Semper Fraud, Senator Roberts

“Semper Fidelis,” Always Faithful. The motto of the United States Marine Corps, and for anyone who sweated their way through recruit training at Parris Island or San Diego, or the Officer’s Basic School in Quantico, these words – usually shortened to a simple “Semper Fi” – take on much meaning. They define a way of life. I served in the Marines for nearly 12 years, and take pride in calling myself a Marine. “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”

Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, is another Marine. The influential chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Pat Roberts flaunts his four-year stint in the Marines with justifiable pride. Senator Roberts was one of several senators on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees of the U.S. Senate who questioned me in the aftermath of my resignation from the UN weapons inspection team in 1998. There the senator emphasized his – and my – Marine Corps credentials by saying, “Semper Fi, Major. Semper Fi and persevere.” At that hearing, Senator Roberts noted that in previous discussions within the U.S. Senate concerning the possible use of force against Iraq, the Senate had “asked the tough questions” about military action, and that “those questions weren’t answered.” It wasn’t that the senator was afraid to employ our military, but rather that we seemed to be seeking to go to war without “the full support of our allies,” using force in a “situation where we don’t think it was planned well.”

By those words, Senator Roberts appeared at the time to be a living embodiment of “Semper Fi,” not shying away from possible necessary conflict, but wanting to make sure that if we put our forces in harm’s way, we did so prudently, with full consideration for the circumstances and impact of such a decision. Unfortunately, it seems that for Roberts, the notion of “Always Faithful” only holds true when politically opportune. Today, with regards to Iraq, America finds itself in a war where Roberts and others failed not only to ask the “tough questions” about military action, but to demand answers before U.S. troops – including Marines – were committed to combat. He seems loath to undertake the kind of aggressive approach toward responsible oversight he so eloquently advocated in 1998, when a Democrat, Bill Clinton, held office.

As the chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Senator Roberts was responsible, along with the ranking minority member, Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, for preparing a report on the failures of the U.S. intelligence community regarding prewar assertions that Iraq had massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. These assertions, aggressively made by the Bush administration, served as the principle case for the 2003 decision to invade Iraq. As the postwar report by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee showed, the U.S. intelligence community got it completely wrong about Iraq – it turned out that there were no WMD in Iraq at all for a decade prior to the president’s decision to go to war. In fact, the intelligence was so bad, and so far off track, that legitimate questions arose in the aftermath of the invasion about how the decisionmakers in the Bush administration used this intelligence, and if there was any willful misrepresentation, or indeed outright fabrication, of intelligence by those who supported invading Iraq.

Such questions were fraught with political implications, and when raised within months of a national election for the presidency, both Senator Roberts and Senator Rockefeller decided that any investigation into how the Bush administration used this flawed intelligence – the so-called “Phase Two” of the Select Intelligence Committee’s report – would wait until after the election was done. The need for “Phase Two” was underscored by the recent release of the Presidential Commission on Intelligence and WMD, which found that the U.S. intelligence community was “dead wrong” on Iraq. However, the chairman of that Commission noted that it wasn’t in his mandate to investigate how the bad intelligence was used by policymakers. This is not surprising, given the fact that it was President Bush himself who set that mandate. But the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, charged with conducting appropriate oversight as a separate but equal branch of government, has no such limitations. In fact, to not go forward with the “Phase Two” investigation would represent a gross dereliction of duty on the part of those senators so charged.

But avoidance of responsibility to the American people, and to the American military – Marines included – seems to be what Senator Roberts is all about lately. On April 10, in an appearance on NBC News’ Meet the Press, Roberts was as slippery as he was disingenuous when dealing with the issue of investigating how policymakers made use of the bad intelligence on Iraqi WMD. “I’m more than happy to finish this, and I want to finish it, but we have other things that we need to do,” he said when asked about the “Phase Two” report. “I don’t know what that accomplishes over the long term. I’m perfectly willing to do it, and that’s what we agreed to do, and that door is still open … so we will get it done, but it seems to me that we ought to put it in some priority of order, and after we do get it done I think everybody’s going to scratch their head and say, ‘OK, well, that’s fine. You know, let’s go to the real issue.'”

The real issue is the over-1,550 American military personnel who have lost their lives based upon the decision to invade Iraq. The more than 11,000 wounded Americans. Tens of thousands of dead Iraqis. Every one of these tragic casualties represents a reason to ask the hard questions, and demand honest and complete answers. The men and women who are fighting in Iraq are doing so because they took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. As the chairman of the Senate Committee responsible for the oversight of one of the largest failures of intelligence in American history, Senator Roberts is walking point for everyone who has been touched by this war, combatant and noncombatant alike.

“Semper Fi,” Senator. “Always Faithful.” The words roll out easily; but faithful to what? You are the epitome of faithfulness to your party – less so to the Constitution, and still less so to our fellow Marines putting their lives on the line for a highly dubious purpose. If you continue to put loyalty to party above all else, and shirk your duty to the American people, then your motto should instead be “Semper Fraud,” and you should be drummed out of the Corps.