Sunday, March 07, 2004

Chavez threatens a 100-year war; Kennedy rips Tenet and Bush over (mis)use of intelligence re Iraq; and more re Haiti

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today threatened the USA with a "100-year war" if the US ever tried to invade Venezuela. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas this weekend to protest the delay the referendum vote. Chavez is facing a mid-term recall vote, if he allows it to go through. His contention is that this is a US-inspired act to get him out of office. It's hard to know where the truth lies.

On another note, Ted Kennedy continued what has become a series of excellent speeches of late, giving this devasting critique Saturday of our actions en route to Iraq. He opened by talking about the need to let facts, not faith, guide our national policy, quoting the words of John Adams:
Over two centuries ago, John Adams spoke eloquently about the need to let facts and evidence guide actions and policies. He said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." Listen to those words again, and you can hear John Adams speaking to us now about Iraq. "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
Kennedy went after CIA director George Tenet for not addressing the misuse of the intelligence provided by the administration:
A month ago, in an address at Georgetown University, CIA Director George Tenet discussed the strengths and flaws in the intelligence on Iraq. Tenet testified to several Senate and House committees on these issues, and next Tuesday, he will come before our Senate Armed Services Committee. He will have an opportunity to explain why he waited until last month to publicly state the facts and evidence on these fundamental questions, and why he was so silent when it mattered most--in the days and months leading up to the war.

If he feels that the White House altered the facts, or misused the intelligence, or ignored it and relied on dubious sources in the Iraqi exile community, Tenet should say so, and say it plainly.
Kennedy mentions the Ron Suskind book in which Paul O'Neill made clear that Iraq was on the President's agenda from day one.

Kennedy says that Tenet has consistently and strongly, year after year, warned of the threat Al Quaeda presented and still presents to America. Tenet never used such strong language about Iraq:
Tenet never used that kind of strong language to describe the threat from Iraq. Yet despite all the clear and consistent warnings about Al Qaeda, by the summer of 2002, President Bush was ready for war with Iraq. The war in Afghanistan was no longer in the headlines or at the center of attention. Bin Laden was hard to find, the economy was in trouble, and so was the president's approval rating in the polls.

[White House political adviser] Karl Rove had tipped his hand earlier by stating that the war on terrorism could bring political benefits as well. The president's undeniable goal was to convince the American people that war was necessary--and necessary soon, because soon-to-be-acquired nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein could easily be handed off to terrorists.

This conclusion was not supported by the facts, but the intelligence could be retrofitted to support it. Greg Thielmann, former director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, put it bluntly last July. He said, "Some of the fault lies with the performance of the intelligence community, but most of it lies with the way senior officials misused the information they were provided." He said, "They surveyed the data, and picked out what they liked. The whole thing was bizarre. The secretary of defense had this huge Defense Intelligence Agency, and he went around it." Thielmann also said, "This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude, its top-down use of intelligence: we know the answers; give us the intelligence to support those answers. ... Going down the list of administration deficiencies, or distortions, one has to talk about, first and foremost, the nuclear threat being hyped," he said.

Kennedy returns to Tenet's silence with his strongest rebuke yet:
Tenet needs to explain to Congress and the country why he waited until last month--nearly a year after the war started--to set the record straight. Intelligence analysts had long been frustrated about the way intelligence was being misused to justify war. In February 2003, an official described the feelings of some analysts in the intelligence agencies to The New York Times, saying, "I think there is also a sense of disappointment with the community's leadership that they are not standing up for them at a time when the intelligence is obviously being politicized."

Why wasn't CIA Director Tenet correcting the president and the vice president and the secretary of defense a year ago, when it could have made a difference, when it could have prevented a needless war, when it could have saved so many lives?

I don't want to give away the ending remarks - you really need to check this speech out for yourself. This is the strongest indictment I've yet heard from someone currently holding office. God bless Ted Kennedy.

The last reading of the day I'd highly recommend is Nick Coleman's article today in the Minnesota Star Tribune re Haiti, the US role, and his personal connection there. Very interesting, and moving.


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