Iraq Facts: Does the President Know?
Jude Wanniski
February 23, 1998


Memo To: UN Ambassador Bill Richardson
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Does President Clinton Know These Things?

You've made dozens of tv appearances in recent weeks, but you may remember the question posed by Tony Snow on "FoxNewsSunday" which you said you could not answer. He asked if the UNSCOM inspectors had found any weapons of mass destruction in the last year or two. I must say you looked a bit uncomfortable before saying you did not have this information and that Tony would have to ask others. The question was rather important, I thought, because it goes to the contention of the Iraqi government that our government has had a hidden agenda since the Gulf War that no matter how much it complies with the demands of the inspectors, we would continue moving the goalposts in order to starve the people of Iraq into submission. I wonder if you have taken the trouble to ask anyone about this, so you would at least know the answer yourself. If you have not, I'm pleased to tell you that I took the trouble of asking your UN counterpart, Nizar Hamdoon, with whom I understand you had a good relationship before you were named UN ambassador. Don't you think it is absolutely stupid for your superiors in the U.S. government to insist that you not speak to Hamdoon or anyone else in the governments we don't like? Anyway, Ambassador Hamdoon answered my questions.

How many members of Congress do you think know that UNSCOM has never discovered or destroyed any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction without the cooperation of the Iraqi government? How many members of Congress do you believe know that UNSCOMhas destroyed no weapons since 1992? Do you think the President knows this? Hamdoon assures me he is giving me a true answer and that UNSCOM cannot dispute him. I noted that when Hamdoon on another show made the point that all weapons were discovered and destroyed with the cooperation of the government that no hidden weapons were found Sen. Carl Levin [D-MI] later acted as if he had encounter an Iraqi baldfaced lie. This is not something you can lie about, though. It is not as if there is a question of Hamdoon's private sex life. There have to be UNSCOM records to dispute him, which he says there are not.

What I mean to say, Bill, is that at the top of the government there is almost zero competence in the ability to assess technological arguments in a political context. What the congressional leaders know, they only know from briefings they get from their staff members, who in turn get their briefings from administration officials, who select material from oodles available from technicians with low pay grades and an assumption that the information they are passing from the basement to the top floor is going to be understood by the people in power. If the press corps does not know what questions to ask at the daily press briefings, why should you assume the President knows what questions to ask, when he is not even trained as a reporter who is supposed to get to the bottom of things. When I trained as a reporter who is supposed to get to the bottom of things. When I worked as an editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal in NYC, from 1972-78, the reporters in the Washington bureau disliked me intensely because I would call the officials on their beats to do my own reporting. I would not trust what I read in the newspapers I worked for, unless I knew the level of competence of the reporter. I read a great many papers and periodicals, but have a very high degree of confidence in only a very few. Your good friend Robert Novak is undoubtedly the best in the business. The reason the United States survives the incompetence at the top is that we do have a First Amendment. It only takes a few people, like Novak or Tony Snow on FoxNews or John McLaughlin on NBC to get accurate information out into the world, and the masses insist on their leaders making corrections. That's what happened at Ohio State the other day. The students had picked up on the few scattered critiques of the Beltway's Iraq policy and asked a lot of embarrassing questions. Does Madeleine Albright know that UNSCOM has not destroyed any weapons since 1992? Does Sandy Berger, the President's National Security Advisor? I'll bet they don't, and if they are told that is the case, they will insist it must not be true.

Alas, one lie leads to another lie, and another. If policy is based on a string of lies we have been telling ourselves, Bill, I suppose it may require that we bomb Iraq to bits to destroy the evidence, but wouldn't it be a nicer way to run the world to admit mistakes when we make them, and tell the truth? If you think the President would benefit from this memo, please pass it on to him, as I know he respects you enormously.