Former House Minority Leader the Hon. Dick Gephardt was in Seattle last week on several accounts -- a victory lap for his mediation of the Boeing strike, a business seminar for the DC law firm where he hangs his hat, and a funder for Rep. Jim McDermott's Legal Expense Trust. [We'll hear more on this as Boehner v McDermott reaches critical junctures in DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and in the political arena as some of the original cast of heavies -- Gingrich, DeLay, Boehner -- prepare to test their chops in an XTREME ETHICS Cage Match Spectacular: "Moral Equivalence" .]
At this odd-couple tag-team appearance -- "Baghdad Jim" McDermott and "Rose Garden Richard" Gephardt -- the inevitable question was voiced: "Why did you support Bush on the Iraq War, and what would you do differently now?".
Rep. Gephardt's response is reproduced here from my verbatim notes, with his confirmation and concurrence, as a perspective that deserves attention both to fill gaps in the first draft of history and to smooth cracks in the road to progressive political unity.
[Rep. Gephardt's public remarks indented. Verbatim quotes in italics. Paraphase and imprecise quotes, non-italic. Timelines as provided by Rep. Gephardt. Context and analysis mine, outdent, including key items of interpretive speculation discussed prior with Rep. Gephardt.]
2001-09-12, the White House, a bipartisan leadership meeting:
GEPHARDT to BUSH: "We have to trust each other. You have to trust us, and we have to trust you."
These sentiments were repeated in public comment that evening by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Late 2001 - early 2002:
Like others, GEPHARDT hears the grapevine buzz about Iraq in DC corridors of power.
As Wes Clark often recalls, the Pentagon laugh line was "If Saddam didn't attack us, he should have, because we're going to take him out anyway".
GEPHARDT to BUSH: You have my support if it's about Weapons of Mass Destruction -- but not if it's about Saddam. "If it's about Saddam there are 30 countries we need to invade tomorrow morning."
GEPHARDT to BUSH: The US can't go into this alone. If it's done, it has to be done multilaterally -- with regional partners, NATO, the UN.
[Recall speculation in this interval to the effect that Bush could and would take the US into Iraq without international partners -- and even without action by Congress.]
BUSH to GEPHARDT: "Dick, I'm gonna do what you've been talking about", i.e., premise the case for invasion on Saddam's WMD threat Weapons of Mass Destruction.
[History may have turned on this exchange.
Insiders later hinted that WMD wasn't (variously) the central, sole, or real reason for invading Iraq, that it was agreed among the principals as a politically plausible casus belli.
Deputy SecDef Paul Paul Wolfowitz, 2003-05-09 " ... for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason ...".]
CIA HQ, as all parties prepare for debate in Congress:
GEPHARDT: "George, do you believe?" [in the WMD thesis]
DCI TENET: "Absolutely."
2002-10-02, the White House Rose Garden:
GEPHARDT: "In response to the President's desire for congressional support and, in keeping with our constitutional responsibilities, I have worked to draft a resolution that reflects the views of a large bipartisan segment of Congress. My underlying goal in this process has been to ensure that Iraq is disarmed, and to lessen the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction can be passed to terrorists."
This concession effectively short-circuited any attempt to attach binding conditions to a War Powers Resolution, or to weigh the WMD thesis even-handedly. On the other hand, Bush would have found a route to war in the face of any conceivable action or inaction in Congress.
[UPDATE: errata - corrected from 2005-10-10, and how did we both miss that?]
2005-10-11, Seattle, WA:
GEPHARDT: "It was a mistake ... I was wrong."
The Rose Garden compact was a mistake. The War Powers vote was a mistake. Trusting this Administration was a mistake.
And this history suggests -- in the tradition of a classic sales training parable, the farmer's daughter joke -- that Gephardt (the prospect) telegraphed exactly what Bush (the salesman) had to say to clinch the sale. "Dick, I'm gonna do what you've been talking about". A mistake.
In the national interest, in a time of crisis, our side played its cards face up -- and they held cards up their sleeves. They knew what they wanted, and they played on our patriotic idealism and earnest statesmanship to freeze us -- "the opposition" -- in untenable positions. Must we now become them in order to overcome them? (Short answer, "No", but that's an argument for another day.)
"I was wrong." Powerful, healing words, for those who have ears to hear them. Not everyone can say them yet, or with full conviction. Those who do still have to figure out what to tell the Gold Star Mom who wants to know her son died for a noble cause, as well as the Gold Star Mom who wants to know the troops are coming home.
[On a personal note, I was right -- but the Iraq War vote had to be a vote of conscience, not party discipline, and I've never insisted anyone eat crow for my amusement. Peacemakers cannot nurse grudges.
And a small irony -- on the White House website, the current Iraq index page is captioned "Renewal in IRAQ" ... but the "Rose Garden moment" archive page still screams "IRAQ: DENIAL AND DECEPTION".]
The Great Mistake:
We never comprehended the complexity of the undertaking. I didn't. None of us did.
The Greater Mistake:
The President has never been honest about the sacrifices required ... the lives lost, the eyes blown out. Bush fails the first test of leadership: "Can you be honest with the people you lead?"
THE ROAD AHEAD
Will we pull the troops out?
Until very recently, I thought we [Bush] would pull out in time for the 2006 elections. Now it doesn't look like we will.
Winning the War on Terror:
We can't win just by killing people. We never dealt with underlying causes ... [perceptions of] oppression, religious duties. The madrasas are still in business. US energy policy [that] leaves us beholden to the oil states. Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world.
On bipartisan cooperation:
I've lost all faith in the integrity of Moderate Republicans. [but with a kind word for the old-school Mike Castle]
Why are they so pathetically weak that they can't stand up to him [DeLay]? Does he have them hypnotized? ... Is he holding their children hostage? ... I don't get it!
Democrats in power would not -- and could not -- exercise that kind of discipline.
On taking our country back:
If the election were held today, Democrats would win back the House [but a year is an eternity in politics].
Rep. Gephardt shared additional comments on the predicament of the nation and the Democrats, some of which I'll reprise at a later date.