The Washington Times

Two Sundays ago in The Washington Post, it was former senator (and Iraq war supporter) John Edwards on deck with an op-ed accusing the Bush administration of having misled him on the question of weapons of mass destruction. This Sunday, it was former senator (and Iraq war opponent) Bob Graham’s turn to level the same accusation. Mr. Edwards portrayed himself as a victim of the administration’s perfidy. Mr. Graham portrays himself as someone who saw through the administration’s perfidy at the time.

Mr. Edwards was one of the leading Democrats supporting the war, and he knew why. As he wrote in The Post on Sept. 19, 2002, “America is united in its determination to eliminate forever the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” Well, that we have done, but Mr. Edwards now believes he was “wrong” to support the war, not because the security challenge posed by Saddam Hussein was universally misunderstood in fall 2002, including by Mr. Edwards, but because the Bush administration “manipulated” the prewar intelligence to produce the misunderstanding.

Now comes Mr. Graham. His current line is that on account of his privileged position on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he saw through the intelligence manipulation in a way that his fellow senators couldn’t have based on the intelligence information released to them.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that Mr. Graham directed to be prepared in September 2002, you see, included footnotes expressing reservations from within the State and Energy Departments about specific elements of the intelligence provided: “While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein’s will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.” But when the intelligence community released an unclassified report on Iraq’s supposed WMD programs in October, the footnotes expressing reservations were gone. His colleagues in the Senate were thus acting on less information than he had in reaching his decision to vote against the war.

OK, senator, so you were able to conclude from the information you saw that Saddam didn’t have WMD stocks? Well, no: As Mr. Graham noted on the Senate floor in voting against the war, “Saddam Hussein’s regime has chemical and biological weapons and is trying to get nuclear capacity.” He went on to affirm by direct quotation a speculative warning contained in the unclassified report cited above: ” ‘Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamic terrorists in conducting a weapon-of-mass destruction attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.’ ” One of Mr. Graham’s two biggest concerns that day was that, if attacked, Saddam would use his weapons against the United States. (The other, in his analogy, was that Saddam was Mussolini to al Qaeda’s Hitler – a problem, but not top priority to address.)

True, Mr. Graham expressed skepticism that Saddam Hussein was anywhere near acquiring a nuclear weapon and believed he could be prevented from doing so. But his remarks that day were thoroughly suffused in the conviction that Saddam possessed chemical and biological weapons (although by November 2005 Mr. Graham apparently finds it more convenient to refer to “whatever weapons” Saddam “might” have). To the extent that his position on the Intelligence Committee gave him access to information his colleagues lacked, it didn’t change his conclusion that Saddam had stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The debate on the Senate floor was over what to do about a Saddam Hussein armed with such weapons, with the majority concluding that he was too dangerous with them, the minority that we could tolerate his possession of them.

In other words, nothing Mr. Graham saw led him to doubt the conclusion that Saddam possessed WMD stocks. If there was misleading or manipulation going on – in this case supposedly over the omitted footnotes – it did not call into question the broader conclusion at the time. “Misleading” would seem to indicate willful deceit – as distinct from “mistaken.”

OK, who among Democrats was tipped into support for the war by the difference between what was merely mistaken and what was supposedly “misleading” or “manipulated”? No one, that’s who. Mr. Graham, unlike many Democrats then, just happened not to be that worried about the stocks of chemical and biological weapons he and they and everybody believed Saddam to possess.

Mr. Graham’s account Sunday at least brings clarity to the latest Democratic charges against the Bush administration: If only his fellow Democrats had seen what Mr. Graham had seen, they would have reached the conclusion about Saddam’s possession of WMD that he failed to reach.