Memo To: Colin Powell, Secretary of State
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Questions About Iraq
You know I’ve been counting on you to use your diplomatic skills to avoid broadening the war against the Taliban into Iraq, Mr. Secretary. Although I assume not all of my e-mails to your office get to you, I have been assured by your office from time to time that they are brought to your attention. But watching your interviews on CBS’ Face the Nation and CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer on Sunday prompts me to write this public memo to you, hoping enough people will see it that it gets through to you in one form or another. I shouldn’t really have to do this because we do have a free press and a national press corps several times the size it was when I was a Washington reporter and columnist for the old National Observer. But journalism has changed over the years and there are now a lot of important questions that never get asked and answers that are not reported in the major media. So you are bound to make mistakes, large and small, as you did Sunday, mistakes the Secretary of State of the world’s only superpower should not be making. So here are some questions I think you should be asking of your able staff, not that they will have the answers for you. They will not, I think, because they are in the same boat, getting their news from a news media that is falling short of their responsibilities. But if you ask them to run down the answers, they will themselves go to work and give you the information you need to make intelligent decisions. Here are a few that come to mind, off the top of my head, that may make a major difference on the path we choose regarding Saddam Hussein and Iraq:
1. The most egregious error you made was in telling Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation that Iraq is one of the two or three countries in the world that supports Al Qaeda and the Taliban. I don’t know what other countries you have in mind, Mr. Secretary, but Iraq has been a supporter of the Northern Alliance and an opponent of the Taliban before we even thought about it. I did not know this myself, because it has not been routinely reported here, but made the discovery when I called the Iraq Mission to the United Nations a few weeks ago, trying to arrange a meeting with the UN Ambassador. In the course of discussions with the press secretary, a Mr. Altayi, I asked about Iraq’s response to the war in Afghanistan and he told me his government not only has diplomatically recognized the Northern Alliance in opposition of the Taliban. It also clearly remembers the Taliban fighting alongside the Iranians in Iraq’s war against the Islamic fundamentalists of Tehran. He added that it was a source of great frustration to him to see our press corps assuming Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are allied when they are quite opposed to each other in the way they view Islam’s role in global politics. You really should check this out. I’m sure Bob Schieffer doesn’t know this, or he would have corrected you, and it may be that President Bush doesn’t know this either. It should make a difference in your calculations.
2. I noticed you telling Wolf Blitzer that Saddam Hussein “gassed his own people.” I’d sent a long memo to your staff on this subject, but it is clearly not one that came to your attention. The fact is, Mr. Secretary, that there is no evidence the Iraqi Kurds were gassed by the Iraqi army in 1981, when this was supposed to have happened. At the time, the Iraqi Defense Minister denied the charge and said it would have been illogical to use poison gas against small groups of Kurds who were in the path of the Iraqi’s advance on the Iranian army. They would have been advancing into the gas. The only official U.S. report on the subject (that I know about) is a report by the Army War College that published its findings in June 1990. It concluded that the Kurdish casualties, which it said were few in number and not the tens of thousands we now hear about, were probably the result of cyanide gas left in the retreat of the Iranians. This is a critical point, I think you will agree. I’ve begged journalists to look into this, but reporters these days only see the downside in their careers of “defending” the evil Saddam Hussein. His army has put down internal revolts, but if you will check you will find the revolts were instigated by our CIA, which then left the rebels high and dry, as we did at the Bay of Pigs. This also should make a difference. If your finding show you are correct, I will feel more confident that President Bush is getting the information he needs to make wise decisions.
3. It is now commonly reported that Saddam Hussein ordered the assassination of former President George Bush when he was visiting Kuwait early in the Clinton years. We really were never told much about this, Mr. Secretary, except that there was an assassination plot and it was foiled. It is easy to see how President Bush today could so easily cite Saddam as being “evil” if he believes the Iraqi dictator tried to bump off his dad. It has never sounded plausible to me, though, as none of the books I’ve read about Saddam suggest he would be the kind who would lose “the mother of all battles” and seek to “get even” with his opposite number by killing him in his retirement years. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to have your folks ask for the records. I don’t think you will find any “evidence,” because if we could have presented it at the time, we could have had the support of the world in going after Saddam the way the Pentagon is eager to do now.
4. By now we all know Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an official civilian commission attached to the Pentagon, is leading the War Party’s drive against Iraq. Perle and his close friend, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are saying that Saddam is determined to develop a nuclear weapon and that we should “take him out” before he can succeed. Perle recently told the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in a banquet keynote speech, that a physicist who worked on Saddam’s nuke program and since defected has assured him that Saddam still has the capacity to produce a nuke and is determined to do so. Perle says the physicist claims that Saddam can hide the production work by having it spread out in 400 different places around Iraq, in buildings no larger than farm houses. Pretty scary stuff, Mr. Secretary, and I’m sure the FPRI attendees trembled over their dessert, but if you take the trouble of checking with reliable nuclear physicists – or the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency – you will find this is more of Perle’s propaganda. The nuclear experts I've asked say the idea of making the fissile material necessary for building a nuke in 400 cottages and mixing them together is laughable. A genuine nuclear weapons facility would really be impossible for Saddam to hide from our satellites, I'm told, because it requires a great amount of infrastructure and enormous amounts of power lines to bring the needed electricity. If you find out otherwise, please let us know.
5. You and others in the administration have said the Saddam Hussein has not only harbored known terrorists but also has committed acts of terrorism. I’m sure you read this so many times that it has also become part of your canned speech. But I have to tell you, sir, that I have not been able to identify a single terrorist act to which Saddam has been linked, nor have I been told of a single person who has been identified by the international community as a known terrorist who Saddam has “harbored.” Yes he invaded Iran in a war we supported and invaded Kuwait in a land grad we belatedly opposed. These are not acts of terrorism, I think you will agree. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam is a very, very tough cookie who has, as head of state, been responsible for the deaths of lots of people during the 27 years he has been in effective control. But the number of Arabs who have met an untimely demise during that same period, at the hands of the democratic political leaders of Israel, may equal or exceed those of Saddam. Ariel Sharon is no pussy cat and neither was Menachim Begin, who we know bombed Arab civilians back in the early days of Israel’s existence. Tariq Aziz, the Catholic who is Prime Minister of Iraq and one of Saddam’s oldest and closest political friends, denounced the September 11 terrorists as criminals and rejected the idea that Baghdad would ever sponsor “terrorism,” noting that terrorists are those who do not have a state machinery under their control and use illegal means in trying to get it. See what I mean. It does not fit Saddam’s profile for you to say he has committed acts of terrorism and has harbored known terrorists. So you should ask your staff to find some we can look over.
6. You have been around for a long time, Secretary Powell, I mean long enough to have observed the last decade since you helped mastermind our victory over Iraq in Desert Storm. Because you are able to get your hands on official records and I am not, you are in a good position now to find out for sure if our government ever had the slightest intention of lifting the embargo on Iraq, no matter what Iraq did to comply with the UN resolutions regarding its stockpiles of weapons of massive destruction. As far as I can tell, Iraq seemed to have fully complied by the end of 1991, although it was not until 1993 that it became clear there was foot-dragging by the UN inspectors. It was then I began to seriously suspect we were playing the same game with Baghdad as we have been playing with Fidel Castro for 40 years, trying to bring down his regime with an economic embargo that would make life miserable for his people. This of course would be in violation of international law and also of our own domestic laws. But it seems that as long as we have to power to do so, we can get away with it. Of course, your predecessor at State, Madeleine Albright, let the cat out of the bag in 1998 when she boasted that the embargo on Iraq would never be lifted as long as Saddam were in power. I’d really like to pin down the date in 1998 when Al Qaeda formally decided to start planning the WTC caper. I’ll bet it was at the time Madeleine made her little announcement.
There are several other questions I think need answering before we ask the American people and the rest of the world to saddle up for Iraq, Mr. Secretary. Because our national press corps will not ask them, I urge you to do so, ASAP.