Representative Ellen Tauscher says she "will not sit idly by and be duped" by Bush administration again
BERKELEY - In a surprisingly candid speech yesterday on the UC Berkeley campus, East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-Walnut Creek) said she was deeply disillusioned with the intelligence that the Bush administration gave to members of the House and Senate before the vote to use force in Iraq.
"I believe that this administration cooked the books on the intelligence that caused us to believe that Iraq was an imminent threat," said Tauscher, who voted for the congressional resolution to use force. "And that is deeply troubling to me."
"A calm but firm voice"
Tauscher was invited to campus by UC Berkeley's Government Affairs office, the Office of the Chancellor, and the California Alumni Association for an award recognizing her continued support of scientific research at the national laboratories during difficult times.
After mingling with 100 or so invited UC Berkeley alumni, faculty, and friends in the courtyard of the Alumni House, she was formally welcomed by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. He noted that Tauscher's district, which includes parts of Contra Costa, Solano, and Alameda Counties, boasts the biggest constituency of Cal alumni — around one-fourth of living alumni — along with roughly 3,300 UC Berkeley faculty and staff. That makes the 10th Congressional District "real Bear territory," said Berdahl.
Bruce Darling, the University of California system's vice president for external affairs and its interim vice president for laboratory management, called Tauscher "one of the House of Representatives' foremost experts on international affairs and national defense." The only congressperson with two national laboratories in her district (the UC-managed Lawrence Livermore and the privately run Sandia labs), she is a member of the House Committee on Armed Services and a founding member of the subcommittee that oversees the nation's nuclear laboratories.
Darling has worked closely with Tauscher on handling the recent allegations surrounding business practices at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "Representative Tauscher has been an intelligent and extremely effective voice in Washington on the importance of science for our nation's security and well-being," said Darling. "And when some have overreacted to perceived security threats, for example the calls for across-the-board application of polygraphs for all scientists and engineers in our national laboratories, Congresswoman Tauscher has been a calm but firm voice in ... pushing for a more balanced approach to security."
Darling called Tauscher "a very forthright individual, candid and direct in her views. When our problems developed, she was one of the first to hold us accountable, and as a result she helped us improve our management of the laboratories."
Michael Nacht, UC Berkeley's Aaron Wildavsky Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy and a national defense policy expert, was the third to extol Tauscher's accomplishments in the defense and national security arenas. He also cited the financial background — at age 25, Tauscher was one of the first women ever to trade on the floor of the New York stock Exchange — that has led her to join the "Blue Dogs," a coalition of Democrats who favor conservative fiscal policies. Nacht closed by invoking Winston Churchill's adage that those who are not liberal in their 20s have no heart, and those who are not conservatives by the time they're 40 have no brain. "I think Ellen Tauscher embodies the fact that Churchill was wrong: you can be both," he said. "You can have the head and the heart, and be tough-minded and compassionate."
"I am deeply disturbed"
The tough-minded side of Tauscher was definitely on view as soon as she dispensed with the thank-yous. "I find myself deeply troubled these days about the state of our union, and about the state of our relations with our dearest friends and allies, with the threats being promulgated on a moment-to-moment basis by our adversaries, and about the situation we find ourselves in with the pieces of unfinished business called Afghanistan and now Iraq," she began.
Recalling her vote to use force in Iraq, Tauscher said, "I believe I made the right decision in doing that," she said. "So I'm either bipolar or I have something to tell you tonight."
'I am not going to sit idly by and be duped by an administration that wants me to believe what I believed before.'
—Rep. Ellen Tauscher
What she proceeded to reveal was strong doubt about the integrity of the Bush administration's prewar intelligence. "This administration took part fact and part supposition - subjective information delivered to them by the intelligence community - and they shaped it to reach a preconceived conclusion for the use of force, something that they had determined to do sometime well before March of this year," she stated.
She kept returning to the subject of the aluminum tubes that Vice President Dick Cheney said, in briefing after briefing, were ingredients for reconstituting Iraq's nuclear program. "I am deeply disturbed that I didn't know at the time that the aluminum tubes . could possibly be used in gas centrifuges, but also in vacuum cleaners. We were told definitively that they were for gas centrifuges," Tauscher explained. "The administration cherry-picked information that bolstered the case that they had preconceived to use force against Iraq to force a regime change, including a preemptive strike, and at the same time for months, day after day, they insisted to everyone, including us but most often to you, that they had no intention of doing that."
Although she expressed little hope of success in a House dominated by Republicans, Tauscher said she was attempting to set up a special bipartisan, bicameral committee made up of people from the Armed Services Committee and the intelligence and international relations committees. This committee would examine "how the intelligence was declassified and then shaped by the policymakers both in the Pentagon and the White House and presented to us to make a chillingly clear case of imminent threat" — a threat she now believes did not exist, based on the fact that "we can't find with a gun and a flashlight anything that even approaches an imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction."
Her motivation for creating this special committee was not simply to right the past wrong, she explained. Tauscher fears the United States may be heading for another preemptive strike. "I hear the drumbeat and the rhetoric coming from the administration about Iran and their nuclear program. And it all sounds vaguely familiar," she said, adding that she would be spending her August vacation researching Iran's nuclear weapons program. This time, "I am not going to sit idly by and be duped by an administration that wants me to believe what I believed before."
"The diplomatic equivalent of a trophy bride"
In a question-and-answer session with the audience, Tauscher defended herself and the Democratic Party's leadership from allegations that they are cowed by the president's popularity ratings. "As you know, leading Democrats is like herding cats," she joked, before letting anger creep into her voice. "FCC [Federal Communications Commission] decisions that allow the aggregation of power in the media by Rupert Murdoch — and anybody else that can show up with a couple trillion dollars — tells me that I'm not going to have a wide enough aperture to get my message out there," she said. "Most of us have a very difficult time getting on TV; we just don't get covered but we're very vocal on the House floor. If you watched C-SPAN like my mother does, you'd know what we're doing."
Tauscher sidestepped a question of whether the administration should be accused outright of lying. "I used the words 'cooked the books.' There was a very significant, artful effort to shape intelligence so that it verified a preconceived position," she said. "When you cherry-pick intelligence and don't say that half the people thought that the aluminum tubes could be used for gas centrifuges, but the other half thought they could be used for vacuum cleaners . What we now know is that intelligence is more art than science; it's not very reliable."
Tauscher's candidness on the subject of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who she several times referred to as "poor Colin Powell," elicited the loudest gasps and laughs. "I feel badly for Colin Powell. He's almost the diplomatic equivalent of a trophy bride. They treat him so badly — I wish he had made the decision and told everybody he was a Democrat. We would still take him in," she said.
"But if you go through the speech that he made at the United Nations, the recitation of the abuses of Iraq and the case he made against its weapons of mass destruction, you understand it was not made of whole cloth," she went on, more seriously. "You understand he was sent up on that plane by someone who understood that he was going to be reciting fabricated information. And I think that's a horrible thing to do with somebody with the kind of pedigree in public service that he has, who's our secretary of state! He's still got to make a deal every day, otherwise he can't come home. So I am unfortunately of the thought that both Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice are drinking the Kool-Aid with everybody else in the administration."
After the applause died down, Berdahl returned the gathering to its original purpose: presenting Tauscher with an award as a "champion of science" from the Science Coalition, a national consortium of research universities and companies. On behalf of the Science Coalition as well as UC Berkeley, he commended Tauscher as "a person who has been so supportive of science and research and the importance of the scientific community to the future of the nation . The award is only a token, but it does reflect the great respect we feel for you."