Slippery Slope in Iraq
Jude Wanniski
November 12, 1997


If you have never experienced a national hysteria, which is a lynch mob at a national level, we now have one in spades. When the foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times publicly calls for the assassination of a head of state because all other options are inconvenient, we observe the dark side of the lone superpower in a unipolar world. I’m surprised only 60% of the American people want to use military force to crush Saddam Hussein, given the almost total determination of the national press corps to treat him as the devil incarnate and an immediate threat to world civilization. Why is this happening? It is because there only is one politically correct pole in the Establishment, the military pole, which means you put your own career at stake if you say anything contrary to the mob consensus. I’m talking every day to United States Senators, House members, and nationally-known journalists who say they agree with me on Iraq, but that they dare not voice that opinion publicly because the personal costs are too high. The only man who is daring to stand up to the mob is Edward Peck, 69, who was our ambassador to Baghdad in the Carter administration and deputy director of Vice President Bush’s anti-terrorist task force in the Reagan Administration.  Peck, who is becoming ubiquitous on television these past few days, on MSNBC daily and the Jim Lehrer "NewsHour" last night, is not arguing that Saddam Hussein is a good guy. He is arguing that diplomacy easily can end the crisis -- along with the needless use of military force to spill blood in Iraq, ours and theirs -- which is something I have long believed. 

On this basis, a United States locked in the embrace of the military paradigm, now is the greatest threat to world peace. The United Nations, established in 1945 to provide a venue for the diplomatic resolution of international conflict, now has been turned into an agent of our military establishment. Here is Iraqi Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz begging to present his case before the UN Security Council and the United States vetoes the request. Here is UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, ordered by the White House not to speak to Aziz or any other Iraqis that he might bump into at the UN. Now, the Security Council is about to pass a resolution that escalates the sanctions that have been in place for seven years, during which time the UN itself estimates that as  many as a million Iraqis, half of them children, have died of illnesses related to malnutrition. The argument has been that we cannot permit the sanctions to be lifted no matter what Saddam Hussein does, whether he complies with sanctions or not, because as soon as he can get his hands on fresh cash from the sale of Iraqi oil, he will rebuild his armed forces. 

This argument is accepted as gospel by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is supposed to be a diplomat but is quicker on the trigger finger than Defense Secretary William Cohen. Albright last summer gave a TV interview in which she blustered that the sanctions would not be lifted as long as Saddam is in power. A U.S. Senator told me by telephone on Monday that “Madeleine really screwed it up,” that Saddam immediately began conveying this evidence to the rest of the Arab and Islamic world as evidence of American treachery and deceit -- which it is. Here is how Jim Lehrer put it to Ed Peck last night: “What about Tom Friedman’s basic point that what Iraq is doing in acquiring and developing weapons of mass destruction justifies just about anything in order to stop it?” Said Peck: “Well, I mean, I don’t know that he’s doing this. The problem that Saddam Hussein faces -- and Tariq Aziz has put it rather nicely -- is that...when the inspection is over, at what point does somebody stand up and say I guarantee that there are no weapons of mass destruction under development or in stockpiles here -- you can never get that to happen. And so how long does the embargo stay in place? Forever.” 

President Clinton and DOD Secretary Cohen are justifying their hard line by saying again and again that in the last seven years the inspectors found and destroyed more weapons of “mass destruction” than were used in the Gulf War, but that is playing fast and loose with the language. The United States remains the only country that has ever deployed a weapon of mass destruction, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The weapons found and confiscated were conventional, except in the sense that if they could put a nuclear or biological payload on a missile, it could be lethal to millions of innocent civilians. The chemical weapons used against the Kurds were slightly above the level of Mace. If Saddam were serious, he could have used bullets. Nobody is arguing that Saddam has a nuclear capability or could acquire one without everyone in the business knowing about it. If he wanted to produce a biological weapon that could destroy masses of people, he could do it in a small room. It does not occur to our Big Brains in government or in the press that the Islamic world covers more territory than the United States including Alaska and Hawaii, with Western Europe thrown in for good measure. Certainly a small laboratory could be found somewhere in that vast space to produce a biological weapon that could obliterate the United States via a man and a suitcase. As Ed Peck told Jim Lehrer: “A moment’s sober reflection leads you to the conclusion that if Saddam Hussein wants to, he can develop a bathtub full of... anthrax in his apartment. So you can never be certain he’s not doing this sort of thing unless you take the steps to explain to him very carefully what the costs are if he does....”

Finally, we have to remember that this whole thing started with an enormous blunder by the United States. This occurred when President Bush’s Secretary of State, Jim Baker, was so preoccupied with Moscow in 1990 that he turned over Iraq’s complaint, that Kuwait was stealing its oil, to the entourage he had brought with him from Treasury. Saddam was then a “good guy,” head of a secular Muslim state that we backed in its war against the theocratic Muslim state of Iran. The Baker kids drafted instructions to our ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, which she followed to the letter, giving Saddam a yellow light to resolve the oil problem. It only said we would view his use of force with “grave concern.” There was plenty of time to stop Saddam by telling him we would bomb him to bits if he marched into Kuwait. Weeks prior to the invasion, Pat Buchanan wrote a column for The Washington Times warning that Saddam was going after the Kuwaiti oil and we should not intervene if he did. Further back, recall that Kuwait was part of Iraq in the Ottoman Empire, prior to WWI, and was separated by British decree.

It is useful to retrace history when these moments of hysteria occur. It is always so easy to recommend the use of military power when you believe yourself to be Almighty, as Tom Friedman & Co. does now. A year ago, when President Clinton kicked off his campaign for re-election by bombing Iraq, for no good reason but to show he’s macho. Bob Dole instantly saluted, backing what Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott correctly termed a clear violation of the War Powers Act by the President. When we are so sure who are the bad guys, we are quick to reach for the noose. In this morning’s NYTimes, coincidentally, is a front-page report that when the Bosnia war broke out, it seems the first atrocities were committed by the Muslims, not the Christian Serbs. Whoops. And all along we have been basing our foreign policy on the assumption that the Serbs were the first to slaughter innocent civilians. War criminals! Those of you who have been reading our reports long enough remember that the real culprit in the Balkans was the IMF. Get the noose!