You will recall that John Kerry talked about running guns to the Khmer Rouge with Tim Russert. That was undoubtedly a slip of the tongue, and so it did not land him in any trouble. Senator Rockefeller’s problem could be a bit bigger. Here’s what he said on FNS yesterday, via CQ:
I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq – that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.
Understand the implications of this statement. A US senator says he told an adversary of the US, a Baathist state with close ties to Iraq, a state consistently listed as a sponsor of terrorism and newly subject to the Bush Doctrine, that the President had made up his mind to take out Saddam Hussein, fifteeen months before the US actually did so. That kind of heads-up to our enemy seems to us to be entirely out of line for him to be giving, and perhaps is even actionable. Rockefeller’s problem includes this: unlike John Kerry, whose only trip to Cambodia was in his dreams, Senator Rockefeller actually did take a trip to Syria in January 2002, and from all appearances, it was just as he described, a trip alone, by himself.
Here’s a partial account of the meeting from Arabic News on January 8, 2002:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Damascus al-Shaab palace on Monday received the US senator J. Rockefeller and members of the accompanying delegation. The meeting was attended by the deputy premier and foreign minister Farouk al-Shara and the US ambassador in Damascus Theodore Qattouf…..Senator Rockefeller expressed happiness to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. He said he feels content after talking to President Bashar al-Assad not only about Syria but about the ME region as a whole.
Strangely, there was another trip by a Senate delegation to Assad the very next day, but Rockefeller was not part of it. Again via Arabic News from 1/9/02:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Damascus al-Shaab palace on Tuesday received W Owens and members of the US Senate: Richard Durban, David Price and Jim Dives and members of their accompanying delegation. The meeting was attended by the Deputy Premier and foreign minister Farouk al-Shara and the US ambassador in Damascus Theodore Qattouf.
Discussions dealt with the reflections of September11 incidents at the US on various regional and international issues. Al-Assad explained the Syrian view point concerning these reflections noting that one of the basic reasons to the acceleration of terrorism lies in the disagreement on identifications that determine the concept of terrorism and its identity and the concept of extremism.
So Rockefeller’s recollections are entirely correct with regard to the date of his meeting with Assad and that his trip was separate from that of another congressional delegation at virtually the same time. This would seem to imply that his recollection is also correct about giving Saddam’s Baathist neighbor and terrorist sponsor, a heads-up about the certainty of the coming invasion. It is no wonder that Senator Rockefeller issued no press release about a trip like that, though he did issue several press releases about his trip to Saudi Arabia a few days later.
Among our many questions for Senator Rockefeller is this: why did you tell Assad that the US was going to invade Iraq when it would give Saddam a chance to send his WMD to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon or elsewhere in Syria to be hidden, as has been rumored on many occasions. Senator Rockefeller thought that Saddam had those weapons to hide, as he said later in 2002, on October 10 in the Congressional Record:
“We must eliminate that [potential nuclear] threat now before it is too late. But that isn’t just a future threat. Saddam’s existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose real threats to America today, tomorrow. … [He] is working to develop delivery systems like missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring these deadly weapons against U.S. forces and U.S. facilities in the Middle East. He could make these weapons available to many terrorist groups, third parties, which have contact with his government. Those groups, in turn, could bring those weapons into the United States and unleash a devastating attack against our citizens. I fear that greatly.”
The MSM and the Senate should follow up on this.