'Two Cheers for Nation Building'
Jude Wanniski
October 22, 2001


Memo To: Rich Lowry, National Review editor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: “Yes, But.....”

Your column “Two Cheers for Nation Building,” which I saw in the Sunday New York Post, does break new ground among conservative opinion leaders, who have generally opposed the idea on the grounds that it doesn’t work. I’m with you, in that there are times when we will have no choice but to practice what amounts to a new form of colonialism. This is, after all, the American Empire, in as much as the United States sits alone at the top of the world for the first time in the history of civilization. I really have no trouble with the term “empire,” having been raised from little up in “the Empire State.” I think of us not as the world’s “policeman,” but as the world’s parents. We are “parents,” plural, in that we must embody the roles of both father and mother, in the same way the President of the United states has to balance “conservatism” with “compassion,” and “force” with “diplomacy.” The metaphor is appropriate because the world today is a family unit writ large.

In that family, Afghanistan is a mess, a kid that has been at the center of a great many social pathologies during the Cold War (when there was a competition on whether Moscow or Washington would be at the top of the family heap). It is clearly a case where there is no feasible alternative to “nation building,” by which I would mean the U.S. would take primary responsibility to adopt the kid and do what it takes to get him rehabilitated. The process may remotely resemble “colonialism,” which I identify less with “empire” than with “imperialism.” When I think of “imperialism,” I think of the dominance of children by a father without motherly influence. It is because you are one of the most important young opinion leaders in the country, trying to fill the XXL boots of William F. Buckley, Jr., that I direct my thoughts to you. Your chief competition is really Bill Kristol and his Weekly Standard, which I find close to being a voice for American imperialism. Bill is not interested at all in diplomacy, but presents the case for war, spanking any of the kids in the global family on the nostrum of “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child.”

My concern with your column, Rich, is that you seem to have already decided that once we conquer Afghanistan and put in place a process of “nation building,” that we swing over to Iraq and aim our guns at Baghdad, as a candidate for “nation building” in Iraq. My concern is Iraq does not seem to be a candidate for “nation building,” but that you have it in the crosshairs simply because you do not like its current leader, Saddam Hussein. You seem totally prepared to ignore the rest of the global family, which looks at Iraq from a different perspective, including those who think our treatment of Iraq since the end of the Gulf War has been irresponsible. As you know, from our private communication and my public postings, I am among this grouping. Indeed, I think one of the prime reasons for the political terrorism of September 11 was the imperialistic manner that we have displayed in strangling the Iraqi economy and bombing it at will for a decade – which I do not think we would have been doing if it had been a Christian county. That is a whole other subject, though.

What I would like to ask of you is a simple job of reporting. You are an important journalist and I have no press credentials at all, which makes it hard for me to be taken seriously. What I would like you to do is assign a top-notch reporter to investigate the charge that Saddam Hussein “gassed his own people.” As you know, it is absolutely, positively conventional wisdom that Saddam used some form of deadly gas against the Iraqi Kurds in 1988, at the time the Iran/Iraq war was coming to an end. I cannot say Iraq DID NOT DO THIS, but over the last several years I have not been able to find any OFFICIAL evidence it was done. Saddam Hussein had been so demonized during the Gulf War that it is hard to sort out truth from gossip when it comes to these issues. We cannot simply accept his government’s insistence he did not use deadly gas on the Iraqi Kurds, but it would be a good thing if we could produce some evidence that he did so. Last week, I posted here a memo I wrote three years ago to Jesse Helms, which quoted extensively from an official Pentagon report of 1990 that could find no evidence that Saddam Hussein had “gassed his own people.” And here I sit reading the papers and watching the TV political shows and all the opinion leaders seem to be building their analysis on the assumption that if he gassed his own people, he would gas us. Henry Kissinger was on CNN Sunday saying exactly that. He believes what he reads in the papers.

If you take up my request, Rich, and you find that there is no evidence Saddam Hussein “gassed his own people,” this should not mean that you need turn on a dime and welcome Baghdad with open arms into the embrace of the family of nations. You may still want to blow him and his country to bits, but you may find your rationale not as sturdy as you think it is now.