Ignoring the pleas of those calling for a more
credible figure, Senate Democrats have instead chosen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
to lead the Senate Committee on Intelligence. Feinstein was among those who
falsely claimed in 2002 despite the lack of any apparent credible evidence
that Saddam Hussein had somehow reconstituted Iraq's arsenal of chemical
and biological weapons, as well as its nuclear weapons program.
She used this supposed threat to justify her vote in October 2002 to grant
President George W. Bush the unprecedented authority to invade Iraq. Most congressional
Democrats voted against the resolution. So it is particularly disturbing that
Democrats would award the coveted Intelligence Committee chair to someone from
the party's right-wing minority.
She took this extreme hawkish position out of her own predilection, not because
of political pressure. Indeed, Senator Feinstein acknowledged at the time of
her vote that calls and emails to her office were overwhelmingly opposed to
her supporting Bush's war plans. She decided to ignore her constituents and
vote in favor of the resolution anyway.
Background to the Vote
Public opinion polls in the fall of 2002 showed
a majority of Americans would support a US invasion of Iraq only if it posed
a serious threat to the national security of the United States. Unfortunately
for Senator Feinstein and others eager for the United States to conquer that
oil-rich country, Iraq wasn't a threat to the United States. Though Iraq once
had an arsenal of chemical weapons as well as an active chemical, biological,
and nuclear weapons development program, these were all destroyed or otherwise
eliminated by the mid-1990s, as were their missiles and other delivery systems.
With strict sanctions prohibiting imports of requisite technologies and raw
materials, and a lack of adequate internal capacity to produce them in Iraq,
it was physically impossible for the Iraqis to have reconstituted its "weapons
of mass destruction" (WMDs).
Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter had briefed Senator Feinstein
before the 2002 vote, and presented evidence that Iraq had achieved at least
qualitative disarmament and could in no way be a threat to US national security.
According to Ritter, "I had her look me in the eye and I asked her if she
had seen any credible evidence contradicting my conclusions. She said she had
Similarly, I was among a number of scholars, arms control analysts, and other
constituents who briefed her staff on how given the ongoing strict international
sanctions imposed on that country and rigorous UN inspections through the end
of 1998 there was no way for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to have reconstituted
his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs. Citing reports from
the UN, reputable think tanks, and recognized arms control experts as
well as articles from respected peer-reviewed academic journals we thought
we had made a convincing case that Iraq was no longer a threat to the United
States or its neighbors.
Despite all this, Senator Feinstein insisted that Iraq somehow remained a "consequential
threat" to the national security of the United States and claimed that
Iraq still possessed biological and chemical weapons. And, in an effort to defend
Bush's call for a US invasion, she tried to discredit the UN inspections regime
that had successfully disarmed Iraq by falsely claiming that "arms inspections,
alone, will not force disarmament."
Similarly, even though the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency had correctly
noted in 1998 that Iraq's nuclear program had been completely eliminated, Feinstein
also falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein "is engaged in developing nuclear
When asked about such exaggerated claims regarding Iraq's military prowess,
she insisted that she was somehow "privy to information that those in California
are not." However, despite repeated requests to her office to make public
what she was supposedly privy to, the only information her office provided has
been the White House's summary of a 2003 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).
Based on the testimony of a handful of disreputable Iraqi exiles, this NIE was
met with widespread derision at the time of its release for its clearly inaccurate
and politicized content.
Feinstein's supporters insist that her false claims about Iraqi WMDs were an
honest mistake. But Ritter and other critics argue that it wasn't just ignorance
and stupidity that led Feinstein to make these false statements about Iraq's
military capabilities. She may very well have lied about the WMDs in order to
frighten the public into supporting a US takeover of that oil-rich country.
Whether out of deceit or unawareness, however, Feinstein is clearly not suited
to chair the committee.
Consequences of the Vote
I was also among a number of scholars specializing
in the Middle East who warned Senator Feinstein that a US invasion of Iraq
would likely spark a disastrous armed insurgency, sectarian violence, and an
increase in anti-American extremism in the Middle East and beyond. Despite this
awareness of the likely consequences, however, she insisted that the United
States should invade Iraq anyway. Such a decision raises serious questions as
to whether she has the ability to rationally assess the costs and benefits of
national security policies, which someone chairing the Intelligence Committee
presumably should possess.
If her real goal was to protect our country from Iraq's alleged "weapons
of mass destruction," however, she would have presumably called for the
immediate withdrawal of US troops once they invaded and occupied Iraq and
discovered that there really weren't such weapons after all. It should have
also been obvious that the longer US troops stayed in that country, with its
long tradition of resistance to foreign invaders, the more likely it would provoke
a major armed insurgency and the rise of extremists groups. Despite this, Feinstein
called on American troops to remain in Iraq for more than four years after the
invasion. She voted to send hundreds of billions of dollars worth of taxpayers'
money to support Bush's war effort even as California sank deeper and deeper
into fiscal crisis.
During this occupation, US authorities helped to rewrite the country's economic
laws to allow American corporations to take over Iraqi industries and repatriate
100% of profits. Under US tutelage, the new Iraqi government slashed corporate
taxes and provided generous oil concessions to American conglomerates. In this
way, the war has been extremely profitable for some giant corporations. Among
these were the firms URS and Perini, both of which Feinstein's husband served
as the majority owner. The Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee,
under her leadership, steered government contracts to these very companies.
The Democratic Party's decision to appoint as head of the Senate Intelligence
Committee someone with such a history of dubious judgment on intelligence matters
is hardly new. The party chose Jay Rockefeller (WV) who is leaving his
post to chair the Commerce Committee to chair the Intelligence Committee
in January 2007, although he also made false claims about Iraq's WMD programs
similar to those of Feinstein in order to justify his vote in favor of the invasion.
In the world of Senate Democrats, therefore, it appears that the quickest path
to leadership in Intelligence comes from getting things wrong.
Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy