Iraq, State of Play
Jude Wanniski
November 17, 1998


It’s nice that our B-52s were called back before they unloaded on Iraq, but as things stand we have to expect they sooner or later will be headed back. With President Clinton calling for the overthrow of the Baghdad government, it’s clear the U.S. political establishment has decided to gather itself for a knock-out blow as soon as a pretext can be found. It has in mind establishment of a puppet regime in Iraq, which I presume can only be secured by U.S. (NATO?) troops on the ground. The Israeli Lobby, arguably the most powerful in Washington, sees this as about the only way to guarantee Israel’s security into the next century. Their chief megaphones in the press corps -- Bill Safire at the NYTimes and Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard -- make no bones about the need to send ground troops into Iraq to take care of Saddam Hussein and indefinitely pacify the area with American legionaires. The President may think he can avoid this scenario and with bombs alone somehow have the Baghdad regime replaced by his government-in-waiting. Only a miracle, by which we mean a debate about all this before the B-52s again take wing, can avoid the slippery slope.

In getting the country geared up for military action, the establishment has moved the goal posts again on Iraq. Prior to the elections, the story was still that Saddam Hussein once again was breaking his solemn promise to allow unfettered weapons inspections by UNSCOM. The new story is that even if we find all his weapons, we know his primary goal in what remains of his life is to acquire new weapons of mass destruction in order to threaten his neighbors. In Monday’s NYTimes, the most senior of all its correspondents, R.W. Apple, Jr., tells us flatly that “[Saddam’s] goal remains what it has always been: the development of weapons to help him dominate the region.” The lead piece in Sunday’s Times “Week in Review,” by United Nations correspondent Barbara Crossette, tells us we again must “beat down a challenge from the Iraqi leader, whose intention is to possess an armory of the world’s most lethal weapons.”

This new story line simply may reflect the lead editorial in this morning’s Times that “for as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, an airtight and intrusive verification system to monitor his weapons activities will have to be maintained, under threat of force if necessary.” Baghdad never has believed the inspections would end when the embargo did, but I doubt if they believe “an intrusive verification system” would end even if Saddam died peacefully in his sleep. On the path we are on, a puppet regime and a permanent “verification” force is where we are headed. How can we trust any Iraqi regime to forget the damage done and loss of life by seven years of economic sanctions? A genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace and a broad-based Middle East economic prosperity eventually would dissipate the potential for settling scores, but that does not seem likely under the present circumstances. President Clinton may be surrounded by Jewish foreign-policy advisors who Arab and Islamic leaders assume have an Israeli bias. Still, these policy advisors are denounced by the right-wing press in Israel as being phony Jews who are out to betray Israel’s right to have a pure religious state. The current “peace efforts” are going nowhere fast, with Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon now urging Israeli settlers to seize more of the occupied lands. 

The Iraq chessgame is not being driven by the Israeli Lobby, I don’t think, but by the American political establishment itself, our ruling class. It views Islamic fundamentalism as the chief threat to our national security in the period ahead, and as badly as it has bungled Iraq, it cannot stand to be seen as a bungler. The Global Sovereign doesn’t make mistakes. It sweeps them under the rug. By this time, President Clinton has to know that Iraq has been as much in compliance with the spirit of the UN resolutions of 1991 as it is ever going to be. There is no palpable evidence that justifies the Times’ Mr. Apple or Ms. Crossette even asserting that it is his goal to acquire weapons to dominate the region. It has been his goal for seven years to get the embargo lifted, and in that period he has done nothing to indicate he wants to amass weapons. If he had, there would be a record of it that our government could wave around, but it has shown nothing.

Iraq’s UN Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon early this year assured me the UN inspectors had found no weapons they were not led to by Iraq, and that none have been destroyed since November 1991 when the last pile was incinerated or turned to rubble. When I informed Jack Kemp of Hamdoon’s assertion, he asked his staff at Empower America to check it out. In a statement he released Friday hoping to head off military action without congressional debate, Kemp said his staff “can find no evidence in UNSCOM documentation. This does not mean the Iraqis do not have weapons of mass destruction or the capacity to produce them hidden away. It means only that UNSCOM has been unable to find them. If I were President Clinton, I would at least permit Iraq to state its case before the Security Council of the United Nations, which was created for the purpose of airing these differences to avert unnecessary wars.”

He said further: “Given the doubts about the Clinton administration’s recent bombing of an industrial site in Sudan, which it suspected of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, it is especially important that we not repeat these errors by bombing sites in Iraq that have been open to inspection for several years and in which nothing has been detected...It is time to level with the American people that the contemplated bombing is not about knocking out weapons capability but about eventually knocking Saddam Hussein from power. If we are going to war, let us do so with the full and solemn deliberation as provided for in the Constitution. I agree entirely with those Members of Congress who are asking the president to call Congress back into session to debate before war begins.”

Except for a brief reference by Bob Novak on "Crossfire," there was no mention anywhere of Kemp’s statement. The Times Monday had a story, “Without Banned Arms, a 4th-Rate Power,” quoting Jonathan B. Tucker, “a leading expert on biological and chemical weapons,” who says Saddam “has vast megalomaniacal ambitions of being the leader of the Arab world and the hegemon of the gulf.” The story says “The previous seven years of inspections have destroyed some 38,500 chemical weapons and a secret biological weapons site.” It’s baloney, but Times reporters now assume previous reports have been verified. Practically every media commentator this weekend told us that Saddam “gassed his own people,” but the only investigation done by the Pentagon on the gassing in the Kurdish region during the Iran war indicated it was the Iranian army that did the gassing of the Iraqi Kurds. It doesn’t matter how many times I send this information around, reporters and editors know I must be wrong because they continue to hear it coming from the President and his National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. That is why there have to be congressional hearings serious enough to embarrass the President far more than he has been embarrassed with his private affairs.