Bumping Off an Ex-President
Jude Wanniski
September 24, 2002


Memo To: George Herbert Walker Bush
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Case Not Closed

You remember me, Mr. President, I am sure of that. I was one of the first journalists in the Washington press corps to spot you as being presidential timber, and to write a column about you for the old National Observer, when you were a freshman congressman from Houston in 1967, the president of that big freshman class of Republicans. (You also invited me to Camp David in 1989 to advise you on the economy.) I’m writing to you today because I believe your son thinks that Saddam Hussein tried to have you killed in the spring of 1993, after you had left public office and were once again a private citizen. I know he thinks that because when he listed his bill of indictment against Saddam at the United Nations two weeks ago, he mentioned it as one of the reasons he believed our country should war against Iraq to produce a “regime change.”

If he believes this to be a true story, Mr. President, then I think you also must believe it to be a true story, or you would have long ago called him and told him you think it is bogus. Most of the speculation about your son’s eagerness to depose Saddam has focused on the idea that he wants to “finish the job” which you “should have finished” in 1991, by sending our Desert Storm troops into Baghdad after they had expelled the Iraqi army from Kuwait. I personally think he understands that you did the right thing in stopping at the Kuwaiti border once the original mission was complete; If you had ordered General Schwartzkopf to ignore our coalition commitments and proceed, the world would not be able to trust our word the next time we sought coalition. No, I think your son has at the top of his mind the belief that Saddam is so evil that he would track down a political leader who was in retirement, completely off the global chessboard, and seek to have him (you) assassinated.

I wonder if you have ever read the New Yorker article of Nov. 1, 1993, by Seymour Hersh, the renowned investigative reporter. He called it “The Case Not Closed.” In it, he directly addressed all the charges directed against Baghdad in connection with this attempted assassination of you, and shred the allegations to pieces. In several thousand words, Hersh went through the whole story about the Iraqi whisky smugglers who had come into Kuwait to do business and how it came to be that the Kuwait government found them out and arrested them. I’m assuming you never took the trouble to read the story, because if you had, Mr. President, you would have had more than grave doubts that the episode occurred as was reported in the popular press at the time.

The most important insight that Hersh brought to his story way back then was that it did not make sense that Saddam would go to the trouble of knocking you off at a moment in time when he was trying to show the new President, Bill Clinton, that he was not such a bad guy after all. I’ve studied politics going back millennia, and for the life of me I cannot recall a regime in power putting out a contract on a politician who was not only retired, but of an age where he clearly would never come back to power again. One of the reasons the Iraq government has spent little time in the last nine years tacking this allegation is that they cannot believe anyone in the United States could fall for this line. What I think really happened is that the hardliners in the GOP were alarmed when Clinton was elected and in an interview with the press said he might be willing to do business with Saddam. The story appeared in the NYTimes of January 14, 1993 and was written by Thomas L. Friedman, the newspaper’s star reporter on Middle East issues: “President-elect Bill Clinton said Wednesday that he would not rule out renewing the ground war against Iraq if necessary to force compliance with United Nations resolutions, but he also indicated that he was ready for a fresh start with President Saddam Hussein. Clinton... said that he was not ‘obsessed’ with Saddam and that he could imagine a normal relationship with the Iraqi leader, provided he behaved in accordance with international norms.”

I’d always thought it implausible that Saddam had any knowledge of the feeble story presented by the CIA that Saddam was really behind the Kuwaiti allegation. My guess is that it was a CIA operation, as the CIA director at the time James Woolsey, was almost certainly among those alarmed by President Clinton’s conciliatory statements.

What I believe happened is that Woolsey found a way to alarm the Kuwait government that Saddam might come back into the good graces of the US government, based on the Clinton interview, and that the monarchy would again be jeopardized. In his 1993 New Yorker article, Hersh mentions the fact that at the very first news report of an attempted assassination of you in Kuwait City, Woolsey was urging President Clinton to war against Iraq. In the same piece, Hersh mentions Woolsey’s mentor, Richard Perle, the man who had insinuated Woolsey into the CIA job in the Clinton administration. These are the same fellows who have from the earliest days of briefing your son, then governor of Texas, have told him that Saddam Hussein tried to have you killed. Hersh has always said the whole thing smelled to high heaven, but the ranks closed and they have remained closed ever since.

People forget that President Nixon named you director of Central Intelligence before you were named Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China in the Nixon administration. I remember, Mr. President, which is why I think I can remind you that once the CIA takes a position on a matter of this importance, it will burn in hell rather than admit it made a mistake. If you could put senior CIA officers under, with truth serums, they might readily admit the whole story of your assassination was a Woolsey hoax, but that is not going to happen. All I really suggest is that you go back and read Sy Hersh’s account, “Case Not Closed,” and think it through. If I knew for sure that Saddam Hussein had tried to kill my dad, I would surely be blinded by that thought, and would recklessly put that very personal interest ahead of the interest of the nation and the world.

Just yesterday, someone sent me a report of an antiwar activist who attended Henry Hyde’s House hearings on Iraq. The fellow hyperventilated, the way antiwar activists do, but here are his concluding remarks, which bothered me and I think should cause you concern: “It's now easy to imagine the boy president-to-be nursing his desire all those years to avenge the Iraqi assassination attempt (alleged by the Clinton administration) on his father in 1993, and to take care of his dad's "unfinished business" from the Gulf War of 1991. Like a child playing with toy soldiers, tanks and airplanes, George Jr. envisions ridding the world of this "evil man" and turning Baghdad into Houston, while the unremarkable Stalinist dictator Saddam Hussein attracts opinion on the Arab street to his side and against America's corrupt Gulf client regimes, setting the region ablaze politically and otherwise with minimal effort.”

Please, Mr. President, help clear this up. Urge your son to demand a full accounting of this story. Or at least, ask him to invite Sy Hersh in for a cup of coffee, as Sy knows more about this story than most of the folks in our intelligence agencies. I think he also knows a lot more than he put into his 1993 story and would be willing to convey that information to you and your son. It may be that a “regime change” is necessary, but I think you would agree that it should not be triggered by an incorrect idea in your son’s calculus.