Published on Saturday, March 27, 2004 by the Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)
Rockefeller Sounds Off on Iraq
by Paul J. Nyden
"If I had known then what I know now, I would have voted against it,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Friday. “I have admitted that my vote was wrong.”
The key Senate vote authorizing a war against Iraq came Oct. 11, 2003. It passed 77 to 23. The opponents included Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., an outspoken opponent of President Bush’s war plans. (The House of Representatives voted to pass a similar resolution, 296 to 133.)
“The decision got made before there was a whole bunch of intelligence,” Rockefeller said. “I think the intelligence was shaped. And I think the interpretation of the intelligence was shaped.
“You had a president who we now know was determined to go to war. He was going to be a war president,” Rockefeller said during an interview with editors at The Charleston Gazette on Friday.
“We had this feeling we could be welcomed as liberators. Americans don’t know history, geography, ethnicity,” Rockefeller said. “The administration had no idea of what they were getting into in Iraq. We are not internationalists. We border on being isolationists. We don’t know anything about the Middle East.”
Rockefeller also said he is disturbed at the failure to involve the United Nations in creating a new government and finding peace in Iraq.
“He [Bush] has been stiffing the United Nations,” the senator said. “He doesn’t believe in the United Nations. He doesn’t understand the United Nations.”
The political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., changed dramatically after Bush took office, said Rockefeller, who has served in the Senate since 1985. “Republicans fell totally in line since Bush came into office. They have a loyalty I have never seen before.
“They are true believers. It started with [Rep.] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.] in 1994. Nothing gets in their way. Facts don’t get in their way.
“And three chairmen of major [Senate] committees were told by Dick Cheney not to investigate anything in the administration.”
Many of the senator’s feelings were strengthened during his five-day trip with four other senators to Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations last week.
In Iraq, the senators visited a team of researchers investigating the presence of weapons of mass destruction. “They have three million pieces of paper,” Rockefeller said. “But it is a sham. There is nothing to point to any weapons of any kind.”
Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the influence of terrorist groups, such as al-Qaida, is growing. “But only about five percent of the insurgents in Iraq are coming across the borders into the country. Most of them are homegrown.”
Domestic problems will continue to grow, Rockefeller believes, since Bush administration tax cuts could put the nation in a deficit for the next 50 years.
Tax cuts are hurting all federal social, educational and medical programs. The only agencies currently getting significantly increased funding today are military, homeland security and intelligence operations.
Rockefeller said he was particularly outraged by recent revelations that Bush administration leaders failed to provide Congress and the public with honest estimates of the costs of prescription drug benefits in the Medicare program.
When Bush signed the new bill late last year, he said costs for prescription drugs would be $400 billion over the next 10 years. Then, in late January, Bush admitted those costs actually would be $534 billion.
“Bush withheld the real costs of Medicare. That is absolutely unheard of,” Rockefeller said. “There will be an investigation of that.”
Rockefeller had high praise for Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism chief who served for 30 years under three Republican presidents and one Democratic president.
Clarke has sparked a major controversy with testimony and public statements that Bush administration leaders ignored reports of possible terrorist attacks before Sept. 11, 2001. (His new book, “Against All Enemies: Inside the White House’s War on Terror — What Really Happened,” has just been published.)
“Clarke is a master. He is not particularly liked, not a pleasant person. But he is bright, smart and tough,” Rockefeller said. “He disdains politicians of whatever stripe, whatever party. But if you have done something all your life and take great pride in it, then see it crumbling, you get angry.”
To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.
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