Memo To: Jim McTague, Barron’s Washington correspondent
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Good job.
Considering all the time you spent interviewing me, and all the time this has been sitting on the desk of your editor, I think “Jude the Obscurer?” came out very well. It was probably to my advantage that it sat there for six weeks while Dick Armey, Brent Scowcroft, Jim Baker had a chance to catch up with my anxieties about war with Iraq and go public. I really don’t have any quibbles at all with your piece, but the Barron's headline writer was just too cute. I understand the word play on Thomas Hardy’s novel, "Jude the Obscure," but how did I become an “obscurer”? When I told the late Irwin Glikes of Basic Books in 1977 that I wanted to call my book, The Way the World Works , he laughed and said “It sounds mildly megalomaniac, but it will do.” Also, the sub headline says I have asserted Saddam “didn’t use poison gas,” when Saddam himself has said he has used gas in his war with Iran. I was actually thrilled to see you confirm my argument that there is at least no "incontrovertible" evidence that he used poison gas on his own people – which is what President Bush and Vice President have been saying over and over again justifies “regime change.” Hey, if I did believe he committed genocide against the Kurds and that he has weapons of mass destruction, I would support a regime change too. And I would join Bill Clinton on the front lines!
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Monday, September 2, 2002
Jude the Obscurer?
A supply-side hero, arguing against war with Iraq, asserts that Saddam didn't use poison gas
By JIM MCTAGUE
There's nothing new under the sun, and that applies to media megalomaniacs. A decade before Rush Limbaugh discovered that Bill and Hillary were the source of all the world's ills, and two decades before Bill O'Reilly realized that he was the only honest newsman, God told Jude Wanniski to champion supply-side economics and a return to gold standard. Now, apparently, God -- or perhaps the devil -- is telling him to serve as an apologist for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Wanniski was one of the first celebrity conservatives. Twenty years ago, the New York Times and other prominent publications regularly quoted him on matters economic. In 1978, he had penned a book arrogantly entitled "The Way the World Works," which championed supply-side economics and its disciples, Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell. Wanniski, a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal, had coined the term "Laffer Curve" to argue that cutting high tax rates can both increase government revenues and spur production. A presidential candidate named Ronald Reagan embraced the pro-growth theory when mainstreamers such as George Bush were dismissing it as "voodoo economics." Reagan became president, and his policies lifted both the stock market and Wanniski's standing as a right-wing guru.
Even today, Wanniski has some clout with conservatives by virtue of his book. A panel of intellectuals gathered by the National Review a couple years ago ranked it 94th on a list of the 100 most-influential non-fiction works of the 20th century. The list included works by Winston Churchill, G.K. Chesterton, Sigmund Freud, Milton Friedman and Albert Camus. National Review founder William F. Buckley's "God & Man at Yale" was 44th.
"I actually believed God had chosen me, of all people, to bring the good news of supply-side economics to mankind, thereby saving the world from perpetual economic decline," Wanniski wrote in the preface to the 1988 edition. He skewers those who dare to disagree with him. He once compared an analysis by liberal economist Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist, to a child's scribbling in a coloring book.
Today, Wanniski remains in right field on economic matters, and he retains a following that is willing to pay for a gold-centric analysis of the markets, via his Polyconomics Web site and a newsletter. He claims 1,600 subscribers, including more than 100 Wall Street investment houses. Wanniski also offers political analysis and commentary on the site. These, in contrast, are rather leftist. The former Cold Warrior declared himself a dove last year in the middle of the nation's war on terror. He derides those in the Bush administration who favor hostilities against Iraq as "the war party." Wanniski was pretty much a lone, ignored voice until recently, when prominent Republicans, such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former Secretary of State James Baker III cautioned against attacking Iraq.
According to Wanniski, the Bush team not only wants to fight Iraq, it wants to take on all potential opponents, including China, while the U.S. enjoys nuclear superiority. Wanniski also argues that if Bush were serious about bringing peace to the Mideast, he'd enlist controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to broker an agreement between Muslim and Jew.
More Iraqi defeats would simply fan the flames of terrorism, Wanniski contends.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz shook his head sadly when Barron's asked him about his one-time buddy Wanniski, who has accused Wolfowitz of being a dupe of the Israeli lobby. "About Jude ... no, I better not say anything," he told us when we button-holed him on Capitol Hill one afternoon a few months ago. Other old acquaintances, such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, refused to comment. Wanniski, one of those people who see conspiracies behind every tree, claims it's a strategy to mute his message.
Wanniski opposes military action against Iraq, which he says is a civilized country that had one of the highest standards of living in the Mideast before the U.S. crippled it with an ill-advised embargo. That embargo, he says, resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 persons. "This was one of the causes of Sept. 11," he asserts.
In Wanniski's view, attacking Iraq would fan the flames of Muslim terrorism, not stamp it out. He asserts that Saddam isn't a threat to the U.S. or Israel, because he has neither nuclear bombs nor biological weapons. Nor is there any convincing evidence, he says, that Saddam used nerve gas on Iraqi Kurds in 1988, a charge that has been recited by Bush for months. "Show me the bodies!" demands Wanniski in a riff on a famous line from the movie "Jerry McGuire." Bush and his "War Party" are inventing pretexts to go to war, he contends. He cites a 1990 U.S. Army War College study that found no evidence that Iraq used poison gas on its Kurdish minority. Economist Peter Galbraith did a similar study for the Senate and came to the opposite conclusion. "Jude's position is akin to holocaust denial," Galbraith says. Wanniski counters that Galbraith won't admit that his report is erroneous because it was a basis of the embargo that Wanniski claims cost so many Iraqi lives. "Peter couldn't live with himself if the gassing charges were bunk. Well, they were bunk."
In fact, there never has been irrefutable medical evidence of a gassing -- because suspected mass graves are in Iraqi-controlled areas beyond the reach of investigators. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says his group has 18 tons of Iraqi documents seized after the Gulf War, and that they provide hard evidence that the gassing took place. "It's no longer a matter of debate," he asserts.
Wanniski, who is kindly and mild-mannered in person, becomes aggressive at the keyboard. He has called his old friend Wolfowitz a "truly evil, albeit a second-class, "Beelzebub." He described Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, as "the genuine article, the Prince of Darkness," in an anti-war e-mail to Illinois Republican Rep. Henry Hyde.
Supply-side ally Jack Kemp hasn't been on direct speaking terms with Wanniski for several years because of something the man said. Kemp's spokesman doesn't know the exact reason, and Wanniski says he can't remember. "At some point, communication became more efficient when conducted by third parties," he says.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan once was on Wanniski's e-mail list. But in September 1997, Greenspan "had his secretary call mine saying he no longer wanted to hear from me." Wanniski says he merely had warned Greenspan that he was inflicting deflation on the world economy.
One person who talks to Wanniski fairly regularly is Farrakhan. In fact, Wanniski has become the black minister's unofficial go-between to the white world. Wanniski asserts that Farrakhan would be an effective peace envoy because he has standing and credibility with the world's Muslims, and that this would moderate terrorism. "The whole Islamic world would say: 'Holy smoke! You really are going to listen to Farrakhan? We have a voice in the U.S.'!"
As for Iraq, Wanniski says he's not trying to start a movement or win anti-war converts, though his activities suggest otherwise. "I do not write editorials, I write analysis. I've spent most my life supporting wars, and would do so again if I found a just cause." However, the way to deal with Iraq and other Arab nations is not with the sword, he argues, but with creative diplomacy.
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Jude Footnote: In 1988, Peter Galbraith originally asserted that Saddam had gassed 100,000 Kurds. Human Rights Watch now says the 100,000 were rounded up, trucked south, machine-gunned to death, and buried in mass graves. HRW now says the graves will be found when it has access to the areas where they exist. The Army War College analysts say the graves would have long ago been found by satellite, followed by Pentagon demands they be investigated.