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June 26, 2006

Must-See TV
Posted by Michael Signer

For one of the hardest, coldest nuggets of wisdom about the Iraq War, everyone should check out this C-SPAN video clip from today's hearing on pre-war intelligence:

It's footage showing Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) -- a Republican who requested to attend today's Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing -- asking Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Ret'd) (another Republican) how neoconservatives in the Administration became so powerful, and why no one challenged their approach toward Iraq. 

I won't ruin the ending, because it's that blunt.  But it's a startling, almost moving, example of a non-party-line Republican struggling to grasp how we arrived where we stand.  And it serves as an illuminating window into the rareness of transparency in our politics.  Jones reaches out in sad, pliable sincerity -- while Wilkerson's sparse, abject answer falls like a hammer.

The transcript follows:


JONES: My question is this to all four of you who would like to answer, maybe it’s a very simple question. I apologize if it’s been asked before. But what perplexes me is how in the world could professionals – I’m not criticizing anybody here at this table – but how could the professionals see what was happening and nobody speak out?  I’m not saying you did not do your duty, please understand. My point is as a congressman who trusted what I was being told – I’m was not on the Intelligence Committee, Senator Dorgan, but I am on the Armed Services Committee – and I was being told this information. And I wish I’d the wisdom then that I might have now. I would have known what to ask. But I think many of my colleagues – they did not have the experience on the Intelligence Committee – we just pretty much accept it.  So where along the way – how did these people so early on get so much power that they had more influence in those in the administration to make decisions than you the professionals.

WILKERSON: Let me try to answer you first. Let me say right off the bat I’m glad to see you here.

JONES: Thank you sir.

WILKERSON: As a Republican, I’m somewhat embarrassed by the fact that you’re the only member of my party here.

JONES: Agreed.

WILKERSON: But I understand it. I’d answer you with two words. Let me put the article in there and make it three.

The Vice President.


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This is an answer that could not conceivably have been given to such a question in any previous administration.

It's also not an answer that could have come out of an administration with a strong Secretary of State. I don't think that's the main story here, but it is part of it. Colin Powell isn't the first Secretary of State to let foreign policymaking be taken out of his hands -- Dean Rusk, whom Powell resembles in other ways, comes to mind -- but he started letting himself be marginalized within days of taking office, and never recovered.

There's nothing worse in Washington than being right and losing, except letting yourself become a victim. You either win, or you leave. Powell and his associates may have understood that, but found it easier not to act on their understanding and consequently don't get much sympathy from me.

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