Gordon Smith: Troubles With Truthiness

Steve Novick

Note: The following is adapted from an editorial that was published in the Register-Guard today.

Russell Sadler owes Senator Gordon Smith an apology. In his Sunday, Dec. 17 column , Sadler said that Smith has made “a very public admission of poor judgment in voting for the war.”

Smith has done no such thing. He has been careful to blame President Bush, and not himself, for the fiasco in Iraq. The Register-Guard asked Smith directly if he personally had any remorse or regrets. Smith’s answer? “That’s all history.” (Dec. 14 article.)

In fact, in the past two weeks Smith has shown that he will go to great lengths to avoid taking any responsibility for his four-year support of the war. In the process, he has raised serious questions about his own credibility.

Smith now says that he would never have voted for the war if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction. In other words, “don’t blame me – blame the faulty intelligence.” That would have been a credible statement if he had made it in 2003, when it was confirmed that there were no WMD. It is not credible now, when Smith has spent three years defending the decision to invade despite the absence of WMD. In September of 2005, for example, he told a Salem family whose son had been killed near Baghdad, “I hope that someday your pain will be lessened when you realize that President Bush was right about the reasons we went to war.” How can Smith reconcile that statement with his current claim that without WMD, he would have voted against the war?

Similarly, Smith now says that he reached a “tipping point” on the war in May, when he realized that the war had become largely a fight between warring Iraqi factions, with American troops stuck in between. In other words: “No, this isn’t a post-election poll-driven conversion; I’ve been against this war for months, I just haven’t told you.” The problem is that in June, after Smith’s alleged “tipping point,” he voted against the Levin amendment, which stated that “sectarian violence has surpassed the insurgency and terrorism as the main security threat in Iraq,” and called for a redeployment timetable. Smith spoke against the amendment, describing the war as a struggle against Al-Quaeda and for “freedom,” rather than a sectarian civil war. It is not possible to reconcile Smith’s opposition to the Levin amendment in June with his description of an epiphany in May.

In Smith’s first “anti-war” speech, he said that he didn’t speak out earlier because he had a conversation with a solider who said that if you support the troops, you have to support the war. But it turns out that that conversation took place in 2005 – two years after we learned that there were no WMD. Smith has no explanation for why he refused to speak out during those two years. Besides, Smith’s excuse is a cop-out. The Senator should have given the soldier the example of Mark Hatfield. In 1966, then-Governor Hatfield, as an early opponent of the Vietnam war, opposed a resolution at the National Governor’s Association supporting the war. Hatfield fought to substitute a resolution supporting the troops, but not the war.

Another troubling thing about Smith’s “conversion” is that even in “conversion,” he did not adopt a firm position on the war. He said that he could support either a reduction in troops or (to quote last week’s R-G story) “a U.S. "troop surge" strategy advocated by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among others, to add 10,000 or 20,000 soldiers.” It wasn’t until the last few days that he elected to distance himself from that idea, too.

Bizarrely, however, so far, politically speaking, Smith’s indecisiveness seems to be working for him. He now has both conservative columnists like the Oregonian’s David Reinhard and liberals like Russell Sadler eating out of his hand.

Smith could have said – as former Senator John Edwards did a year ago - “I was wrong; I apologize.” Instead he, he wants credit for criticizing President Bush, while taking no blame for himself. That is not courage. That is rather breathtaking cynicism. And Oregonians should see it for what it is.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    Smith now says that he would never have voted for the war if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction. In other words, “don’t blame me – blame the faulty intelligence.” That would have been a credible statement if he had made it in 2003, when it was confirmed that there were no WMD.

    I disagree. It wouldn't have been any more credible a statement in 2003 than it would be today.

    Senator Bob Graham made an impassioned plea with his Senate colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, to read the classified documents which differed "sharply" and "wildly" from the public pronouncements and data they were hearing on WMD before voting to give Bush a blank check to wage war on Iraq. Very few of either party took him up on it. NONE of them deserve a pass for it.

  • aaron (unverified)

    I think that Senator Edwards approach has been the best one so far.

    But to me I look at this war issue this way..... Who is guiltier on their voting record on the war...those Republicans that were towing their party line or those Democrats that had no backbone on voting against it on simple principle for the lack of facts and proof?

    What the Republican did was they smashed the backbones of many good Democrats on this issue by spinning this issue if you vote against the war means you are weak on national defense and security.

    So my thought is too purge all that voted for this fiasco, Democrats and Republicans; in the House and Senate.

    They are singing the same tune now— 1. We should have looked at the information a little closer and asked more questions? 2. We made a mistake, so let us get out of there? 3. etc 4. etc 5. etc

  • Bert (unverified)

    Oh, it's so tough to be a land grabbing, bomb dropping imperialist in good moral standing these days!

    What with partisan attacks on the "conduct of the war" and charges "mismanagement." "Bad intelligence," "misleading" and "misjudgement."

    Don't hold your breath for much too different from the Dems. They did their jobs as corporate lackeys at the beginning of the war.

    They'll continue, perhaps a bit more creatively, perhpaps with a bit more hemming and hawing. If they don't, they'll be shut out and then unemployed, and someone else will gladly fill the gap.

    Without reform of our political institutions (e.g. massive campaign finance reform, introduction of a more parliamentary system) we don't have much of a chance for new checks and balances that will adequately offset concentrated power. For those changes we'll need serious changes in consciousness among the American population ...

    Three cheers for hope, I guess.

  • (Show?)

    I agree that the Democrats who voted for the war were big fat losers. That's why I spent a couple of weeks in Iowa in the cold for Howard Dean. And, by the way, the excuse "I didn't vote for the war, just authorized the President to do something we weren't sure he would do" is garbage, because I don't recall a single one of them saying, when the war started, "wait a minute, we didn't vote for this." Fortunately, in Oregon we can be proud of our Congressional Democrats on this issue. I do think, though, that it's especially outrageous to suddenly say NOW that you would not have voted for the war if you had known there were no WMD.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    I certainly agree that Edwards' approach is the best. I don't expect perfection. What I expect is honesty. And although Edwards' approach makes the very best of a bad situation, it doesn't undo the damage. Still... it's an approach that I can respect and forgive.

    And I agree, Steve, Smith's feigned change of heart is a day late and a dollar short. Ultimately, without any aknowledgement of his own responsibility the rhetoric is dishonest.

  • BOHICA (unverified)

    But Colin Powell said they had Aluminum tubes!

    Way back then, just before the invasion, I did a google for "Aluminum tubes." Found this, dated March 10, 2003.

    Conclusion Perhaps we will eventually learn that Iraq actually planned to hide a centrifuge purchase in a rocket procurement program. Such cleverness is well within Iraqi capabilities, although Iraq rarely chooses to build a poor product when it can build the same item significantly better in less time. Such a revelation, however, will not vindicate the CIA analysis, which is viewed as atrocious and deceptive by many experts on centrifuges and Iraqi rockets. The CIA analysis has wasted the time of inspectors in Iraq while not leading to any progress on exposing Iraq's secret nuclear weapons program. Inspectors have had to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for evidence to prove or disprove the CIA analysis. Faced with overwhelming negative evidence from the inspectors, the proponents of this analysis have simply ignored the negative reports or act as if the CIA possesses secret information it cannot share. If the CIA has such secret evidence, it should share it rather than producing faulty technical analysis. By ignoring technical evidence and pushing flawed analysis, the proponents of the CIA analysis undermine the credibility of the President, Secretary Powell, and the CIA. The attacks against those who disagree serve to show their defensiveness and a mean spirit. This case serves to remind us that decision-makers are not above misusing technical and scientific analysis to bolster their political goals. The problem is that such a strategy denigrates the process of conducting impartial technical analysis and misleads the public.

    Now if I can find evidence that the tube story was bogus just using a 2 word search, what does it say about those congress critters that looked the other way instead of doing their duty. This is still the number one google hit on "Aluminum Tubes."

    PS Please refrain from saying "Dems voted for the war." Say a minority of Dems in Congress voted for the war. Over half the Senate Democrats and over 60% of House Democrats voted against the resolution.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    Over half the Senate Democrats and over 60% of House Democrats voted against the resolution.

    That's simply not true. At least with respect to the Senate.

    <h2>29 Senate Democrats voted FOR the resolution and 21 Dems voted against it.</h2>

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