Nearly five years after Hillary Rodham Clinton made what she has described as "probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make," she finally admitted last week in public that she had not read the 90-page classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) before casting her pivotal vote to authorize war against Iraq. The NIE was the intelligence community's most comprehensive assessment regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Congressional leaders requested the NIE in July 2002, before voting whether to authorize war. After congressional leaders and senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed particular discontent over what they perceived to be the CIA's delay in providing the NIE on Iraq's WMD, then-CIA Director George Tenet assured the committee in early September that the estimate would be forthcoming. It finally arrived Oct. 1, 10 days before the Senate would vote to authorize war against Iraq.
The unclassified executive summary of the NIE, which the CIA posted on its Web site, essentially reflected the conclusions of the longer, classified review. But the classified version also included numerous caveats and dissents, including, for example, one from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which questioned the conclusion that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear program. It proved to be right.
In 2002, Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In January 1991, among the Senate's 55 Democrats, Mr. Graham (along with Al Gore) was one of only 10 who voted to authorize war against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait the summer before. In 2002, Mr. Graham decided against authorizing the war after he had read the complete NIE.
In their new book, "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," authors Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. report that Mr. Graham addressed his fellow Democrats at party caucus on Oct. 8, three days before the war-authorization vote. Mr. Graham told the authors that he "forcefully" exhorted his colleagues to read the complete 90-page NIE before casting their votes. Mrs. Clinton did not join the Armed Services Committee until 2003, and her 2001-02 committee assignments provided her with no special expertise on national-security affairs. She could have learned much by simply reading the classified NIE before making her "hardest decision" ever.