Friday, July 16, 2004

Earlier this week, the campaign of Sen. John Kerry attacked President Bush for his inattention to the flaws in Iraq intelligence estimates. However, Mr. Kerry’s attack, and his failure to inform himself on those matters, raise serious questions about his priorities.

Earlier this week, Mr. Kerry’s campaign demanded to know if the president had read the entire October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs (WMD). It blasted out an e-mail headlined, “Did anyone in the White House read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq?” and followed it with a conference call led by Sen. Richard Durbin, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, during which the senator declared that Mr. Bush should have read the full report.

However, Mr. Kerry had not read the report before he voted for the war. After the conference call, his aides acknowledged that while Mr. Kerry had been briefed on the contents of the report, he had not read it. It’s doubtful that Mr. Kerry has read it since — either before he voted against the $87 billion to finance the war or afterwards, since his campaign did not return our call on that question.

It’s also doubtful that Sen. John Edwards, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, has read the NIE. His campaign office did not respond to our inquiry whether he had read the NIE before he voted for the war, after he voted against its funding or since.

This is the second instance this month that has called Mr. Kerry’s priorities into question. Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned that al Qaeda might attempt a large-scale attack on the United States before the election. Most lawmakers received special briefings on that threat from homeland security and terrorism officials. Mr. Kerry was not informed because he chose not to be. On “Larry King Live” last Thursday, Mr. Kerry admitted, “I haven’t been briefed yet, Larry. They have offered to brief me; I just haven’t had time.”

Yet this week, Mr. Kerry’s campaign still made time to orchestrate a one-day assault on the president’s credibility for the very sin of omission that the candidate himself knew he had committed.

While Messrs. Kerry and Edwards are candidates for the nation’s highest offices, they are also sitting senators in a nation at war. Their apparent inattention to national security is troubling; their attacks on the administration for its alleged inattention to the same matters are even more so. Even in the midst of his presidential campaign, Mr. Kerry should take as much time to inform himself on national security as he does to attack the president on it.

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