John Kerry took Bush to task on his Veteran’s Day Speech, on the Senate Floor today. In a fiery rhetoric, Kerry blasted Bush today, on the lies he spewed in his speech, last Friday — from the rush to war based based on faulty intelligence data, to the spin Bush put on Kerry’s own statements, John Kerry pinned Bush on the carpet.
The following is the text of John Kerry’s Floor Statement:
MR. PRESIDENT, Veterans Day is sacred – or it is supposed to be. Veterans Day is a day to honor veterans, not to play attack politics. The President, who is Commander in Chief, should know and respect this.
Veterans Day originally marked the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of World War I, the war to end all wars, finally fell silent. Instead of honoring that moment, instead of laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, instead of laying out a clear plan for success in Iraq, the President laid into his critics with an 11th hour rhetorical assault that dishonored America’s veterans and those serving today, even as he continued to distort the truth about his war of choice.
Perhaps most striking of all is that his almost desperate sounding Veterans Day attack on those who have told the truth about his distortion was itself accompanied by even more distortion.
Does the President think that the many generals, former top administration officials and Senators from his own party who have joined over two thirds of the country in questioning the President’s handling of the war in Iraq are all unpatriotic too? This is America, a place where we thrive on healthy democratic debate. The President does not have a monopoly on patriotism, and this is not a country where only those who agree with him support the troops and care about defending our country. No matter what the President says, asking tough questions isn’t pessimism, it’s patriotism. And fighting for the right policy for our troops sends them exactly the right message to the troops: that we take the decision to put them in harm’s way seriously, and that our democracy is alive and well.
The President even used the solemn occasion of Veterans Day to continue his campaign of misrepresenting the facts and throwing up smokescreens. His statement that Democrats saw and heard the same intelligence he did is just flat out untrue – unless of course the President and his Administration didn’t do their job and study the additional intelligence given only to them and not the Congress. As the Washington Post put it on Saturday, “Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material.”
But that whole discussion is nothing more than an effort to distract attention from the issue that matters most and can be answered simply: did the Administration go beyond what even the flawed intelligence would support in making the case for war? Did they use obviously inaccurate intelligence despite being told clearly and repeatedly not to? Did they use the claims of known fabricators? The answer in each case is yes. And the only people who are trying to rewrite that history are the President and his Republican allies.
There is no greater breach of the public trust than knowingly misleading the country into war. In a democracy, we simply cannot tolerate the abuse of this trust by the government. To the extent this occurred in the lead up to the war in Iraq, those responsible must be held accountable. That is why Democrats have been pushing the Senate Intelligence Committee to complete a thorough and balanced investigation into the issue.
When the President tried to pretend on Friday that the Intelligence Committee had already determined that he had not manipulated intelligence and misled the American public, he knew full well that they have not yet reported on that very question — that is why Democrats were forced to shut down the Senate and go into closed session to make the Republicans take this issue seriously. When the President said that his opponents were throwing out false charges, he knew all too well that that these charges are anything but false.
But the President and Republicans seem far more interested in confusing the issue and attacking their opponents than getting honest answers. Let’s be clear: there is no question that Americans were misled into war in Iraq. Simply put, they were told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when he did not. The issue is whether they were misled intentionally. Just as there is a distinction between being wrong and being dishonest, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and making statements that you know are not supported by the intelligence.
The bottom line is that the President and his Administration did mislead America into war. In fact, the war in Iraq was and remains one of the great acts of misleading and deception in American history. The facts are incontrovertible. The act of misleading was pretending to Americans that they hadn’t made a decision to go to war, and would seriously pursue inspections when the evidence strongly suggests that they had already decided to take out Saddam Hussein, were anxious to do it for ideological reasons, and hoped that inspections, which Vice President Cheney had opposed and tried to prevent, would not get in their way.
The President misled America about his intentions and the manner in which he would make his decision. We now know his speech in Cincinnati right before the authorization vote was carefully orchestrated window dressing where again he misled America by promising that “If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible. We will plan carefully.” He did none of these things.
The act of misleading was just going through the motions of inspections while it appears he really couldn’t wait to just kick Saddam Hussein out of power.
The act of misleading was pretending to Americans the real concern was weapons of mass destruction when the evidence suggests that his real intent was to finish the job his father wisely refused and remove Saddam Hussein to “remake the Middle East”.
The act of misleading was saying in his Cincinatti speech that “Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable” when the evidence suggests that all along the goal was always to replace Saddam Hussein through an invasion. For most of us in Congress, the goal was to destroy weapons of mass destruction. For President Bush, weapons of mass destruction were just the first public relations means to the end of removing Saddam Hussein. For most of the rest of us, removing Saddam Hussein was incidental to the end of removing any weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, the President was misleading America right up until two days before launching his war of choice when he told Americans we had exhausted all other avenues. The truth is that on the Sunday preceding the Tuesday launch of the war, there were offers Security Council members to pursue an alternative to war, but the Administration, in its race to go to war, rebuffed them, saying “the time for diplomacy is over.”
By shortcutting the inspections process and sidestepping his own promises about planning, coalition building, and patience, the President used WMD as an excuse to rush to war. That was an act of misleading contrary to everything the President told Americans about the walkup to war.
The very worst that Members of Congress can be accused of is trusting the intelligence we were selectively given by this Administration, and taking the President at his word. But unlike this Administration, there is absolutely no suggestion that we intentionally went beyond what we were told were the facts. That is the greatest offense by the Administration. Just look at their most compelling justification for war: Saddam’s nuclear program and his connections with Al Qaeda.
The facts speak for themselves. The White House has admitted that the President told Congress and the American public in the State of the Union Address that Saddam was attempting to acquire fuel for nuclear weapons despite the fact that the CIA specifically told the Administration three times, in writing and verbally, not to use this intelligence. Obviously, Democrats didn’t get that memo. In fact, similar statements were removed from a prior speech by the President, and Colin Powell refused to use it in his presentation to the UN. This is not relying on faulty intelligence, as Democrats did; it is knowingly, and admittedly, misleading the American public on a key justification for going to war.
This is what the Administration was trying so desperately to hide when it attacked Ambassador Wilson and compromised national security by outing his wife. It is shameful that to this day Republicans continue to attack Ambassador Wilson rather than condemning the fact that those sixteen words were ever spoken, and that so many lies were told to cover it up. How are the same Republicans who tried to impeach a President over whether he misled a nation about an affair going to pretend it does not matter if the Administration intentionally misled the country into war?
The State of the Union was hardly an isolated event. In fact, it was part of a concerted campaign to twist the intelligence to justify a war they had already decided to fight. Again playing on people’s fears after 9/11, the Administration made statements about the relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq that went beyond that what the intelligence supported. As recently reported by the New York Times, in a Cincinnati address the President said “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases” despite the fact that the Defense Intelligence Agency had previously concluded that that source was a fabricator.
The President went on to say that “Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons” despite the fact that the Air Force disagreed with that conclusion. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “the Air Force dissent…was kept secret even as the President publicly made the opposite case…before a congressional vote on the war resolution.” That’s two more memos that Congress never got.
In fact, when faced with the intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that there was no formal relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda, the Administration set up their own intelligence shop at DoD to get them some answers better suited to their agenda. Again, there is a fundamental difference between believing incorrect intelligence and making up your own intelligence.
Where would Republicans and the President draw the line? No where. How else would 70% of the American public be lead to conclude that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11? This was no accident. In fact, I had to correct the President in the first debate when he said it was Saddam Hussein who attacked us. Why else did Vice President Cheney cite intelligence about a meeting between one of the 9/11 hijackers and Iraqis that the intelligence community and the 9/11 Commission concluded never took place? Why else make false statements about Saddam’s ability to launch a chemical or biological weapons attack in under an hour without clearing that with the CIA – which mistrusted the source and refused to include it in the NIE? Why else would they say we would be greeted by liberators when their own intelligence reports said we could be facing a prolonged and determined insurgency? Why else tell Americans that Iraqi oil would pay for the invasion when they had to know that the dilapidated oil infrastructure would never allow that?
And what about the President’s promises to Congress that he would work with allies, that he would exhaust all options, that he would not rush to war? If the President wants to use quotes of mine from 2002, he might look at the ones that were not the result of relying faulty intelligence and trusting the President’s word. As I said in my floor statement before the authorization vote: “If we go it alone without reason, we risk inflaming an entire region, breeding a new generation of terrorists, a new cadre of anti-American zealots, and we will be less secure, not more secure, at the end of the day…Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible.”
In my speech at Georgetown on the eve of the war, I said: “the United States should never go to war because it wants to, the United States should go to war because we have to. And we don’t have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people…We need to make certain that we have not unnecessarily twisted so many arms, created so many reluctant partners, abused the trust of Congress, or strained so many relations, that the longer term and more immediate vital war on terror is made more difficult…I say to the President, show respect for the process of international diplomacy because it is not only right, it can make America stronger – and show the world some appropriate patience in building a genuine coalition. Mr. President, do not rush to war.” Today our troops continue to bear the burden of that promise broken by this Administration.
We need to move forward with fixing the mess the Administration has created in Iraq, and I have laid out in detail my views about how to accomplish our goals and get our troops home in a reasonable amount of time. But that does not excuse our responsibility to hold the Administration accountable if they knowingly misled the country when American lives were at stake. We can, and we must, do both. And Republicans need to stop pretending it doesn’t matter if the Administration stretched the truth beyond recognition and start working to find the real answers the country deserves — and the real leadership our troops in Iraq deserve from a Commander in Chief, not just a Campaigner in Chief.
Last week Kerry introduced the Strategy for Success in Iraq Act, which proposes to bring the vast majority of our combat troops home in a reasonable timeframe tied to specific, responsible benchmarks to transfer responsibility to Iraqis – beginning with the draw down of 20,000 U.S. troops after successful Iraqi elections in December.
A printable version of this speech in a Word Doc is available here.
Watch the video of John Kerry’s Speech here.