Speaker: U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
Moderator: Helen Fessenden, Congressional Quarterly
Council on Foreign Relations
Friday, March 12, 2004
HELEN FESSENDEN: Good morning. My name is Helen Fessenden. I am a reporter at Congressional Quarterly. I cover foreign policy and intelligence.
And our guest today probably doesn't need much of an introduction— Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. The topic today is intelligence and Iraq. And this is pretty much a complement to the speech last week given by Senator [Edward] Kennedy [D-Mass.]. We all know that— complement being— [laughter]--you know what I mean. [Laughs.] We're not going to see many compliments of Senator Kennedy probably coming today.
Anyway, Senator Jon Kyl is one of the leading Republican voices on national security and foreign policy, and he is the chair of the Senate Policy Committee. He is also in the Senate National Security Working Group, and sits on the Finance, Judiciary, and Energy Committees as well. He is at the forefront of pretty much all of the foreign policy debates swirling around on [Capitol] Hill today, including Iraq.
And just— it was two weeks ago, or a week-and-a-half ago— Senator Kyl was joined by other Republican senators on the floor, and they devoted several hours to discussing the issue of intelligence and Iraq and the war, and defending the White House.
So, I guess without further ado, I will introduce our guest. [Applause.]
SENATOR JON KYL: Thanks. I can assure you— and I will assure Senator Kennedy, that he should consider it a compliment that I considered his remarks so important that they needed to be responded to. So— [laughter]--in that sense, these will be a compliment to Senator Kennedy, and everything else will not be.
So, I appreciate the comment that I need no introduction, but— and I introduced Dr. [Henry] Kissinger in New York at a dinner, and it was a very— there were like three tables is all, so everybody there knew him well. And I made the mistake of saying that of course he needed no introduction in that group. And he rose and said, "Well"— he said, "Wile it is true I need no introduction," he says, "no one enjoys one more than I do." [Laughter.]
So thank you. I appreciate what you said. Well, let's get to it.
In his address before the Council on Foreign Relations on March 5, Senator Edward Kennedy laid out a case against the Bush administrations decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein. His primary thesis was that the administration misrepresented intelligence to Congress and the public. Though this case was ostensibly based on stubborn facts--from John Adams frequently cited quotation— it turned out to be long on innuendo and very short on actual facts.
Senator Kennedy has been one of the most vocal critics of the administration on this matter, but other Democrats have rallied behind his charges— including some who voted to support the war. Before these charges become part of the accepted history of these events, I believe it is important to set the record straight. I would hope we can then return to more rational discourse on the subject. Thus, I appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.
Senator Kennedy began his presentation by calling on CIA Director George Tenet to use his upcoming testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee to state whether he feels that the White House altered the facts, or misused the intelligence. If Director Tenet believed that, Senator Kennedy said, then Tenet should say so, and say it plainly. As we all know now, Senator Kennedy on Tuesday asked Director Tenet whether he believed the administration had misrepresented the facts to justify the war. Tenet answered: No, sir, I dont.
So, from the best possible source, Kennedys thesis was rejected. It would be tempting to say, Case closed, but I doubt the statement of the director of Central Intelligence will silence the presidents critics; so lets review some of the other stubborn facts.
The senator next claimed that the rushed decision to invade Iraq is the result not only of flawed intelligence, but also of the administrations manipulation of the intelligence. Indeed, in the course of his speech, Senator Kennedy also claimed that intelligence was distorted, misrepresented, retrofitted, exaggerated, concealed, and misused--that the whole case was trumped up, presumably politically motivated. And thats just the warm-up. He concluded that it was pure unadulterated fear-mongering based on a devious strategy.1
What was the devious strategy? Quoting Senator Kennedy: We now know that from the moment President Bush took office, Iraq was given high priority as unfinished business from the first Bush administration.
What are the stubborn facts?
The policy to remove Saddam Hussein was not left over from the first Bush administration, but, rather, unfinished business from the Clinton administration. Upon entering office in January of 2001, President Bush inherited from the Clinton administration a policy of regime change. That policy was based upon the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (P.L. 105-338), which stated, It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime. This policy was unanimously approved by the Senate and strongly supported by the Clinton administration.
Not two months after he signed the Iraq Liberation Act into law, President Clinton delivered an address to the nation explaining his decision to order air strikes against Iraqi military targets. He discussed the potential long-term threat posed by Saddam Hussein, stating,
The hard fact is that so long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, he threatens the well- being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with the new Iraqi government, a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people.
. . . Heavy as they are, the costs of inaction must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again at his neighbors; he will make war on his own people. And mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them. (Emphasis added)
The words, again, of President Clinton. It is hard to think of any Bush administration words more forceful, unqualified or expressive of the grave and growing danger posed by the Iraqi regime. Yet, Ive heard no criticism of Clinton administration misuse of intelligence.
Senator Kennedys primary source for his claim is former Treasury Secretary Paul ONeill, who supposedly asserted that President Bush began planning for Saddam Husseins removal upon taking office in January 2001. But the senator did not mention that ONeill later clarified his comments. During an NBC interview on January 13 of this year, he stated: You know, people are trying to make the case that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually, there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be regime change in Iraq. Exactly; those darned stubborn facts!
It did not require an exaggeration of intelligence to make the case that Saddam had to go. The agreed upon indictment includes the refusal of Saddam Hussein to comply with the cease- fire agreement he signed in 1991 and his flagrant violation of the 16 other Security Council resolutions that followed, Saddams repeated military attacks on U.S. and British planes enforcing the no-fly zones, his refusal to cooperate with U.N. inspectors, his deplorable treatment of the Iraqi people, his aggression against his neighbors, his aid to terrorists, his use of chemical weapons against Iran and against the Iraqi Kurds, his firing of ballistic missiles at four of his neighbors, his WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programs, his attempt to assassinate former President Bush, and much more.
After September 11, the administration took a sober look at Iraqs position, its continued defiance, and the threat it would likely pose in the war on terror. Well discuss Senator Kennedys terrorism-related argument later, but suffice it to say, he does not appear to grant any credit to the view that, like the Taliban, Saddam Hussein was on the wrong side— that we were not dealing with him in a vacuum. As President Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address: Before September 11, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans— this time armed by Saddam Hussein. . . .
One of the great myths generated by the presidents opponents is that he justified action by claiming the threat posed by Saddams regime was imminent.2 Well, the stubborn fact is, that wasnt the presidents claim— in fact, he specifically disclaimed that rationale for his decision. In his 2003 State of the Union address, he stated:
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
Confronted by the stubborn fact that the president did not claim the threat was imminent, Senator Kennedy makes two arguments: (1) it was senior administration officials who suggested it and (2) that the words Bush used were semantically the same as imminent.
Both arguments are flawed. As to the first, it wasnt as if the president was silent and the only way to know his views was through spokesmen.3 He addressed the entire nation specifically disclaiming an imminent threat. The best evidence is what he said, especially since he repeated it so many times and since it was central to the doctrine of pre-emptive action, which some Democrats criticized, but all understood was predicated on acting before a threat became imminent.
As to the second argument, amplified at Tuesdays Armed Services Committee hearing, it is no proof that the president or his administration described the threat as imminent to say that other words he used were similar, so its just semantics. Senator Kennedy misses the whole point. It is inconsistent with the notion of pre-emption to argue that the threat is imminent. President Bush recently summarized the necessity of dealing with Saddam: . . . the lessons of September the 11th mean that we must be clear-eyed and realistic and deal with threats before they fully materialize. I looked at the intelligence and came to the conclusion that Saddam was a threat. . . . [H]is actions [also] said he was a threat.4
One reason this is important is because of the dramatic assertion at the end of Senator Kennedys speech that, Congress never would have voted to authorize the war if we had known the facts, including, presumably, that the threat was not imminent. But even Democratic colleagues understood that the action was predicated on pre-emption, not on an imminent threat. Consider, for example, Senator [Tom] Daschles [D-S.D.] explanation of his support for the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq: The threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Daschle said, may not be imminent, but it is real, it is growing, and it cannot be ignored.5
Senator Kennedy is right that the intelligence community never characterized the threat as imminent, but thats hardly big news unless you think the president did. Tenet said: The community recognized that Saddam was a threat, but it never suggested the threat was imminent or immediate or urgent. This, of course, was the reason [National Security Adviser] Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice said: We cannot wait for the final proof— the smoking gun. Thats the whole point of pre-emption.6
Policymakers, whether the president or members of Congress, do not always qualify their public discussions as precisely as intelligence officers do, a point Director Tenet made in his testimony on Tuesday. He stated: Policymakers take data. They interpret threat. They assess risk. They put urgency behind it, and sometimes it doesn't uniquely comport with every word of an intelligence estimate. I will quote later several statements of Democratic colleagues that confirm this point.
I would add that policymakers appear even more likely to stray from exactitude when they are especially passionate about a matter— as when Senator Kennedy characterized the administrations analysis as the trumped-up argument. Here he singled out Vice President [Dick] Cheney for criticism, first implying the vice president was somehow incorrect in noting that, We now know that Saddam Hussein has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. . . . Many of us are now convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. And he says that the vice presidents rhetoric was overheated when he stated, [W]e 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.
So exactly what facts were trumped up?
As Director Tenet described in an August 2003 press release, . . . most agencies believed that Iraqs attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors, magnets, high- speed balancing machines, and machine tools, as well as Iraqs efforts to enhance its cadre of weapons personnel and activities at several suspect nuclear sites indicated that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. The State Department deviated from the general intelligence community assessment, but, even so, according to Tenet, [It] assessed that Baghdad was pursuing at least a limited effort to acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities.
So, Vice President Cheney was exactly correct about Saddams procurement program. One could argue about the phrase fairly soon--it is subjective— but recall that the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] posited that Iraq could have a weapon in months to a year if Saddam acquired the fissile material (which, of course, could be made or purchased).
Some of the intelligence communitys assessments may have been wrong. We have yet to complete the work of the Iraq Survey Group. But Vice President Cheneys comments were entirely consistent with the intelligence assessment. Senator Kennedy further attempts to cast doubt on Vice President Cheneys statement by noting that the intelligence community was deeply divided about the aluminum tubes, but Cheney was absolutely certain. This is a sleight-of-hand argument: what Cheney said he was certain of was not the aluminum tubes, but that [Saddam] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs. And the stubborn fact is, thats true. Again, as Tenet described in his press release, and as the NIE stated, the intelligence communitys assessment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program was based, in part, on intelligence about Saddams procurement efforts.7
Senator Kennedy is also critical of President Bushs true statement that: 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. He claims that the intelligence community was far from unified on Iraqs nuclear threat. Really?
The NIE consensus was that, Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade material. The only dissent came from the State Department, but even this alternate view stated that Saddam continues to want nuclear weapons and that available evidence indicates that Baghdad is pursuing a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapons capabilities.
Senator Kennedy also revisited the infamous (and somewhat irrelevant) question of whether Saddam Hussein was pursuing the acquisition of nuclear material from Africa. After acknowledging that most agencies believed Iraq had restarted its nuclear program after inspectors left in 1998 and that, if unchecked, Iraq probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade, Senator Kennedy cited the NIE report that Niger was one of several potential African sources of nuclear material. Senator Kennedy noted that the State Department regarded the African involvement as highly dubious. The senator then said the intelligence regarding nuclear weapons was distorted because the following January, the president included the claims about Africa in his State of the Union address. What, exactly, was distorted?
The president included in his speech information that was part of the National Intelligence Estimate. He cited as the source of the information the British government, which believed the information to be accurate. The speech was approved by Tenet. And that the State Department held a different view of the information is really rather unremarkable, given that the Intelligence Community includes all of the directors of U.S. intelligence agencies composing the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence]-chaired National Foreign Intelligence Board— CIA [Central Intelligence Agency], DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research], NSA [National Security Agency], DOE [Department of Energy], and NIMA [National Imagery and Mapping Agency].
The intelligence may or may not be accurate; but it can hardly be said it was distorted, when the NIE backed it up. In a statement issued on July 12, 2003, DCI George Tenet stated that the CIA approved the president's State of the Union address before it was delivered; that he was responsible for the approval process in my agency; and that the president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound. He concluded: From what we know now, agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct, i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.8
Now we come to the issue of chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld is quoted by Senator Kennedy saying Saddam Hussein had them, but Senator Kennedy says Rumsfeld is wrong on all counts.
How does Senator Kennedy know this? The Iraq Survey Group has not completed its work, which could take another two or more years.9
But the real question is not what we may someday find out; the question is whether Senator Kennedy is right that the administration deliberately misled the American people about the facts. Theres a big difference between a possible intelligence failure and misrepresentation of the intelligence. On this point, Senator Kennedy himself answers the question by quoting from the October 2002 NIE: Yet the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate actually quantified the size of the stockpiles, finding that although we have little specific information on Iraqs CW [chemical weapons] 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.
So were secretaries Rumsfeld and [Colin] Powell misleading the American people or just accurately reflecting the intelligence communitys judgment as documented in the NIE when they said Saddam had stockpiles of prohibited weapons?
Again, the intelligence may or may not have been accurate; but it is what secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld quoted. They did not distort, mislead, or misrepresent what the intelligence community said; and the suggestion that they did is not only false but itself a distortion.
The second major theme in Senator Kennedys speech is that the administrations case for war was the linkage between Saddam and al Qaeda.
That was not the case for war. True, there were connections between al Qaeda and Iraq, but nothing operational, at least that we knew of. And the administration didnt claim otherwise as the justification for war. In fact, when asked directly if there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11, administration officials have generally said, We dont know.10
Senator Kennedy says that President Bush flatly declared: you cant distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. Obviously, the president was making the point that theyre equally bad, not that they were plotting together. Senator Kennedy notes that President Bush accused Saddam Hussein of aiding and protecting terrorists, including al Qaeda members. Thats a stubborn fact, as is the presidents statement that Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct, and continuing ties to terrorist networks.
Does Senator Kennedy deny the payments by Saddam Hussein to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who attack innocent Israelis? Is that not aiding terrorists? Does he say Saddam Husseins support of terrorists such as Abu Nidal, the Palestine Liberation Front, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi network is not a fact? As far back as the 1999 annual report on Patterns of Global Terrorism (and again in the 2000, 2001, and 2002 reports), the State Department found that Saddam did, in fact, harbor and support these groups.
Specifically, in its 1999 report, the Clinton administrations State Department found that, Iraq continued to plan and sponsor international terrorism in 1999. Although Baghdad focused primarily on the anti-regime opposition both at home and abroad, it continued to provide safe haven and support to various terrorist groups. The report added that Iraq continued to provide safe haven to a variety of Palestinian rejectionist groups, including the Abu Nidal organization, the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), and the former head of the now-defunct 15 May Organization, Abu Ibrahim, who masterminded several bombings of U.S. aircraft.
After the claim of exaggerated intelligence, Senator Kennedy concluded: In fact, there was no operational link. No one in the administration ever claimed there was. Importantly, he does not cite any Bush administration official claiming such a link. Its a straw man.11
So whats Senator Kennedys point except a dark innuendo that because Bush, Rice, and others noted connections that the president must have meant operational linkage? Is Senator Kennedy suggesting members of Congress were misled by President Bush on this matter of linkage--that they actually thought the president was claiming operational linkage? If not, why bring it up? If so, wheres the evidence that senators reached such a conclusion?
It is especially troubling that Senator Kennedy hints that the Bush administration took us to war for political reasons: The politics of the election trumped the stubborn facts, he says. That charge, if more than just over-the-top bluster, would be close to an allegation of treason— suggesting that the president deliberately put our young men and women in harms way for no purpose other than politics. Such a charge would not only sap the morale of the troops who are fighting even now; it would undercut our entire position in the war on terror generally and in Iraq specifically.
To claim: It was pure, unadulterated fear-mongering, based on a devious strategy to convince the American people that Saddams ability to provide nuclear weapons to al Qaeda justified immediate war is likewise disrespectful, dangerous to morale, and hurtful to our effort to work with other nations in a common effort against despots and tyrants like Saddam Hussein.
In any event, it is a gross mischaracterization to claim that President Bush sought to make the American people believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he was about to pass to al Qaeda, and thats why we had to go to war.
The senators comments on the validity and utility of the intelligence collected by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress [INC] are unwarranted. Though I cannot discuss details in an open setting, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that before Operation Iraqi Freedom we had very little human intelligence in Iraq, and, therefore, the INC provided one of the best— and only— avenues for acquiring intelligence on Saddam Husseins regime.12 I believe the Department of Defense would conclude it was useful.
When all is said and done, the most amazing claim in Senator Kennedys speech is his conclusion that: Congress would never have voted to authorize the war if we had known the facts.
Senator Kennedy voted against the war. He clearly thought he knew the facts, and, to him, they didnt support the war. How is it that he knew the facts, but his colleagues did not? He certainly made his case forcefully at that time. Is he saying now everyone who voted for the war was duped? Is he saying the members of the intelligence committee were duped?
His specific assertion is that the Bush administration misrepresented the facts to justify war. If this is so, why did key senators, Republicans and Democrats, discuss the facts (the intelligence) the same way the president did? Were they all misleading the American people too?
What these charges of deception remind me of are the comments in 1967 of Michigan Governor (and presidential candidate) George Romney, as he attempted to explain his shift in position on the Vietnam War: "Well, you know when I came back from Vietnam, I had just the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam. Not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they do a very thorough job."
Lets review what some key senators said about the facts— and bear in mind, they all had access not only to the NIE but to the intelligence behind it.
- Senator Daschle in February 1998: Iraqs actions pose a serious and continued threat to international peace and security. It is a threat we must address. Saddam is a proven aggressor who has time and again turned his wrath on his neighbors and on his own people. Iraq is not the only nation in the world to possess weapons of mass destruction, but it is the only nation with a leader who has used them against his own people. . . 13
- Senator [John] Kerry [D-MA] in October 2002: It would be naive to the point of grave danger not to believe that, left to his own devices, Saddam Hussein will provoke, misjudge, or stumble into a future, more dangerous confrontation with the civilized world. . . .14
- Senator Kerry in October 2002: I believe the record of Saddam Husseins ruthless, reckless breach of international values and standards of behavior, which is at the core of the cease-fire agreement, with no reach, no stretch, is cause enough for the world community to hold him accountable by use of force if necessary.15
- Senator [John D.] Rockefeller [D-WV] in October 2002: There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next 5 years. He could have it earlier if he is able to obtain fissile materials on the outside market, which is possible-difficult but possible. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress that Saddam Hussein has been able to make in the development of weapons of mass destruction.16
- Senator [John] Edwards [D-NC] in September 2002: I believe that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime represents a clear threat to the United States, to our allies, to our interests around the world, and to the values of freedom and democracy we hold dear
. Thousands of terrorist operatives around the world would pay anything to get their hands on Saddam's arsenal, and there is every possibility that he could turn his weapons over to these terrorists. . . . We can hardly ignore the terrorist threat, and the serious danger that Saddam would allow his arsenal to be used in aid of terror.17
- Senator Bob Graham [D-FL] in December 2002: I have seen enough evidence. I dont know if Ive seen all the evidence, but Ive seen enough to be satisfied that there has been a continuing effort by Saddam Hussein since the end of the Gulf War, particularly since 1998, to re-establish and enhance Iraqs capacity of weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear.18
Now, it is possible that not all of the intelligence these senators relied on was totally accurate. But my point is that these were the facts understood by everyone at the time: the United Nations, the intelligence services of our allies, senators on the Intelligence Committee, and the administration.
The reality is, no one was duped. We were all working off of the same data. Reasonable people reached different conclusions about what to do based on a commonly understood set of facts. There is nothing devious about that. One need not veer off into conspiracy theories to explain honest differences of opinion about policies.
I much prefer strategic discussion to detailed critiques; but, as I said in the beginning, it is necessary to debunk some of the myths that have been perpetuated precisely because they have not been responded to. My hope is that, at least on this issue, we can move beyond politics and return to rational discourse about our previous, current, and future actions in Iraq. I respect those who disagree, but I believe history will judge that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do that the United States, the Iraqi people, and the international community are far better off today with Saddam Hussein in jail. While its too early to write the definitive history of what happened, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, recently provided a preview: I think . . . well paint a picture of Iraq that was far more dangerous than even we thought it was before the war. It was a system collapsing. It was a country that had the capability in weapons of mass destruction areas and in which terrorists, like ants to honey, were going after it.
I applaud all who have helped to resolve this challenge to our national security.
FESSENDEN: Thank you very much. I was remiss earlier in my comments. I should have asked all of you, if haven't done it already, please turn off your cell phones. And also, just to let folks know, this is— unlike most Council meetings— this meeting is on the record. And we're going to start our Q&A in just a sec. We have about 25 minutes left. And I'll also ask you to make sure just to keep your questions concise and to the point. I'm going to open up with a question of my own, if I may.
KYL: And I suspect that admonition was aimed at me as well.
FESSENDEN: Your critique of the Kennedy speech is very detailed and kind of goes point by point [and] looks at a lot of specific statements. I want to, just for this question, step back a minute and look at the broader political picture, because Iraq is obviously one the— not the only issue, but one of the— it's going to be one of the main issues in the presidential campaign. And for the average voter, they don't necessarily follow what Senator Kennedy is saying or what Tenet is saying in these very, very specific statements before the war.
But there is a sense of— there is this issue of cost, because every policy decision has a cost. And in this case, the cost so far is that we do have over 500 Americans dead, and depending on what kind of supplemental [spending bill] Congress passes at the end of this year, the cost of the war itself will be probably over $200 billion, and we have several thousand more soldiers who are wounded.
Just coming from the point of— coming from the perspective of strategy for the campaign, what can the administration do to make the case that— the strategic case that going after Saddam was worth this cost, which many Americans increasingly see as too high, according to the polls?
KYL: Sure. And it's a good question. I think that the first thing is perhaps to hark back to why the president took action. And part of that reason was the unfinished business from the Clinton administration and the Iraq Liberation Act [of 1998], which said that it was our policy to get rid of Saddam Hussein [and support efforts] for a regime change in Iraq. That was official American policy, as established by the previous administration and the United States Congress. And I quoted from President Clinton's eloquent statement about the problem. He said, "Heavy as they are, the costs of inaction must be weighed against the price of inaction." And while the price of action in this case was high and will continue to be high in terms especially of treasure and, unfortunately, some casualties, the price of inaction, President Clinton was saying, and President Bush has said, certainly since September 11th of 2001, could be far greater.
Not confronting terrorism, not enforcing agreements that dictators make, [and] at the conclusion of the first Gulf War, for example, not enforcing the U.N. resolutions, all of these things have a high cost. If the enforcement process does not occur, it is one short step to terrorists believing— and states who sponsor these kinds of activities believing— that they can get away with literally anything— with murder. That's what Saddam Hussein thought he could get away with. And at some point the civilized world has to say no, and at some point a country, a leader, like the United States, has to say to those who are willing to join in a coalition, If U.N. resolutions are to mean anything, then we've got to step up to the plate here and demonstrate that after plenty of chances to correct, if he hasn't done so, we've got to take action.
So I think this is a case that the Bush administration does need to make to the American people, to constantly remind us of the role of Iraq in the larger war on terror and, I would say, of the continuing necessity to stay the course in the war on terror, because that's going to be, as the president said, a long, drawn-out affair that's going to be costly. And it will try the American patient— patience. We're a country that loves to get on with the job and then move on to other things. And in this, our patience will be tried. But as with the Cold War, we have no other option but to stay the course.
FESSENDEN: Just going to ask one more question. Then I'll open up the floor.
There— one of the interesting things, I thought, before the war was that there was very little debate about deterrence. That is, there wasn't much talk as to what might stop Saddam from acting aggressively. For example, when he did use chemical weapons against the Kurds and against the Iranians, those were populations that could not retaliate, [but] he did not use chemical weapons in the first Persian Gulf War, because the U.S. at that point also threatened to retaliate. What specific actions or statements of Saddam convinced you that he was no longer deterrable or that he was irrational?
KYL: Well, I'm not sure that I can point to specific statements of Saddam Hussein, but regarding --
KYL: --sure— the actions of his country and the things that he did, I mean, here's a man who miscalculated over and over and over. And one thing about the Cold War— when the old Soviet regime stared us in the face and vice versa, we knew, both of us, that at least we were dealing with rational people who did not want to commit mutual suicide. With Saddam Hussein, he always seemed to miscalculate. He miscalculated against Iran. He miscalculated in the first [Gulf] war. I mean, he miscalculated when he went to assassinate President Bush. These are not actions of someone who thinks very rationally or whom it appears that you can deter.
There was an argument that you can continue to contain Saddam Hussein, and it's far too complex for me to get into all the details here of the reasons why we felt that wasn't adequate. But remember that the European allies— some of them were thinking about eliminating the sanctions on Saddam Hussein. This is one of the reasons why we decided we had to act at the time that we did. The intelligence was [then] saying [that] if he has more means than he has now, he is likely to speed up his weapons programs and could be even more dangerous.
So— and I would also say this: I'm not certain how credible the United States deterrent of the use of weapons of mass destruction is. Remember, we have foresworn the use of chemical and biological weapons. We haven't foresworn the use of nuclear weapons. The question is, would Saddam Hussein rationally believe, after all of the things that occurred after 1991, that the United States would drop a nuclear weapon on Baghdad on one of his palaces if he did something— if he went after the Kurds again or did something like that? In other words, I'm not sure that the kind of deterrence that was workable in the Cold War is all that relevant in today's situation, where you have the shadowy terrorist networks and the kind of traveling around that people do— even against a state sponsor of terror like Saddam Hussein.
So while one could make a credible argument that you could continue to try to keep him in the box, everybody— all of the senators, President Clinton, all of the people that I've mentioned here, as well as the intelligence estimates— were saying that it was only a matter of time. And the question is, as the president said, do you act when you can do so on your terms or do you wait until he has engaged in the most recent irrational activity? And I think the decision was made to do it on our terms, not his.
FESSENDEN: Let's have some questions.
QUESTIONER: Senator, if it's important to quantify the costs, isn't it also important to quantify the cost savings, in terms of— look at [Libyan leader Muammar al] Qaddafi. He didn't call the United Nations and say, you know, I'm thinking about getting rid of my weapons of mass destruction. Look at Pakistan. I mean, didn't we actually save American lives and billions of dollars?
KYL: That's an excellent point. The problem is it's so hard to quantify. But one of the sorts of quantifiable aspects of it [that] you pointed to [is] Libya. I mean, it will be far easier for us to deal with Libya in the terms and conditions that are being established now than it would have been had Libya pursued its weapons [program]. Think about Iran. If we're somehow able to reach an accommodation with Iran, won't it be a whole lot easier than having to live with the threat that Iran might potentially present to us?
It's just so hard to quantify another 9/11 not happening, and when I see what's happening in Spain today [the March 11 bombings in Madrid] and wonder what the causes of that are and whether they're linked to this al Qaeda network, it just brings it back to you. We have been very fortunate in this country, probably primarily because of the efforts that we've undertaken to try to disrupt and eliminate the terrorist networks. But we can never be certain that we've been able to adequately do that. And so it's almost impossible to make the case on one side. It's like trying to prove a negative. It's hard to do because you don't know what those costs might have been, but there are some areas in which it is quantifiable. And I appreciate— I mean, the one— specific one you mentioned is a good example.
QUESTIONER: I'm Robert Livingston from the German Historical Institute. Senator, in the interest of rational discourses that you want, let me introduce a subject that's hardly ever discussed, and that is [the] liaison with foreign intelligence services. And I've got two parts of that question.
The first one: Dr. [David] Kay at one point testified that, because of personnel cuts at the CIA in the late 1970s, it became too dependent on foreign intelligence liaisons for its information. And Mr. Tenet, at one of his many testimonies, said the two decisive pieces of information for him, that convinced him prior to the Iraq war, both— both of those came from foreign intelligence services. So my first part of my question to you is: have we become too dependent on foreign intelligence services?
The second part is more specific of a link to Israel. Now, if there's one country that targeted Iraq for decades with intelligence work it's Israel, and the Mossad [Israeli intelligence service] has a very high reputation. Has your committee looked into how effective [the] liaison with the Israeli intelligence service was prior to the Iraq war?
KYL: That second question is a darn good question, and since I've now been off the committee for about a year I can't speak for what has been done in— since the time that I was gone, and I don't recall ever specifically looking at the relationship with Mossad. I suspect that had we— that had I made a specific inquiry to that effect, I could have learned a lot from our intelligence agencies. I suspect what they would have told me is that the Mossad's intelligence in the Middle East is very good, probably better than almost any other country.
And then this melds into your first question. We— and my answer has two parts. We have had an extraordinarily good relationship even with those countries that did not support our effort in Iraq. And I speak of countries like Germany specifically and France and other countries that weren't totally supportive in a diplomatic way, but who have continued to support us with their intelligence gathering and with their law enforcement activities, which has been a big part of rolling the terrorists out— the Hamburg cell, for example. Now, it hasn't always been perfect, but our own intelligence and law enforcement cooperation hasn't all been perfect, either. But we have, to an extraordinary degree, had great cooperation with virtually every liaison— every other intelligence service with whom we've worked that I know.
But I also believe and agree with the statement you made, that we have become far too dependent on the cocktail circuit, on liaison services, and on other, easier forms of collection. And in the war on terror, you can't rely on satellites and you can't just go to cocktail parties with lower-level embassy personnel trying to recruit other lower-level— [chuckles]--embassy personnel from other countries and figure out anything about terrorists. You've got to figure out a way to get into the countries involved and get involved in those networks. It's very, very difficult.
But in the '70s and in the '80s and in the '90s, we did not devote sufficient resources to that problem. We didn't have a mindset to do so. And therefore, when this whole thing broke, we were woefully ill-prepared.
And I suspect that some of the intelligence failures— and clearly, one of them is the question about what happened to the weapon stockpiles which, I mean, everybody knew at one point he had. Saddam Hussein wrote it down, "I admit that I have these weapons." Well, what happened to them? We don't know. Maybe we will find them. But you can call that an intelligence failure. And you're not going to find that kind of thing out unless you get on the ground with human intelligence and really work the problem hard. Even then it's difficult. Remember, we mostly found out about what Saddam was doing when his two son-in-laws defected to Jordan.
So, yes we do— the answer to the question is [that] we rely on that liaison too much. But it is also true that we have benefited a great deal from it.
FESSENDEN: In the back.
QUESTIONER: Mac Destler, University of Maryland. Thank you, senator, for your eloquent statement, and to me, at least, certainly persuasive [statement] on the question of whether the administration willfully misled the American public.
I'm tempted to ask you whether you would entertain the possibility that President Clinton might have been wrong. But I'm more— I really want to ask you whether you'd entertain the possibility that the United Nations might have been right, specifically that in a situation where, I think as you said, everybody was wrong to a degree about the existence of actual current Iraqi stockpiles or Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. U.N. inspectors seemed to be— and certainly an organization here, [the] Carnegie [Endowment for International Peace] has concluded— seemed to have been much closer to the truth, much more skeptical, much more fact-based than at least our leaders, and also many of the Democrats that you cite. So I wonder if this isn't a case where we can give the United Nations its due.
KYL: First of all, by the way, I applaud what President Clinton said. And recently, President Clinton has been quite supportive of the— and I guess you would expect him to be so. But he's been very supportive, I think, of the Bush administration's actions, even in the face of some in his own party being very, very critical. So I applaud him for that consistency and that position. We're Monday morning quarterbacking here now, and we still don't have all of the facts.
Let me tell you a little story. Every morning at 9:00, starting about a week before the Iraqi action and going through the action until finally there wasn't a lot of news to report anymore, members of the Senate would meet in a certain facility in the U.S. Capitol that's secure and [would] be briefed by four people— one State [Department official], one [Department of] Defense [official], one CIA [official] and [Major] General [Stanley A.] McChristian— McChrystal, I mean— the two-star [general] that was in charge of that at the Pentagon. And we went through— [audio break]--a series of boxes that every morning they would check off: what's the status of this today, what's the status of this today? And so on. And one of those was the red line. The red line was a line about 20 miles outside of Baghdad that they had created as a result of intelligence that told them that if we got to within that line or at that point, the Iraqi artillery, with chemical munitions, would be used against us. That's what they thought was going to happen. Much was done to alleviate that threat. Before the war we bombed warehouses where we thought the munitions existed. We bombed the artillery sites— tried to take them out. We bombed a lot of command and control [sites] to try to prevent the orders. We dropped millions of leaflets to troops and commanders in the field saying, "If you carry out the orders, then you'll be deemed a war criminal." We outfitted the guys with all kinds of very difficult-to-wear gear.
And as we approached the red line, every day we got closer— that was one of the boxes: Well, where are we with the red line? Here's the status today. We get to the Baghdad Airport. We're within the red line and, so far, no artillery. This is really good news. We're not quite sure yet whether it was because we bombed all that stuff, [because] we broke the command and control, or what. Well the— you know, a week later, after the mopping up had kind of been concluded, and they [were] doing the review of all the actions, it gets back to red line. I said this is one of the most perplexing things. What happened? We had— we thought— good intelligence. We thought this might happen. Maybe we took it out. We're not sure why they never used it.
My point in telling you the story is everybody thought that this was what could happen and we had to take the precautions. The commanders in the field were taking the precautions [with] their troops. As somebody who voted to send our young men and women into harm's way, I have to take things like that into consideration. You can't take chances. And they thought this was a real threat. Now, maybe at the end of the day it will prove to be not a real threat, or maybe we can determine that we took it out. That has yet to be definitively written. But even if the intelligence was wrong, [if] they never had the artillery or it never had the capability, or the shells that the mustard gas and so on was in had already been shipped to Syria or destroyed, or whatever— even if that's true, I don't think that it says to us that we were not justified in taking the action that we took. The action I described is the microcosm of the war in general. It's an illustration of what we had to be prepared to do, in the microcosmic sense, and it, I think, is an illustration of the macro situation as well.
So when you say, "Well, maybe it turns out that the U.N. being more skeptical— that they were correct," that may in fact turn out to be correct. But commanders have to deal with the facts on the ground when they are presented with those situations. And I guess this is a good illustration of the point and a good way for me to kind of conclude that maybe not all of the intelligence was correct. But everybody was acting on it in good faith, and that's my point. And we couldn't have done otherwise.
QUESTIONER: Senator, my name's Richard Moose. You've made an— I want to ask you a question that goes to oversight, on the basis of your eight years' experience in that area, where Congress has a unique responsibility. You've made an extensive case that many prominent people acted as though they believed the intelligence that they were given. You've said a number of times that the intelligence may or may not have been right; in one case, [it] probably wasn't, but we don't know. What does this experience say to you as— with regard to the adequacy, the future, and what reforms or improvements might be made in the Congress' ability to oversee an area where, by your own statement, there [are] such substantial grounds for wondering whether we had good intelligence or not?
KYL: Great question. And I can't give the entire answer to that today, but it is one thing, before I leave the Senate, that I do intend to reflect on and provide some more specific recommendations [on].
But I will tell you that our oversight is not very good. And while it's been better at certain times, like in response to this kind of situation, ordinarily it's not very good. And there are a lot of reasons for that that have to do with the way that our committee is constructed, how it is staffed, the members. I mean, you would literally have to spend all of your time on this to really be able to know what kind of questions to ask. And because you don't have personal staff, you get fed the questions. I mean, it is not a good oversight setup. It is not calculated to really provide oversight. And I suspect that the intelligence agencies, including the CIA, like it that way a whole lot.
Now, I think that what you'll see is because of what are apparent failures, the committee decided to investigate much more deeply than it had reason to before, and did before. And [youll see] that the report that will be released fairly soon that tries to delve into this specific issue will be a much better product and it will damning of some of the intelligence. I think it's going to be highly critical, and it will be critical of a lot of different programs and people. And by the way, the Congress is— I won't say just as much to blame, but the blame goes to [the] Democratic and Republican administrations, [to] Congress, [and to] the intelligence agencies. I mean, nobody is without blame here.
I saw lots of danger signs when I was there. I asked a lot of questions, and I asked a lot of questions of Director Tenet about [whether the CIA] has adequate resources. I was very troubled by a lot of the things that I saw. And I won't tell you all of the answers, but the bottom line was: everything's going to be OK. Well, it wasn't. And I should have done a better job, seeing those red flags, trying to pursue it. But we're all very busy; we've got other committee assignments. We don't have the staff to dive into it, as I said. Nobody wanted to really do it. And, you know, in retrospect, I kick myself for not having been more absolutely focused. I don't know that I could have done much good.
But it is— so the two quick answers are— it is not set up very well to provide very good oversight. Maybe this will spur us to do a better job, although fundamental changes would have to be made in the structure of how we do it, and I don't see any effort to do that. And secondly, I think you'll see, at least on this one occasion, in reaction to a problem, a pretty tough, damning report, which shows the committee can do a good job when it's focused on doing so.
FESSENDEN: We have time for maybe one last quick question.
KYL: And could I have the prerogative, since Ambassador [Edward L.] Rowny raised his hand too, to see if he has anything else as well?
KYL: No, no, no, no. Please, you go ahead. And then if I could close with him.
QUESTIONER: OK. I'll do this quickly. I'm Gary Mitchell from the Mitchell Report. And the question really has two pieces. The first is, I want to make an observation and give you an opportunity to respond. It is interesting to me to hear that a large impetus for the Bush administration's policy on Iraq was to continue the Clinton policy. That may be a rare example of the Bush administration following— desiring to follow a Clinton administration policy. So I'd be interested in your response to that.
Second, if the stubborn facts on the ground unequivocally demonstrated that the Bush administration didn't use vocabulary to indicate that the threats were imminent or around the corner, what was the rationale in your judgment for going to war in the middle of March when, in fact, there were motions to allow demonstrations to continue for a shorter period of time and a suggestion that some, if not all, members of the Security Council would have joined the coalition.
FESSENDEN: Should we get your question in, too, then, so you can --
KYL: I'll tell you what. Since I was up till 2:00 this morning voting on the budget, let me do these— [chuckles]--one at a time while I can still remember. [Laughter.]
KYL: And I'll try to be brief, but that last question would require a very long answer.
First of all, it wasn't just Clinton administration policy, although it was that. But it was also the policy of the United States of America, embodied in the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which I quoted to you before. That was the law of the land. The Clinton administration was carrying it out as it saw fit and the Bush administration had to do the same. So my point was it wasn't left over from the first Bush administration as Senator Kennedy claimed; it was American government policy that the Bush administration was effectuating.
As to the second point, the rationale for acting when we did, I'll try to make two points. First, the whole European— particularly French and German and Belgian— approach was [to] keep kicking the can down the road. Do you believe that France and Germany would have ever joined us? The French ambassador said no, and he said [that] there is no— and I— or maybe it was [President Jacques] Chirac who said there is no circumstance under which we're going to join, and they had the veto. This thing had been kicked down the road to a point that, given the weather conditions [and] the stationing of all the people that we had had there because we thought that the U.N. was going to act earlier but we kept giving them one more chance, one more chance, one more chance, time was in fact running out to do an operation that year. That huge cost— we had sent everybody there; we would have had to have brought them back. The president and the rest of us saw no likelihood that the British— excuse me— that the French and others were ever going to support our action, and therefore we had to go with the coalition of the willing.
To the second part of the question, the rationale, let me just say it this way because this is difficult to do. One of the problems— one of the reasons we're having the debate that we're having right now, why I have to kind of go through and go through a detailed response to what Senator Kennedy said, is that this is complex. It is not bumper-sticker stuff. We went to war in Iraq for a whole variety of reasons that were interrelated with— each in a historical context, and it's very difficult to just pluck something out and say that was the rationale. That's why I think Senator Kennedy was so wrong in identifying one particular rationale.
I referred to Senator Biden's comments and one of the other quotations that I made. Going back to the legal argument, remember— and this is the one that I kept making— Saddam Hussein promised in 1991 that he— essentially, that he would put his— all of his weapons in a pile and blow them up in front of the world, in front of the international inspection. He never did that, but he had promised to do it. We kept going after him: Do it. Do it. Do it. He would never do it.
Finally he came up with a list of all the stuff that he said he still had, which is part of the basis for the intelligence. And after— how many?--16 or 17 resolutions saying, "We demand that you do it," at some point do you just say, "Well, it's obvious that the United Nations and the people who are part of the United Nations never mean what they say, so let the guy get away with signing a cease-fire agreement where he promised to do things but he's never going to do it"? What kind of a signal does that send?
OK. Then the question is the timing— you know, when— what— why then? And the very practical military point is one that I made: the fact that we had gone to the United Nations so many different times. And I think Secretary Powell had pushed it about as far as it was ever going to get pushed. He did a magnificent job.
And by the way, remember, he went and spent three days at the CIA going over this intelligence. And he's a military man who understands these things, and I think he was very credible in laying out that case. He had taken it as far as it could be taken.
Now there was the question of pre-emption. The president and others were saying some day this guy is— Clinton said it, Daschle, everybody said it— is going to present a huge threat, and it'll be too late for us to act at that time.
So yes, there was urgency, but it wasn't because the threat was imminent. It's because if the sanctions [were lifted], and if the United Nations continued not to enforce [its resolutions], [then] there would come a point in time when we would have to deal with Iraq. And nobody wanted to face the prospect that it would be on his terms, rather than ours. There are [also] all of the intelligence estimates about the other things that we thought that he was doing, some of which are correct, some of which may not have been correct.
But my point is [that] you have to add all of these things together and consider them in the context, then, of 9/11. You know, before 9/11, I don't know. Maybe President Bush would have been inclined to do what President Clinton did: to carry out the Iraqi Liberation Act in a more measured way, more of a law enforcement kind of way. I'm not sure. But after 9/11, so many people just felt this was no longer an option.
And I'll close with this point. Part of the overall strategic case— and it's not one that you can make easily— [inaudible]--. Part of the Bush administration rationale— [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Paul Wolfowitz has been very erudite on this— was that, looking at the world of the terrorist states and supporters of terrorism, there was a huge challenge and an opportunity. And the challenge was that support for terrorism existed in all of these countries and had to be dealt with, each in its own way. Pakistan, we dealt with it in a certain way. Yemen, where it was— they were thick as thieves, you had to deal with it a different way. Somalia, the Philippines; Afghanistan we had to deal with in a very unique way, and we did. Saudi Arabia we're still dealing with. I mean, we've made progress there, but a lot of the money that supports terrorism comes right out of one place. We had to deal with that in a different way. Then you had Iraq and Syria, potentially Libya, and some other countries. OK, how do you deal with each one of them? Dealing with Iraq in this overall context was another domino falling in the war on terror. We succeeded in each of these places to one degree or another.
And the calculation that I have is that at some point, the fulcrum will tilt the other way. All of those leaders will come to realize we're on the winning side, and those who have been in the terrorist camp are on the losing side. Those with one foot in both [had] better make up their minds. The history is going to be on our side and they'd better get with the program. I think that's what Qaddafi did, and kudos to him. And Iraq and the way we dealt with Iraq will have a salutary effect in that process. It will demonstrate that we mean what we say. When we say there's a cease-fire agreement that's going to be enforced, we will at some point