"Now, I have to say, when it came to making the most important foreign policy decision of our generation, the decision to invade Iraq, Sen. Clinton got it wrong," Barack Obama said Sunday in response to a Clinton campaign ad that suggests only Hillary Clinton would be ready to answer a late-night emergency phone call to the White House. "She didn't read the National Intelligence Estimate. Jay Rockefeller (the present Senate Intelligence Committee chairman who endorsed Obama) read it, but she didn't read it.
"I don't know what all that experience got her, because I have enough experience to know that if you have a National Intelligence Estimate and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says, 'You should read this, this is why I'm voting against the war,' that you should probably read it. I don't know how much experience you need for that."
Obama is correct that Clinton failed to read the 90-page NIE report before voting to authorize the use of U.S. military force in Iraq in October 2002. But if you watched that clip, you likely would think that Rockefeller read the NIE, then, as a consequence, voted against the war. Wrong. The West Virginia Democrat read the NIE, then voted for the war.
Obama's campaign explains that Obama didn't get his facts mixed up. When Obama referred to the chairman of Senate Intelligence, he was referring to Bob Graham, the then-committee chairman who opposed the war.
CNN aired Obama's remarks more than once Monday without clarifying that Rockefeller actually voted for the war. While the New York Times reported on Rockefeller's pro-war vote, other news stories repeated the Obama quote without setting the record straight.
To the contrary, Rockefeller read the NIE and concluded, "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons" -- actually, the NIE language was less conclusive -- and that Hussein's "existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America."
Rockefeller also said in his statement before his war vote, "There has been some debate over how 'imminent' a threat Iraq poses. I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after Sept. 11, that question is increasingly outdated." Like much of Washington at the time, Rockefeller lived in complete dread of the possibility that U.S. intelligence was underestimating Baghdad's WMD capabilities, as it had done before.
In a short-attention-span nation, many voters have forgotten the serious deliberations that preceded the war. They forget that the NIE asserted without reservation that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological WMD. They only know that some intelligence officials had doubts about Iraq's nuclear capability and that the administration announced that President Bush should not have included a sentence about Iraq's attempts to obtain uranium in his 2003 State of the Union address. They use the above to claim that Bush lied America into war -- even though Bush delivered that speech three months after Congress voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
Now Clinton finds herself on the receiving end. Since Democrats won't recognize any legitimacy to the WMD case, Clinton's pro-war vote must be a sign that she was duped or she didn't do her homework.
The anti-war crowd needs to have a bogeyman -- and he can't be Saddam Hussein, whose cooperation with U.N. inspectors would have prevented this war. If the U.S. intelligence was wrong, it can't be because Hussein successfully tricked the world into believing he had WMD, which it seems, he no longer possessed. The culprit must be, to borrow from a former first lady, "a vast right-wing conspiracy."