Memo To: Scooter Libby, V.P.’s Chief of Staff
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Errors in the VFW Speech
I’ve gone over your boss’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville yesterday, which the NYTimes published online at http://nytimes.com/international. It is a very earnest speech about why the United States has to remove Saddam Hussein; the case for war. That’s why I think you should have helped him go over it more carefully, as there are a few errors in it. At the risk of seeming picky, here they are:
1. He says that Saddam has “systematically broken” each of the agreements he made in 1991 to “cease all development of weapons of mass destruction,” has nuclear and chemical and biological weapons, and his regime has continued “to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.”
This isn’t exactly right, Scooter. If you check with the United Nations, you will find that Saddam has complied with all requests of the weapons inspectors, who left in December 1998 with the argument that even though they were allowed to look everywhere, they could find nothing. If you would have watched NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend, you would have seen Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, say that if he were to accept Iraq’s invitation to return and inspect all the facilities that might have been restored since 1998, he could give the UN Security Council almost 100% assurance that there were no threats remaining. If you would have checked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, you could have advised the Veep that it has been regularly inspecting Iraq, even since 1998, and that there is no evidence of a nuclear program. I’ve checked with our own nuclear experts and have been advised that if Saddam would begin a program, it would be spotted instantly by satellite. He might hide laboratory work, but if he wants a nuclear weapon, he will have to build such extensive facilities that they could not be hidden. As Mr. Blix explained to Tim Russert, the new conditions for inspection are much more extensive than they had been in the past, which means Iraq would be required to allow inspections of any suspicious site upon demand of the inspection teams.
2. In his speech, the V.P. said that on the nuclear question, “many of you will recall that Saddam’s nuclear ambitions suffered a severe setback in 1981, when the Israelis bombed the Osirak reactor.”
What he should have told the VFW convention is that Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear power plant, which Iraq was building under the auspices of the IAEA. As a signatore to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iraq was entitled to use nuclear power for peaceful means, and the IAEA would inspect the plant once it was set up with the fissile material to make it run. If even a gram of nuclear material was missing, the IAEA would know about it and would demand an explanation of where it went. The bombing of Osirak was condemned by the United States and the rest of the world in an almost unanimous UN vote, although we have since learned that the Pentagon helped Israel blow it up before the French installed the nuclear material. Because the Veep did not make this clear to the VFW, I’m sure almost everyone there thought Saddam was building nukes back then. We know from defectors who worked on the secret nuke program which Saddam undertook AFTER Osirak was destroyed, with no compensation by Israel for the billion-dollar loss, that it never got out of the laboratory stage. Didn’t you know that, Scooter?
3. Mr. Cheney said “Saddam devised an elaborate program to conceal his active efforts to build chemical and biological weapons,” and that even though the UN inspectors “were conducting the most intrusive system of arms control in history, the inspectors missed a great deal. Before being barred from the country, the inspectors found and destroyed thousands of chemical weapons and hundreds of tons of mustard gas and other nerve agents.”
This is also wrong, Scooter. When the Gulf War ended, the UN gave Baghdad six months to get rid of all of its weapons of mass destruction. If you check with Scott Ritter, who was the senior American on the inspection team from 1991-1998, he will tell you that the biggest complaint the team had was that Iraq was destroying weapons left and right, and claimed to have destroyed them all within the six months. In other words, Ritter said that the team would rather that they had left the weapons intact so he could have observed their destruction and accounted for everything. The inspectors did not “find” “thousands of chemical weapons,” etc. They “found” nothing. NOTHING. Everything they destroyed was with the assistance of the Iraqi government. To this day, Ritter says that the only remaining work to do is to account for some of the material that is in the government’s records. Iraq’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri, told Bob Novak on his CNN show over the weekend that his government believed the inspections were “finished” when the inspectors left Iraq in 1998, saying they could not find anything. Aldouri says the invitation to inspectors to return, to finish up what they say they might have missed, is without preconditions. They can come ahead. If the Veep was busy writing his speech over the weekend, he might have missed the Novak show. You should have told him about it, Scooter.
4. In the VFW speech, he said “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
This is absolutely wrong. We know he has the material to make weapons, but there is no evidence that he has done so. It is very hard to weaponize material. The U.S. Army War College experts tell me that poison gas is not even considered a weapon of mass destruction, because it is so ineffective in killing masses of people. In other words, there is plenty of doubt, not “no doubt.”
5. The V.P. repeated the assertion that Saddam “has already shown his willingness to use such weapons and has done so, both in his war with Iran and against his own people.”
He is half right, Scooter, in that he did use mustard gas in the eight-year war with Iraq, but you must have read in the NYTimes that the Reagan administration knew all about that and was still helping the Iraqi army, because we did not want Iran to win the war. There is no evidence he ever used gas against his own people. The lurid pictures of Kurds killed by gas at Halabja, a Kurdish town inside Iraq near the border with Iran, do not prove anything. The U.S. Army War College, in cooperation with the Defense Intelligence Agency, determined that the dead were not killed by Iraqi mustard gas, but by a cyanide-based gas. As Israel was supplying Iran with weapons during its war against Iraq, you should check with the DIA, as it would know where the Iranian gas came from.
6. Then the Vice President makes the case that Saddam is inherently bad because he “shoots at American and British pilots in the no-fly zone on a regular basis.”
The VFW audience of course must think it is a terrible thing that Saddam would shoot at our airplanes, and I would hate to see one of them shot down, but the “no-fly zones” were set up in 1991 by the United Nations as temporary precautions to protect the Kurds in the north and the dissidents in the south from Iraqi military action. They were not set up to permit U.S. and British airplanes to bomb whatever they wish in those zones, which is what has been the case. The rest of the members of the UN Security Council have long ago insisted there is no justification in saying the UN supports these actions under the old “no-fly” restrictions.
7. Mr. Cheney says Saddam is “the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former President Bush as he traveled abroad.”
Scooter, this is plain silly. The only “evidence” of this was a confession by an Iraqi whisky smuggler that a bomb he had in his van was going to be used to kill Bush Sr. in the early days of the Clinton administration. Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker spent months investigating and found that the smuggler had been tortured by the Kuwaiti police into saying Iraqi intelligence had made the bomb for him, but after he had been sentenced to death by a Kuwaiti judge, he announced that Iraqi intelligence had nothing to do with his intent, as he blamed Bush Sr. for having killed a dozen members of his family in the Gulf War.
There is of course a lot more to the VFW speech, some of which I agree with, some I would take issue with. But the real case for war made by the Vice President is in the seven points I’ve brought up with you in the open memo. I do hope that before Mr. Cheney gives another speech on this topic, you will do better research, so we do not wind up going to war when there is no need to do so.