Iraq, a Manufactured Crisis
Jude Wanniski
November 17, 1997


We watched the Saturday and Sunday talk shows for signs of intelligent life regarding the “crisis” in Iraq and found very little. Those who want to take military action against Saddam Hussein, the devil incarnate, whether or not we have any allies who agree include: General Norman Schwartzkopf, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, National Review columnist Rich Lowery, Roll Call columnist Morton Kondracke, Time’s Margaret Carlson, the WSJournal’s Albert Hunt, former Bush Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, former Clinton aide George Stephanopolous, Sam Donaldson of ABC, George Will of ABC, Juan Williams of the Washington Post, and various and assorted smaller fry who joined in as cheerleaders of the bombing party.

Once again, NBC’s John McLaughlin, trained by Jesuits, was by far the most intelligent, examining every bombastic recommendation by his panelists and taking it to its logical conclusion: Arab League retaliation against the United States, either by trade or terror, ultimately pushing toward use of weapons of mass destruction and World War III. In an exchange with panelist David Gergen, McLaughlin pointed out that nobody has ever accused Iraq of fomenting terrorism. Gergen came back lamely with the Kuwait invasion as an example of Iraqi terrorism. On CNN’s "Capitol Gang," Bob Novak and Pat Buchanan were alone in pointing out what Colin Powell has been saying for years, that even if Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction” we would “pulverize” him if he even thought of using them. 

The highlight of the weekend was the appearance on "Face the Nation" and CNN’s "Sunday Edition" of Iraq’s Ambassador to the UN, Nizar Hamdoon. Bob Scheiffer of "Face the Nation" asked good questions: 1) Did you stop the inspections because the team was getting close to finding some big deal weapon of mass destruction? 2) Why are human shields being placed around the palace and other potential bombing sites? Aren’t you ashamed to take such action? 3) What would you say to the American people? To #1, Hamdoon said the action was taken out of frustration after 6½ years of compliance and thousands of sites being inspected and weapons destroyed by the UN and no sign of sanctions being lifted; all other nationalities could continue to inspect and could return now if they wish. To #2, Hamdoon said Iraq is doing everything it can to prevent military action against it, and that the shields are part of that; in return, he asked if the countries shouldn’t be ashamed of bombing under such circumstances. To #3, Hamdoon said Iraq would like to talk to our government directly to find our concerns and to express theirs. (President Clinton says we are pursuing a “diplomatic solution,” but by that he means we are trying to diplomatically persuade the rest of the world to bomb Iraq.)

Frank Sesno asked Hamdoon about the October 27 refusal to allow the inspection team to look for biological weapons at a site they suspected and he said it was on the presidential compound. Would the U.S. allow inspectors into the White House? Sesno also asked U.N. inspection team leader Richard Butler, a Brit, who acknowledged that the site they requested was a building two kilometers from the palace, which Iraqi Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz told him was dilapidated. In this enlightening interview, Butler made it clear that the only threat from Iraq is from biological warfare, that the UN is persuaded Iraq has no nuclear or chemical weapon capability, an important factoid that has not made the papers. Hamdoon’s argument was that the only work left is examination of data, which could take years. Iraq has imported materials that could be used for making deadly anthrax, although the material can also be used to develop serums to protect livestock from disease. The UN has cameras set up in the agricultural stations to make sure the men in white coats are making serum, not the deadly anthrax. CNN’s Peter Arnett said Iraq allows the press into the stations to show that the cameras are still there and in operation. Defense Secretary Cohen, whose appearance on ABC’s "This Week" was pathetic, seemed to have been briefed on the situation by a Pentagon janitor. Saddam could destroy us all with material the size of a bag of sugar, he blathered. Cokie Roberts asked why we then did not allow the remaining inspectors to swoop in to get the stuff. Cohen then quoted from the Rev. Martin Niemuller about how Hitler picked off one country at a time. Defense Secretary?

On several of the shows, a film clip of President Clinton showed him stating that “We still not stand for Saddam Hussein threatening us with weapons of mass destruction.” I did not see anyone point out that Saddam has never threatened us with weapons of mass destruction -- which to me means a weapon that will obliterate military and civilian life over some broad expanse. NSC Advisor Berger on "Meet the Press" stated that Iraq last used a “weapon of mass destruction” in 1988, presumably the gas it used in the last stages of the war with Iran. 

Jack Kemp was on CNN’s "Inside Politics" on Saturday. Wolf Blitzer asked him what he would do: “The mistake has been to rattle so many sabers. With all due respect, this is a time for coolness, a time for diplomacy. We should lay down a benchmark around which Saddam should be required to fulfill certain conditions, hold him accountable, and then tell him flatly, diplomatically, quietly, that if he fulfills those conditions, and it is done in a way that the UN Security Council can monitor, that the embargo would be lifted.” Blitzer was not listening: “OK, that’s no holds barred,” he summed it up. Tony Snow of Fox News obviously watched the Kemp interview and got it right. On his "Sunday Morning" program, Snow asked Senator Kerrey of Nebraska about Kemp’s suggestion that we use “carrots as well as sticks,” and Kerrey sneeringly disagreed. A man once seriously discussed as presidential timber, Kerrey was about the meanest public official of the weekend in advocating bombs, with or without allies. Eagleburger, who was really responsible in 1990 for giving Saddam the yellow light to invade Kuwait, was the most pompous in hurling threats at Iraq based on pinhead analysis.

There is general agreement that nobody believed Saddam could survive this long under the crushing burdens of our sanctions, that his people would topple him. A former ambassador to Baghdad, Ed Peck, has been alone for weeks in arguing that Saddam remains popular because the Iraqi people credit him with using the nation’s oil wealth on their behalf. For the first time since the Gulf War, Kemp has now established a counter position in the Republican Party to this hidden agenda of our government. You may recall Kemp last year -- as the GOP veep nominee -- raised objection to Clinton’s bombing of Iraq without consulting Congress, and he was quickly supported by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Bob Dole then overruled the objection, making it painfully obvious that our political Establishment had no intention of lifting the embargo on Iraq, no matter what. We can now sit back and watch what happens with Kemp arguing for genuine diplomacy against a gaggle of mad bombers. He starts out with the support of Pat Buchanan and Bob Novak, two serious opinion leaders among conservatives. The old Cold Warriors -- Bill Kristol, George Will, and their puppeteer Richard Perle, will of course accuse Kemp of dividing opinion in a national “crisis.” With Kemp breaking loose from the consensus, chances are high that the crisis is over -- unless the President really wants to have one.