How You and I Got Snookered, Jeanne Kirkpatrick
Jude Wanniski
October 7, 2002


Memo To: Jeanne Kirkpatrick, former U.N. Ambassador
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Why We Supported the Gulf War

Holy smokes, Jeanne, I saw you on LateEdition with Wolf Blitzer yesterday, talking about what a bad guy Saddam Hussein was for invading Kuwait in 1990. But then you said he was about to invade Saudi Arabia too. I’m amazed that after all these years you still think Saddam was going to gobble up Saudi Arabia after he digested Kuwait. Do you remember how skeptical both of us were about why we should get excited about why Iraq went into Kuwait, when nobody in the neighborhood seemed to be bothered? You had written an op-ed, I recall, which is probably why you got invited to the Saudi Embassy for a briefing by Saudi’s Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, who is still there. I’d also written about why the United States should war with Baghdad when everyone knew the Kuwaiti Emir was stealing oil from Iraq and had driven the price of oil down to $11 a barrel by cheating the other oil producing countries on its promises to limit production. That’s how I got invited. I think we even shared a taxi from Empower America and went over together. I know for sure we sat next to each other in that little briefing room, where Prince Bandar told us why King Fahd had suddenly decided that Saddam was a threat to Saudi Arabia and to the peace of the region.

It was late August or early September, if I am not mistaken, because it did take a while for the Saudis and Egyptians to get their danders up after Saddam invaded Kuwait on August 2. The “evidence” that Saddam was about to hurl his military machine against the Saudis were photographs which Prince Bandar said he was shown in a Pentagon briefing, photos taken by “Naval Intelligence” which showed Iraqi tanks lined up at the Kuwait/Saudi border, ready to pounce! Wow, I remember thinking, this guy Saddam Hussein, who we backed in the war against Iran, turns out to be a Hitler after all. So did you. And we got behind President Bush and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and his deputy secretary for policy, Paul Wolfowitz, and cheered our troops on. A few days later, on September 11, President Bush told a joint session of Congress that "following negotiations and promises by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein not to use force, a powerful army invaded its trusting and much weaker neighbor, Kuwait. Within three days, 120,000 troops with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia. It was then I decided to act to check that aggression."

It was only later I discovered I had been snookered, Jeanne, and so had you. I was sure you had learned those photographs we saw showed tanks that were nowhere near the Saudi border – and Saddam never had the slightest intention of going anywhere near it. This has been confirmed in several different ways in the years since, but the first inkling that the photos were not what they were purported to be showed up in the St. Petersburg Times (Florida) of January 6, 1991. Jean Heller, a Times reporter, wrote "Public Doesn't Get Picture with Gulf Satellite Photos." She was interviewed last month, September 6, by Scott Peterson of The Christian Science Monitor after President Bush included the canard in his bill of indictment against Saddam in his United Nations speech. (We may hear it again tonight when he addresses the nation at 8 pm EDT). Ms. Heller told the Monitor “It was a pretty serious fib.” In 1991 she had written:

Satellite photographs taken by the Soviet Union on the precise day Bush addressed Congress failed to show any evidence of Iraqi troops in Kuwait or massing along the Kuwait-Saudi Arabian border. While the Pentagon was claiming as many as 250,000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait, it refused to provide evidence that would contradict the Soviet satellite photos. U.S. forces, encampments, aircraft, camouflaged equipment dumps, staging areas and tracks across the desert can easily be seen. But as Peter Zimmerman, formerly of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Reagan Administration, and a former image specialist for the Defense Intelligence Agency, who analyzed the photographs said: “We didn't find anything of that sort [i.e. comparable to the U.S. buildup] anywhere in Kuwait. We don't see any tent cities, we don't see congregations of tanks, we can't see troop concentrations, and the main Kuwaiti air base appears deserted. It's five weeks after the invasion, and from what we can see, the Iraqi air force hasn't flown a single fighter to the most strategic air base in Kuwait. There is no infrastructure to support large numbers of people. They have to use toilets, or the functional equivalent. They have to have food.... But where is it?”

On September 18, 1990, only a week after the Soviet photos were taken, the Pentagon was telling the American public that Iraqi forces in Kuwait had grown to 360,000 men and 2,800 tanks. But the photos of Kuwait do not show any tank tracks in southern Kuwait. They clearly do show tracks left by vehicles which serviced a large oil field, but no tank tracks. Heller concludes that as of January 6, 1991, the Pentagon had not provided the press or Congress with any proof at all for an early buildup of Iraqi troops in southern Kuwait that would suggest an imminent invasion of Saudi Arabia. The usual Pentagon evidence was little more than "trust me." But photos from Soviet commercial satellites tell quite a convincing story. Photos taken on August 8, 1990, of southern Kuwait - six days after the initial invasion and right at the moment Bush was telling the world of an impending invasion of Saudi Arabia - show light sand drifts over patches of roads leading from Kuwait City to the Saudi border. The photos taken on September 11, 1990, show exactly the same sand drifts but now larger and deeper, suggesting that they had built up naturally without the disturbance of traffic for a month. Roads in northern Saudi Arabia during this same period, in contrast, show no sand drifts at all, having been swept clean by heavy traffic of supply convoys.

The former DIA analyst puts it this way: "In many places the sand goes on for 30 meters and more." Zimmerman's analysis is that "The [roads] could be passable by tank but not by personnel or supply vehicles. Yet there is no sign that tanks have used those roads. And there's no evidence of new roads being cut. By contrast, none of the roads in Saudi Arabia has any sand cover at all. They've all been swept clear."

Now you may say, Jean, that Ms. Heller and Mr. Zimmerman should not have trusted the Soviet satellite photos, which were commercial, not military, but there was never any chance at all that Iraq would invade Saudi Arabia. Iraq invaded Kuwait only after the Emir refused to negotiate with him about the border dispute and the cheating on the oil. Saddam had told the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, that he would not use force as long as he and the Emir were negotiating, but Kuwait was essentially waging economic war against Iraq! If you do even a cursory check, Jeanne, you will find that King Fahd not only agreed with Saddam that the Emir was at fault, but also that Saddam was as happy as a clam with Saudi Arabia for having forgiven Baghdad it multi-billion dollar war debt.

Those fake photographs were more than a fib. They were decisive in giving the Pentagon the ammo it needed to win over the Congress and build the coalition in the Middle East. Ms. Heller recalls that the newspaper asked three times for Dick Cheney to confirm or deny the story, but no dice. To this day the story and photos remain buried in top secret Pentagon files.

Yet in President Bush’s address to the United Nations in September 2002, asking for authority to use force against Iraq, he again mentioned this old charge in his bill of indictment. Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, served as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time of the Gulf War. Hamilton told the Monitor

This is not a problem unique to George Bush. It's every president I've known, and I've worked with seven or eight of them... All, at some time or another, used intelligence to support their political objectives. Information is power, and the temptation to use information to achieve the results you want is almost overwhelming... The whole intelligence community knows exactly what the president wants [regarding Iraq], and most are in their jobs because of the president – certainly the people at the top – and they will do everything they can to support the policy. I'm always skeptical about intelligence... It's not as pure as the driven snow.

You must know, Jeanne, that I’ve often wondered how you felt about being snookered as I was, and as the American people were. If there were no faked photos, maybe the White House would have been forced to push Saddam onto the diplomatic path, and pushed the Emir of Kuwait too. Do you know how many people have died because of those faked photos? It’s not too late, my friend. (Remember we first met in 1963 at a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo?, and were regular lunchers at the American Enterprise Institute?) Just ask around, do a little digging, check with Jack Kemp who sits down the hall from you at Empower America. Millions have died because of that “serious fib.” Enough is enough.