, they don't buy that. Yes, sir?
KESSLER: OK, I think this will be the last question here.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder Newspapers. You've talked about the administration's responsibility, you've talked about the intelligence community's responsibility. I'd like to ask you about Congress. In October of 2000, two documents were delivered to Congress, both available for congressional perusal. The first was the NIE [the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate], which is a secret document, and the second was the public version of the NIE. If you have an opportunity to read both documents, you would see that all of the caveats that were listed in the NIE, all of the dissents that were listed in the NIE, had been stripped out of the public version of the NIE. And I'm wondering why anyone in Congress did not notice it at the time and did not bring it to the public's attention. Thank you.
KENNEDY: Because we're not good investigative reporters like yourself. That's a very good question. I never heard anyone really bring that— put them face to face on that and see the comparison on it. I think that's a very— I mean, obviously I've known that since that time, but I think it's very— it's a fair observation.
I'm not— you know, we don't— I'm not here to defend the Congress on everything in the world around here. There's a lot of things we miss and there's a lot of things we fail and there's a lot of things we do wrong out there. Clearly we missed it— that's an excellent point. We should have spotted it. That should have been raised up; it wasn't and I think we bear some responsibility. I went through the material and I went through the briefings and I went through the classified parts, and I didn't have trouble myself on it, but I suppose if I had been more diligent in trying to make the case on it, other than what I heard in the Armed Services Committee, I think that would have been very, very powerful. It's a very good point, well taken.
KESSLER: All right, I think we've run out of time here. I was told it has to end at 1:30. Sorry. [Applause.]
KENNEDY: Thank you very, very much. Good, thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thanks an awful lot. Thank you very, very much.
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