Bob Graham's Loopy Foreign Policy

Posted: May 16, 2003 12:00 AM

9:30 a.m.: Brushed teeth — briskly.

9:45 a.m.: Headed to TV studio.

10:30 a.m.: Smeared the Bush administration.

Before he became a Democratic presidential candidate, Florida Sen. Bob Graham was famous mostly for his obsessive, minute-by-minute diary keeping. Now he is making his name in another way: with reckless, illogical criticisms of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror.

Graham's latest errant bombshell is to charge the Bush administration with "a cover-up" for refusing to declassify all of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-9-11 miscues. Graham, the top Democrat on the committee, says important information is being withheld from the American public.

Other members of the committee, who have seen the same material as Graham, don't know what he's talking about. Sen. John Kyl, an Arizona Republican on the committee, told National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru: "There is no smoking gun. There is no hugely interesting nugget of intelligence information that's been kept from the public."

Actually, Graham has said as much himself. "In fact, a great deal of the information that they want to keep classified has already been released, such as in testimony by CIA and FBI officials in public hearings,'' Graham told CBS' "Face the Nation" last weekend. How an administration can cover up information that has already been released is something only Graham knows.

Consistency, however, has not been a hallmark of his recent foreign-policy pronouncements, as he maneuvers for attention as one of the only "hawks" seeking the Democratic nomination. He now says that the war in Iraq was an unwarranted diversion from the war on terrorism, and even contributed to the recent deadly bombings in Riyadh by forcing the United States to ease up on al-Qaida. But as a matter of fact and chronology, it's not true, as Graham says, that "we were making good progress in dismantling the basic structure of al-Qaida. Then we started to redirect our attention to Iraq."

The biggest catch in the war on terror, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, came on March 1 as the military buildup against Iraq was reaching its crest. Another big catch, the chief planner of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, came two weeks after the fall of Baghdad. So the Iraq war was bracketed by major successes against al-Qaida, which makes sense since the fight against the terror group now chiefly involves intelligence and law enforcement, not armored divisions and carrier battle groups.

There are other flaws in Graham's "diversion" argument. Saddam Hussein's regime had connections to terror, providing safe harbor to an al-Qaida-affiliated group that attempted poison attacks in Europe last year. Also, if U.S. intelligence on al-Qaida was as distracted as Graham suggests, why did the United States pick up signs of an imminent attack a few weeks ago in Saudi Arabia and urge the Saudis to increase security?

Finally, Graham has forgotten his original position on Iraq. (Check the diary!) During the debate over the Iraq war resolution, he argued that the resolution didn't go far enough, but still supported the underlying authorization for the "diversion." "I'm not saying that we should not be concerned and should not give the president authority to deal with Iraq," Graham told CNN. "I'm saying that should not be the only authority that we give him."

Graham often suggested during the Iraq debate that Syria, with its support for terrorist Hezbollah, was a greater threat. Fine. What would Graham do? He now says he supports diplomacy. So his current position apparently is that he would have left Saddam in place in order to better pursue ... diplomacy with Syria.

Even an opportunistic presidential candidate should see that toppling Saddam has drastically increased U.S. leverage, putting us in a better position to pressure the terror-tainted states of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. At this rate, Graham could lighten his diary duties by making one catchall entry for his presidential campaign.

All day long: Made no sense.