When a president of the United States makes truly outrageous statements, he deserves to be called on them. That’s exactly what happened last Friday when President Bush spoke on Veterans Day.
Here’s the “call.”
First, let me qualify the witness.
As a Democratic member of Congress, I cast the following votes: In 1991, I voted to give "Bush 41" the right to commit troops against Saddam Hussein; In 2002, I voted to give "Bush 43" the right to commit troops against Saddam Hussein. Additionally, I voted for the $87 billion to conduct the war.
President Bush on Friday attacked the motives of Democratic congressmen and senators whose "baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."
Somewhere along the line, President Bush seems to have forgotten his basic civics lesson about how a democracy works. Thanks to our successful revolution against King George III, we have the right to dissent in this country. We have the right to question the actions of our own government. To suggest otherwise would be to relegate us to a dictatorship. And, after all, we have been telling the Iraqi people about the virtues of a democracy.
We now know that the intelligence relied upon by the Bush administration to take us to war was faulty. We have every right to ask for a full explanation about how the administration got it so wrong, and about how they used the intelligence to convince Congress and the American people that military action against Saddam Hussein was justified. That’s exactly what the current bi-partisan six member investigation in the U.S. Senate is undertaking.
In the meantime, Congress and the American people are clearly supporting our troops in the field. We all want them to be successful in helping bring democracy to Iraq and we hope they can complete their mission as quickly as possible. For the president to suggest that Congress does not support the troops is truly outrageous.
Now, let’s get to the question of the pre-war intelligence. The issue is not whether the administration intentionally falsified the intelligence but whether the administration was diligent enough in pursuing accurate intelligence— and whether the administration hyped the intelligence it had obtained to sell the war.
I was a member of the Democratic leadership (serving as caucus chairman) in the months leading up to the congressional vote in 2002. We were bombarded by the administration with conclusions about the intelligence rather than the actual intelligence itself.
Specifically, we were constantly reminded that Saddam Hussein had used poison gas against the Kurds, and that, at the time when U.N. monitoring of Iraq began in 1992 following the successful first Gulf War, he had biological and chemical weapons. Even though these weapons had subsequently been destroyed, we were assured that he must now have more since he'd had the original capability. We were also told that intelligence sources indicated he was well on his way to developing nuclear weapons.
All of that intelligence turned out to be false.
Thus, it is perfectly reasonable to inquire about how the administration got it so terribly wrong and why it hyped this intelligence so aggressively. In fact, press reports have now indicated that Italian intelligence sources tried to warn the administration that its information about efforts by Iraq to obtain yellowcake uranium from Niger was based on a forged document.
In hindsight, members of the House and the Senate could have insisted on seeing documented proof about the administration’s claims; however, we should all — elected officials as well as the public — be able to assume that our own government is telling us the truth about something this important.
It’s time for the president to get on with our country’s business rather than trying to blame Democrats for the mistakes that his own people made.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is currently a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.