Ted Kennedy delivered another stemwinder last week, accusing the Bush administration of lying its way into Iraq for political gain. Ho-hum. Nothing new there. But one paragraph caught my attention.
In trying to buttress his charge that the president twisted intelligence about Saddam Hussein, Kennedy cited "Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a recently retired Air Force intelligence officer who served in the Pentagon during the buildup to the war." He quoted her as follows: "It wasn't intelligence -- it was propaganda ... they'd take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, usually by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't belong together."
Sounds pretty damning, doesn't it? Those aren't the words of a political opponent; that's the judgment of a presumably disinterested military professional. Except that Kwiatkowski's judgment doesn't look so disinterested when you examine her views more closely.
Since her retirement in March 2003, she has become a prolific contributor to isolationist publications like the American Conservative, Pat Buchanan's magazine, and lewrockwell.com, an ultra-libertarian website. Pretty much all her work is devoted to uncovering "neoconservative warmongers" who have supposedly taken over U.S. foreign policy.
She is not subtle in denouncing "Dickie Cheney, Richie Perle and Dougie Feith" (as well as, occasionally, "my pal, Max Boot"), whose "neoconservative philosophy is hateful to humanity, anti-American, statist and anti-free trade." (Anti-free trade?) She thinks the United States is a "maturing fascist state." And she predicts a dire fate for those who led us into the Iraq war: "Some folks on the Pentagon's E-ring may be sitting beside Hussein in the war crimes tribunals."
Kennedy's speechwriters must have been familiar with Kwiatkowski's oeuvre -- how else could they have dredged up that quote? -- but it did not stop them from holding her up as a trustworthy source. This isn't unusual. Many retired national security bureaucrats claiming President Bush lied about Iraq have a not-so-hidden agenda.
The best-known example is Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador who has accused the administration of spreading misinformation about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium and of deliberately outing his wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover CIA operative. Wilson is now notorious as a world-class publicity hound who makes Paris Hilton look meek by comparison. Since l'affaire Plame broke last summer, Wilson has been making paid speeches denouncing the president, writing a memoir and even appearing with his wife in a Vanity Fair photo spread.
Wilson is motivated by more than a desire for fame and fortune. He's also an ideologue. On March 3, 2003 -- long before the contretemps over his wife -- he was denouncing the invasion of Iraq in the Nation, a leftist magazine. He claimed that "the underlying objective of this war is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region and installation of vassal regimes that will control restive populations." Since then, Wilson has emerged as an active Democrat who has advised John Kerry on foreign policy. He was quoted last year explaining what he's up to: "Neoconservatives and religious conservatives have hijacked this administration, and I consider myself on a personal mission to destroy both."
Equally biased are the former CIA officers who call themselves Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity -- a name that implies the administration, which they oppose, is insane. Ray Close, David MacMichael and Ray McGovern, who make up VIPS' steering committee, have many decades of intelligence experience among them, which is why they are often cited as sources by news organizations like the New York Times when they write stories about how the Bush team has run roughshod over "objective" CIA analysts.
What is seldom mentioned is where the VIPS-ters publish most of their anti-Bush screeds: on Counterpunch.org, a conspiracy-mongering website run by Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn. VIPS even has an e-mail address at Counterpunch, which is so extreme that it has run an article suggesting that the only major difference between George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler is that "Bush simply is not the orator that Hitler was." But then, that wouldn't bother someone like VIPS' McGovern, who in an interview equated the administration's selling of the Iraq war with the techniques employed by "Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels [who] said, if you repeat something often enough, the people will believe it."
Simply because Kwiatkowski, Wilson, McGovern, et al have flaky views doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong in all the charges they make against the administration. But those who hear their vituperative accusations should at least be aware of where they're coming from. Citing them out of context gives them an authority that their own intemperate words undermine.
Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times.