Memo To: Rich Lowry, National Review editor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Saddam's nuclear power plant
I see in the current National Review that you are continuing your campaign to declare all-out war on Iraq as soon as possible to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein once and for all. This time you make the case for counter-proliferation of nuclear weapons and reckon we must start with Baghdad. Your "Delay or Die?" column is not only vigorously argued, but replete with evidence that you have read a great deal about the politics of the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular. You know I disagree with you emphatically on Iraq -- even to the point of believing U.S. behavior toward the people of Iraq over the last decade contributed to the political terrorism of September 11. So let's put that aside and simply focus on the points you make about nuclear proliferation -- about Saddam's attempts to build a nuclear arsenal in the past and the likelihood he will succeed if given enough time.
The point that got my attention in particular, Rich, is your mention of Khidir Hamza, the Iraqi scientist who defected and wrote about Saddam's clandestine nuke program. He wrote how Saddam used the presumption that just because Iraq signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, and was being subjected to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that there was "a presumption of innocence." You quote Hamza as writing: "Few of Iraq's suppliers -- or the IAEA itself -- ever bothered to ask a simple question: Why would Iraq, with the second-largest oil reserves in the world, want to generate electricity by burning uranium?"
It is a good question: Why were people so stupid in 1981? Of course, you seem to say, he was scheming even then to build an atomic bomb with which to terrorize his neighbors! I must tell you, though, that in those years, when the price of oil was $35 a barrel, it was conventional wisdom that the world was rapidly running out of oil. You may be too young to remember, but in the 1970s, the smartest people in the United States believed that to be the case. Henry Kissinger, who was said to be the smartest man in the world, thought so. President Gerald Ford thought so. President Jimmy Carter was sure that was the case and he turned down the thermostat at the White House to provide an example of conservation. The Club of Rome, which assembled the leading Malthusian scientists of the day, concluded that Mother Earth had been bountiful from the beginning of time up to this point of history, but from now on would be stingy. I'd been hired by The Wall Street Journal in January 1972 to write editorials and a year later, when OPEC quadrupled the oil price, I wound up writing the energy editorials. If you check with Bob Bartley, he will assure you that we were the laughing stock of the American Political Establishment. That's because we argued the price went up not because oil became scarce, but because paper dollars became too plentiful when President Richard Nixon left the gold standard in 1971.
The mania about everyone freezing in the dark unless we did something extended to the Council on Foreign Relations and its chairman, David Rockefeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and grandson of the Standard Oil Rockefeller. It was David who financed purchase of the coal fields of West Virginia that would provide the energy alternative when the oil spigot ran dry. It was his brother Nelson Rockefeller, President Ford's Vice President, who became the most aggressive advocate of having Uncle Sam subsidize synthetic fuels out of the West Virginia coal fields. This was in order to satisfy the environmentalists that all that smelly coal would not pollute the atmosphere. The Rockefellers also became supporters of the all the official Greenie organizations, which also pushed synfuels, whereby the taxpayers would take all that smelly coal off the hands of the Rockefellers. It wasn't just Rocky. Phillips Petroleum bought up a zillion acres of lignite fields in West Texas, knowing lignite is a good source of the uranium that would be needed to fuel the nuclear power plants when the oil ran out! It was an expensive hedge. They still have not touched the lignite as the world has far more oil reserves today than it had back then. The supply-siders at the WSJournal congratulated themselves on being right, but it turns out that everyone hates an I-told-you-so.
Why did Iraq become a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty? You should ask yourself, Rich. It is a good question. The only reason countries signed up, one after another, is that if they promised to be good, the IAEA would provide them with the technology necessary to build a nuclear power plant!! Having signed the treaty in 1968 and rolling in dough in 1980, Iraq could hedge the same way Iran did, selling expensive oil and buying cheap power plants. What you may not realize, Rich, is that the power plant Iraq was building in 1981 at Osiraq, just outside Baghdad, was not the kind of plant that would produce fissile materials out of which atomic bombs could be constructed. The French had built a similar plant for Israel, which never signed the NPT because it did not need the technology. Israel used the plant to produce power. It got the uranium for its weapons of mass destruction from South Africa. The IAEA inspection of the Osiraq plant was on the up-and-up. Then two months before it was going to be cranked up to send power into Baghdad, Israel decided that it did not want Iraq to have a nuclear power plant and bombed it to bits, without so much as a by-your-leave. The whole world condemned Israel for this blatant act not-so-much of aggression as it was political terrorism. I know my Jewish friends do not like that kind of talk, but let's be honest. There were no apologies and Uncle Sam sided with Israel in the UN Security Council so Israel did not even have to pay for the damage and deaths. Not a brass farthing, an Israeli official announced.
Now it is true that after Osiraq, Saddam decided No-More-Mr. Nice Guy, and began his clandestine project to match Israel bomb-for-bomb, just in case it came to that. It was in this period, while Iraq warred with Iran, that the IAEA was only shown the legitimate operations in Iraq. Since the end of the Gulf War, though, after the UN inspectors learned about the clandestine program, the IAEA protocols have been tightened. Nobody talks about this openly, Rich, but if you check you will find that IAEA inspectors can go anywhere they wish in Iran or Iraq, if they suspect a clandestine nuke program, and they will be taken for a look-see. An IAEA team did such an inspection in Iraq early this year and has at least twice checked out suspicions in Iran. It is easy to hide a chem/bio research facility, but because a nuke plant requires so much infrastructure, so much electric power, it is practically impossible to hide. In other words, it may not be necessary to bomb the Islamic world to bits to be safe from atomic attack. Quite the opposite might work. Maybe we can get Ariel Sharon, even at this late date, to pony up the money to rebuild Osiraq. That would be a nice gesture, wouldn't it?