Former Bush administration national security adviser Stephen Hadley appeared on MSNBC today to respond to Karl Rove’s admission in his new book that “Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat.” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd remarked “I can’t remember anybody this close to the president saying we went to war under a false pretense.”
HADLEY: It’s not that we did it on a false pretense, we did it on the basis of intelligence that turned out not to be true. This was intelligence that the intelligence community believed, other intelligence services across the world did, based on UN inspection records. We all thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. [...]
It’s very clear that when the president made the decision to go to war, that the inspections regime was not getting at the truth in Iraq, and that the economic sanctions which were preventing Saddam from using oil revenues for pressing his neighbors, supporting terror, doing WMD, were about to collapse. So I think the president really played this out as long as possible. And he would tell you today that he thinks that if the international community had retained its unity, if President Chirac, Chancellow Schroeder, President Putin had stayed with us in putting pressure on Iraq, we might have been able to do this without resort to war.
Hadley’s suggestion that we could’ve avoided war if only the allies “had stayed with us” is just an insult — it’s long been known that the Bush administration started planning three months after September 11, 2001. It would have been great if Chuck Todd or co-host Savannah Guthrie had spent a little time over the last seven years developing some familiarity with this stuff in order to challenge Hadley on it. Instead, they just sit there while he spins and then move on to the next thing.
It’s amazing that we still need to have this debate, but we’ll keep having it as long as former Bush administration officials keep trying to rewrite history, and as long as journalists continue to neglect to do their job in correcting it.
As ThinkProgress has noted, Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol’s Keep America Safe organization released a web ad on Monday targeting yet-to-be named Justice Department lawyers who had worked on Guantanamo detainee issues as the “al Qaeda 7.” “Whose values do they share?” asked the ad over an image of seven silhouettes juxtaposed with images of Arabic men. When Politico’s Ben Smith first reported on the attack ad, he noted that it “questions the loyalties of Justice Department lawyers.”
But in an interview today on the Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show, Cheney denied that the ad questioned “anybody’s loyalty”:
HOLMES: Liz, good morning. So you released a fairly provocative ad, I have to say. And you ask the question “whose values” [does] Eric Holder share? In your view, whose values does he share?
CHENEY: Well, what the ad does — and actually it doesn’t question anybody’s loyalty. What the ad does is it says that there are nine lawyers in the Justice Department who used to represent al Qaeda terrorists and the Attorney General will only tell us who two of them are and we want the American people to have the right to know who the others are.
Guest host Amy Holmes continued to press Cheney on the point, repeating her question. “But your ad does raise the question ‘whose values’ does Eric Holder share. Who would you say?” Cheney dodged the question, stating that she thinks Holder “believes that you can defeat terror, you can win this war we’re engaged in by treating terrorism like law enforcement.” Listen here:
Cheney is simply lying. Not only does the ad suggest that the lawyers might “share” the “values” of al Qaeda, but it also flashes an image of a headline from the far right Investor’s Business Daily asking if the Justice Department was the “Department of Jihad?” “Just whose side are they on?” asked the editorial.
When Politico’s Smith first reported on the ad, Keep America Safe spokesman Michael Goldfarb gave him a quote that essentially accused the lawyers of treason, saying that they “did far more than represent criminals.” “They have propagandized on behalf of our enemies, engaging in a worldwide smear campaign against the CIA, the U.S. military and the United States itself while we are at war,” said Goldfarb. On Tuesday, Keep America Safe released a fundraising letter in Cheney’s name that used the exact same language:
Former Bush administration officials have pushed back against the ad. “While it’s legitimate for the public to inquire about the past work of DOJ political appointees, we need to recognize that our judicial system cannot function without pro bono counsel, and it doesn’t make a lawyer less patriotic just because he or she has represented a criminal or terrorist suspect,” former U.S. attorney and homeland security adviser Kenneth Wainstein told the Washington Post. “It’s beyond a cheap shot to suggest that a lawyer is an al-Qaeda sympathizer because he advocates a detainee’s position in the Supreme Court,” said former Bush White House lawyer Reginald Brown.
For more on Cheney’s smearing of the Justice Department lawyers, read today’s Progress Report.
American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm told TPMmuckraker’s Justin Elliott today that Keep America Safe’s ad is “a divisive and diversionary tactic” to impugn “the character of lawyers who have sought to protect the fundamental rights of unpopular clients.”
,The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer points out that Keep America Safe Spokesman Aaron Harison struggled in an interview with Main Justice to say that the group wasn’t claiming the lawyers are sympathetic to al Qaeda:
Harison said that private attorneys advocating for detainees raised a lot of questions because “sometimes you can’t make the distinction” between representation and being “soft on terror.” Harison also said the organization was more concerned that the DOJ lawyers are soft on terror than that they hold sympathetic views about al Qaeda.
,Former Bush administration official Peter D. Keisler told the New York Times today that the attack on the Justice Department lawyers who defended detainees is “wrong” because “there is a longstanding and very honorable tradition of lawyers representing unpopular or controversial clients.” “It’s wrong to suggest that people who took that position are somehow sympathetic to Al Qaeda,” said Keisler.
,John Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, is also defending the DoJ lawyers who formerly worked on behalf of detainees. “I think it’s unfortunate that these individuals are being criticized for their past representation, it reflects the politicization and the polarization of terrorism issues,” Bellinger said. “Neither Republicans nor Democrats should be attacking officials in each other’s administration’s based solely on the clients they have represented in the past.”
The Nuclear Posture Review was due out on Monday but was delayed once again, with reports that the President is pushing the NPR to go further. The question is how far.
The NPR is shaping up to be an important test of Obama’s commitment to the pledge he made last year in Prague “to put an end to Cold War thinking.” As Julian Borger reports, it is looking unlikely that Obama will live up to this pledge at least in one important area.
A major point of debate is reforming the declaratory policy – the policy that declares why we have nukes and in what circumstances we would use them. This may seem like a fairly wonky theoretical debate of little importance. But stating the reason why the US has nuclear weapons has broader implications, because it impacts the posture of other states’ nuclear forces, namely Russia. The declaratory policy of the United States has been one of intentional ambiguity. In other words, our nuclear weapons are intended to deter and respond to a nuclear attack, but we also don’t discount attacking another country with nuclear weapons before they attack us or using nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack. In essence, the current approach gives us a certain flexibility.
But as Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of the American Scientists clearly describes this flexibility also has a very dangerous downside, as it impacts how the Russians posture their forces:
The Secretary of Defense’s job is to imagine these sorts of threats and prepare for them. The problem is that preparing for them creates other dangers. Preparing for this attack on enemy forces requires our nuclear weapons to be ready to launch at a moment’s notice, it requires weapons that are highly accurate, fast flying, and very powerful… Russia, has to counter this capability by keeping its own weapons on alert, ready to launch in case we do. Ironically, keeping alive this option of attacking to reduce the damage from nuclear weapons actually creates much of the danger coming from nuclear weapons.
The crisis that would lead us to consider a first strike, high confidence that Russia is planning an attack on us, is itself very unlikely but also the president’s decision to use his first strike capability is also unlikely because he would be trading a likelihood of nuclear war for a certainty of nuclear war, certain because we would be starting it. Preparing for this potential threat, which may or may not ever arise in the future, exacerbates the day-to-day danger of accidental launch of weapons or of intentionally launching weapons in a crisis. We have to compare this great, but highly unlikely, future threat with the on-going, everyday threat of living in world with simply too many nuclear weapons always ready to launch. The problem is that we tend to become inured to the everyday threat, it becomes the wallpaper that we simply stop noticing. But it is there.
The threat of accidental launch is not some mythical notion. Having nuclear forces on a hair trigger alert is incredibly dangerous, since with the current nuclear set up the President of either country has just minutes to decide whether to launch a nuclear response. In 1995 a nuclear war was almost started because of a bureaucratic oversight. The Russians interpreted a the launch of a Norwegian weather rocket as a western nuclear launch, because the cable alerting them of the weather launch wasn’t sent up the right channels. The Russian military gave their President 10 minutes to decide to launch, fortunately sober Boris Yeltsin refused to launch a nuclear response.