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Rolling Rockefeller

The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee once saw "a substantial connection between Saddam and al Qaeda." Not any more.

12:00 AM, Jun 30, 2005 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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FEW PEOPLE have been more critical of the Iraq war than Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia.

He has over the past two years repeatedly accused the Bush administration of deliberately deceiving the American public to take the nation to war. It's hard to imagine a more serious charge. And Rockefeller makes it perhaps more credibly than most Iraq War critics--as the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

It's no surprise then that reporters sought out Rockefeller for his reaction to George W. Bush's address to the nation Tuesday night. The junior senator from West Virginia minced no words. Iraq, he said, "had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, it had nothing to do with al-Qaida, it had nothing to do with September 11, which he managed to mention three or four times and infer three or four more times."

This, Rockefeller seems to find outrageous. "It's sort of amazing that a president could stand up before hundreds of millions of Americans and say that and come back to 9/11--somehow figuring that it clicks a button, that everybody grows more patriotic and more patient. Well, maybe that's good p.r. work, which it isn't, but it's not the way that a commander in chief executes a war. And that's his responsibility in this case."

It is an attack on President Bush that echoes those we've heard from Democrats--both those on the fringe left and those at the top of the party--for the past 27 months. And it is nonsense.

This is what Jay Rockefeller said on the floor of the U.S. Senate on October 10, 2002. His speech announced his support for the resolution authorizing the Iraq war.

As the attacks of September 11 demonstrated, the immense destructiveness of modern technology means we can no longer afford to wait around for a smoking gun. September 11 demonstrated that the fact that an attack on our homeland has not yet occurred cannot give us any false sense of security that one will not occur in the future. We no longer have that luxury.

September 11 changed America. It made us realize we must deal differently with the very real threat of terrorism, whether it comes from shadowy groups operating in the mountains of Afghanistan or in 70 other countries around the world, including our own.

There has been some debate over how "imminent" a threat Iraq poses. I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated.

By my count, that's four references to September 11 in just three paragraphs, as rendered by Rockefeller's own Senate website. And there, in the final paragraph of that passage, Rockefeller says something the Bush administration managed to avoid saying: that Iraq posed an imminent threat. (It's worth noting, further, that the resolution that Rockefeller supported made specific mention of al Qaeda's presence in Iraq: "Members of al Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks that occurred on September 11, are known to be in Iraq.")

What of Rockefeller's comments yesterday that Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda? Rockefeller didn't mention Osama bin Laden's global terror network in his floor speech that day. Here's what he did say:

"Saddam's government has contact with many international terrorist organizations that likely have cells here in the United States."

And: "He could make those weapons [WMD] available to many terrorist groups which have contact with his government, and those groups could bring those weapons into the U.S. and unleash a devastating attack against our citizens. I fear that greatly."

He added:

Some argue it would be totally irrational for Saddam Hussein to initiate an attack against the mainland United States, and they believe he would not do it. But if Saddam thought he could attack America through terrorist proxies and cover the trail back to Baghdad, he might not think it so irrational.

If he thought, as he got older and looked around an impoverished and isolated Iraq, that his principal legacy to the Arab world would be a brutal attack on the United States, he might not think it so irrational. And if he thought the U.S. would be too paralyzed with fear to respond, he might not think it so irrational.

I called Rockefeller's office Wednesday in an attempt to learn the names of the "many terrorist groups" whose contacts with the former Iraqi regime helped create an "imminent threat." And which of those "international terrorist organizations likely have cells here in the United States" that threaten us here at home.