Memo To: Karl Rove
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Bush press conference
As President Bush's most important political counselor, Karl, you do have a special responsibility to see that the things he says in his press conferences are accurate. That is, you don't have to negotiate with other Cabinet officials or with other members of the White House staff on what goes into his head and comes out of his mouth. I personally think a lot of the problems he is having now in explaining his decision to war with Iraq are the result of your failure to bring warning signals to the President when you had the information" and the access.
It isn't too late to play that role, as you should, even though there will be screams from the warhawks that you have no business butting in. They did that before, and it may have had their intended effect. They think National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice should be the sole supplier of the last word on security issues at the White House. Of course, Condi has consistently represented the views of the hawks, who were largely responsible for getting her the job in the first place. The same is true of her deputies, all disciples of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
Here is a segment from the transcript of yesterday's press conference. I'll show you what I mean, with my comments inserted in italics.
Q. Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to Al Qaeda were a key part of your justification for war, yet your own intelligence report, the N.I.E. [National Intelligence Estimate], defined it as, quote, low confidence that Saddam would give weapons to Al Qaeda. Were those links exaggerated to justify war? Or can you finally offer us some definitive evidence that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda terrorists?
A. Yeah. I think, first of all -- remember, I just said we've been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now I know in our world where news comes and goes and there's this kind of instant news and you must have done this, you must do this yesterday, that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all. But it's going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally the miles of documents that we have uncovered. . . .
There is no doubt in my mind, Campbell, that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States security and a threat to peace in the region. And there's no doubt in my mind that a free Iraq is important. It's got strategic consequences for not only achieving peace in the Middle East, but a free Iraq will help change the habits of other nations in the region, which will make America much more secure. . . .
[JW: The question was about Saddam's links to Al Qaeda. The answer was not responsive because the President cannot offer any of the links the hawks at the Pentagon continue to say were there, with no evidence of their own.]
Q. There's a sense here in this country and a feeling around the world that the U.S. has lost credibility by building the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained, nonexistent evidence. I'm just wondering, sir, why did you choose to take the world to war in that way?
A. . . . Saddam Hussein was a threat. The United Nations viewed him as a threat. That's why they passed 12 resolutions. Predecessors of mine viewed him as a threat. We gathered a lot of intelligence. That intelligence was good, sound intelligence on which I made a decision. And in order to placate the critics and the cynics about intentions of the United States, we need to produce evidence.
[JW: The President continues to cite the dozen UN resolutions passed between 1991 and 2002 as evidence that Iraq posed a threat. You might explain that the UN inspectors in these years were essentially trying to verify Baghdad's insistence that it had no WMD and had abandoned the programs. In all those years, the inspectors never did find any WMD, only paper trails about the programs. The UN resolutions were passed when disputes arose between the inspectors and the government about the modalities of the inspections -- where they could look and where they couldn't. Each time, Iraq gave way, but each time the inspectors pressed for more access and more UN resolutions. At the end of the day and all those resolutions, Iraq had opened the country without any restrictions at all. You should be alerting the President to the news that all the senior Iraqi scientists who are now in custody and swearing up and down, as they have since 1991, that there are no WMD. Only when the President gets that clear in his head will he begin asking what the heck has been going on all these years.]
A. And I fully understand that. And I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe: that Saddam had a weapons program. I want to remind you he actually used his weapons program on his own people at one point in time, which is pretty tangible evidence. But I'm confident history will prove the decision we made to be the right decision. . . .
[JW: Here again, the President is misinformed. Someone has cautioned him to use the term "weapons program," because it is true that Saddam had WMD programs in the 1980's. But he did not, as the President said, use "his weapons program on his own people at one point in time." I'm sure it is still in the President's head that Saddam committed genocide against the Iraqi Kurds, because he had been told that story so often. There is no evidence of such genocide, Karl, which you could easily discover by asking the CIA's George Tenet to produce it. The CIA's official position, as of last October, is that the last time the Iraqi military used chemical weapons was in March 1988, during a battle at Halabjah, an Iraqi village near the border with Iran. There is no dispute between the CIA or the Defense Intelligence Agency on that point. The Iraqi army used the gas against the Iranian army, which had temporarily occupied Halabjah, and according to the CIA "hundreds" of people were killed as a result, including Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire, as the Iranian army also used gas. A postwar inquiry by the Army War College determined that the civilians were killed by Iranian gas.
[By the way, Karl, it is because the President makes so many of these mistakes in his public utterances that I believe he has never told a lie about why he did what he did. He is simply repeating the falsehoods that have been fed to him by the hawks who he assembled to handle these matters. When asked about Condi Rice in his press conference yesterday, Mr. Bush defended her by saying: "Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service. Period." I have no doubt Dr. Rice is "an honest, fabulous person," but she really should find another post more suited to her skills. She still doesn't have a clue as to how she was rolled by the neo-cons.]