|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Captured Iraqi documents and intelligence interrogations of Saddam Hussein and two former aides "all confirmed" that Hussein's regime was not directly cooperating with al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a declassified Defense Department report released yesterday.
The declassified version of the report, by acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble, also contains new details about the intelligence community's prewar consensus that the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda figures had only limited contacts, and about its judgments that reports of deeper links were based on dubious or unconfirmed information. The report had been released in summary form in February.
The report's release came on the same day that Vice President Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's radio program, repeated his allegation that al-Qaeda was operating inside Iraq "before we ever launched" the war, under the direction of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist killed last June.
"This is al-Qaeda operating in Iraq," Cheney told Limbaugh's listeners about Zarqawi, who he said had "led the charge for Iraq." Cheney cited the alleged history to illustrate his argument that withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq would "play right into the hands of al-Qaeda."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), who requested the report's declassification, said in a written statement that the complete text demonstrates more fully why the inspector general concluded that a key Pentagon office -- run by then-Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith -- had inappropriately written intelligence assessments before the March 2003 invasion alleging connections between al-Qaeda and Iraq that the U.S. intelligence consensus disputed.
The report, in a passage previously marked secret, said Feith's office had asserted in a briefing given to Cheney's chief of staff in September 2002 that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda was "mature" and "symbiotic," marked by shared interests and evidenced by cooperation across 10 categories, including training, financing and logistics.
Instead, the report said, the CIA had concluded in June 2002 that there were few substantiated contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and Iraqi officials and had said that it lacked evidence of a long-term relationship like the ones Iraq had forged with other terrorist groups.
"Overall, the reporting provides no conclusive signs of cooperation on specific terrorist operations," that CIA report said, adding that discussions on the issue were "necessarily speculative."
The CIA had separately concluded that reports of Iraqi training on weapons of mass destruction were "episodic, sketchy, or not corroborated in other channels," the inspector general's report said. It quoted an August 2002 CIA report describing the relationship as more closely resembling "two organizations trying to feel out or exploit each other" rather than cooperating operationally.
The CIA was not alone, the defense report emphasized. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had concluded that year that "available reporting is not firm enough to demonstrate an ongoing relationship" between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, it said.
But the contrary conclusions reached by Feith's office -- and leaked to the conservative Weekly Standard magazine before the war -- were publicly praised by Cheney as the best source of information on the topic, a circumstance the Pentagon report cites in documenting the impact of what it described as "inappropriate" work.
Mr. Cheney has virtues as a candidate in his own right. He has foreign policy experience by virtue of having served as defense secretary, and he has economic policy experience, having served as a leading tax-cutter while a member of the House of Representatives. His wife, Lynne, would be an asset to the ticket in her own right, a point made by Kathryn Jean Lopez in a post on the topic at National Review Online back in February. By our rights, Lynne Cheney would make one of the greatest First Ladies in history. Mr. Cheney, in any event, is more than four years younger than Mr. McCain, and, if elected, would be 67 years old at his inauguration, younger than Reagan was when he took office. His health, while a topic of frequent speculation, hasn't interfered with his service as vice president.
Lawrence Kudlow wrote a column a while back saying he hoped President Bush asked Vice President Cheney to run for president in 2008. It was a fine idea then and it still is — not because the current field is particularly weak, but because Mr. Cheney is so much more experienced and shrewd a figure, one who could help settle some of the arguments about the Bush years in favor of Mr. Bush. A White House aiming to get Mr. Cheney elected could also avoid some of the hazards that befall lame-ducks — drift, brain drain, irrelevance. Such a campaign might lift Mr. Cheney 's own standing in the polls.
The vice president's stature would put him instantly into the first rank of contenders on the Republican side. On Monday, speaking in Alabama, the vice president received such a warm greeting that he began his remarks by saying, "A reception like that is almost enough to make you want to run for office again." It is hard to imagine the vice president did not comprehend how tantalizing such a remark would be. He used the same opening line on March 24 when he spoke to the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition. This is not an endorsement, and there are things we find attractive about many of the other candidates. But for those of us who are concerned with extending Mr. Bush's campaign for freedom around the world and cutting taxes at home, a Cheney campaign is attractive.
In the same Alabama speech in which Mr. Cheney quipped about wanting to run for office again, he said, " America is a good and an honorable country. We serve a cause that is right, and a cause that gives hope to the oppressed in every corner of this earth. We're the kind of country that fights for freedom, and the men and women in that fight are some of the bravest citizens this nation has ever produced. The only way for us to lose is to quit. But that's not an option. We will complete the mission, and we will prevail." What a contrast to the carping over tactics that has infected some of the Republican field and to the fever among the Democrats for cutting off funds for our GIs and sounding a retreat.