Factcheck.org on What Congress Knew

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I saw this a while back, but I didn't get a chance to comment on it. There's a recent Factcheck.org piece on the issue of what intelligence reports Congress received about Iraq before they had their big vote on whether to approve the use of force. Members of Congress critical of President Bush on this issue have been complaining about one argument against some of them, an argument I've made a few times in the past. Some members of Congress who had the same intelligence the president had voted to approve the use of force. They saw wha the president saw, and they at the time agreed with his decision. This especially includes John Kerry, who was on the intelligence committee, but all members of Congress had a package of information that gave them roughly the same set of information Bush had access to. Some have claimed that the information given to Congress was incomplete or corrupted, but bipartisan committees have determined otherwise.

This Factcheck.org article has a fairly complete categorization of what was in the intelligence report. Most of them admitted to reading just the five-page summary of the report, and the article details what we know of what was in the whole report and the five-page summary (we don't know any of the classified information that hasn't been released). According to the article, the five-page summary compares very well with what the intelligence agencies and relevant branches of the executive knew, including what doubts they had about some of the intelligence. Almost all of it vindicates the claim that Congress had all the information Bush had. The one piece of information that Bush and co. ignored wasn't actually that significant, because the very people providing it thought the administration's conclusion was correct even if that one piece of information was less than clear. That piece of information was in the five-page summary that the members of Congress read.

The one major criticism the Factcheck.org piece gives of the Bush Administration is how they spun the information publicly, which is not the same issue as how the information was presented to Congress. It's not clear to me, however, that the examples Factcheck.org gives in this article constitute deliberate misrepresentation or simply paying attention to some information without giving due consideration to other information. After all, the intelligence community was divided on a number of particular matters, and the impression I get from whistleblowers within the administration is that some lower-level sycophants regularly presented the president with information more favorable to the case, which means Congress may even have had more access to the contrary evidence. But even if this undermines the case for war (which I don't grant), then Congress seems to have had more information than the president to undermine the case for attacking Iraq, and even they thought it was the right thing to do. So the president may well be less deserving of criticism on the matter than they are (assuming criticism is due to begin with, which I am assuming only for the sake of argument).

If the members of Congress who voted to approve the use of force against Iraq will now criticize the president for doing what they, seeing more critical presentations of the same evidence as he had, were willing to approve, then I think the hypocrisy charge is founded. If they're going to criticize him, then they should publicly repent of their evil deeds and say that they had no right to vote to give him the approval to go ahead, even given the intelligence they had access to. They must say that they did wrong given the information they had at the time. They shouldn't excuse themselves while criticizing him. Of course, this all assumes that the small worries about particular information within a much larger case would justify calling it off completely, and I just don't think they would, at least from the information presented in this article.

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