Iraq: Waco Writ Large
Jude Wanniski
September 13, 1996


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Memo To: Senator John McCain
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Iraq: Waco Writ Large

The reason I disagree with your aggressive posture on Iraq is that I have watched Saddam Hussein jerked around by the UN for the last three years over the Iraqi oil sale issue of. I attach a piece I published two years ago, on Oct. 11, 1994, when Saddam previously kicked up his heels to get our attention. He has known, as our allies and his neighbors in the Arab world have known, that we have been fraudulently offering him a chance to sell oil if he would jump through hoops — all the while knowing that we had no intention to stop the squeeze. Since the Gulf War, our hidden agenda has been to cause such misery to his people that they would throw him out of office, or assassinate him. You know that as well as anyone, and I suppose you agree with it, even though the American people have been led to believe we were permitting redemption if he behaved himself. Our policy toward Castro is the same. We have no intention of resolving the Cuban conflict as long as Castro is alive or in power. Why don't you recommend that our government announce this as explicit policy, and see what happens. If we proceed to escalate the bombing as you insist, my guess, let me tell you, is that there will be terrorist acts in the United States the likes of which we have not yet seen. They need not be directed by Saddam. Fanatics who are driven by the vigilante impulse will find a way to make our people pay. Something big will be blown up or chemicals will be let loose somewhere in New York or Washington. We will see Waco and Oklahoma City writ large.

On the CNBC show, a lady caller asked why Clinton is acting like a dictator. This is where you should be directing your venom, not to outbomb King Clinton. I have been horrified by Clinton's precipitous act, the most irresponsible use of American military power on this scale in our lifetime. What kind of a country do we have, where our President can read a dispatch before breakfast, pick up the telephone, and order the bombing of a sovereign nation? Our "monarch" did so on the grounds that Iraq's head of state responded to a plea from a regional government for assistance against a civil uprising — one that had been instigated by the economic distress our embargo created, aided by Iraq's mortal enemy, Iran. You may be irritated that I take the trouble to pull your chain on this matter, John, but I must tell you that I think you are thinking and acting outside our constitutional framework as much as our President is. Please explain to me why I am wrong. Please.

What would I do? I would start by asking our allies and Iraq's neighbors what they think about all this. I think I would find that they recommend we deal with Saddam, not try to kill him. This is what Turkey has already recommended. The idea that Saddam moved into northern Iraq in order to plan an invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is so stupid an idea that I tremble with frustration when I hear United States Senators bluster about this — as John Glenn and John Warner do. There are 1 trillion barrels of known oil reserves in the world, 40 years worth. The idea that pipsqueak Saddam would control this with his ragtag soldiers is unbelievably incredible. We are assembling the enormous military and diplomatic might of the most powerful country in the history of the world out of concern that a mouse (as the Iranians correctly call him) might surround the Middle East with his armies. Don't you see how dumb all this is? How utterly ridiculous?

October 11, 1994


The President's decision to send U.S. troops to Kuwait in response to the menacing of Kuwait's borders by Saddam Hussein is another in the string of foreign policy fiascos by our inexperienced President and his incompetent Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. All of political Washington has of course rallied around the President for his "firmness" and "decisiveness" in dealing with Saddam, but it is already becoming clear that Saddam has trapped Bill Clinton and has him where he wants him, with his pants down: In order to get our troops and aircraft back home, we will either have to give Saddam the deal he has been offering us and we have been spurning, or we will have to invade an Iraq that is not occupying Kuwait. To the contrary, Iraq is saying that in exchange for a lifting of the U.N. embargo that is strangling Iraq's economy, it is prepared to honor the Kuwait borders it questioned in 1991 -- which our then-U.S. Ambassador, April Glaspie, seemed to concede in a face-to-face discussion with Hussein.

On Saturday morning, in a telephone conversation with a friend in the Washington press corps, I said the first thought I had when I heard of the Iraqi troop movements was that Saddam Hussein was trying to get the attention of the grownups in Washington -- maybe even getting Jimmy Carter into the act. In both Korea and Haiti, Carter intervened at a critical moment when the Clinton administration's ineptitude in foreign affairs put us at the brink of invasion. In each case, when the spotlight fell on Jimmy Carter, it became clear that "the bad guys" in Pyongyang and Port-au-Prince who were about to feel the lash of our military were actually offering reasonable diplomatic deals. As it was known that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was in New York offering a guarantee of Kuwait's borders in exchange for a lifting of the embargo, it seemed likely that he was getting nowhere with our low-level diplomats and Hussein thought he could do better by making some noise.

By Sunday morning, it was clear that he had not only succeeded, but that President Clinton had almost instantly responded by sending troops, ships and planes to the Persian Gulf. Of all the commentaries on what has transpired since late Friday, when this "emergency" was cited by the White House just as the Congress went home for the elections, the one that immediately made most sense to us was that of Ross Perot. On Face the Nation Sunday, Perot with considerable anger pointed out that the White House had to know two weeks in advance that Saddam was moving troops toward the Kuwait border, but chose to keep quiet until that moment. Of course, Perot was right. The U.N. Security Council on September 25 had turned down Iraq's request that since it had complied with the UN's demands that the embargo be lifted -- a position supported by France, China and Russia, but killed by the U.S. Soon thereafter, his troops began their "exercise," leaving plenty of time for warnings to be issued while Congress was still in session. As it was, Clinton, with no discussion or debate, committed the 4,000 troops with the sure knowledge that the build-up would have to be much, much larger to be credible. There was no time for any members of Congress to ask for a round of fact-finding. A smoldering Perot insinuated that Clinton committed the immoral act of putting U.S. troops in harm's way in order to posture as commander-in-chief, to rescue Democrats in the mid-term elections.

Putting that judgment aside, how can we possibly agree with The New York Times that Clinton acted on constitutional grounds? "Unlike the dispatch of American troops to Haiti, threats to Kuwait clearly affect U.S. national interests." Whoa! In 1991, Saddam claimed and occupied Kuwaiti territory. It was not until we persuaded Saudi Arabia that it was next on Saddam's list that even the Saudis worried about Saddam's grab in Kuwait. And it was not until President Bush rounded up our NATO allies and the issue was debated and voted upon in Congress that Desert Storm was launched. That is quite a different kettle of fish than we obtain in this situation with 1) Saddam's troops engaging in military exercises on Iraqi sovereign soil, 2) assuring his Russian supporters that there is no intention of invading Kuwait, which would certainly bring massive and justified retaliation against Baghdad, and 3) his Foreign Minister is at the UN offering to recognize Kuwait's borders. Here is how the Times' Barbara Crossette reported it today:

The Iraqis have argued that Baghdad can do this [recognition of Kuwait's borders] only when the clock has started on an agreed time limit for testing the monitoring systems [of its weapons industry] and Iraq can be reasonably sure there will be no other last-minute demands by the United States.

"Kuwait is Iraq's last card," said Jean-Bernard Merimee, France's representative to the United Nations. "Iraq has to be sure that after the recognition of Kuwait, the Security Council will move to lift the sanctions." He added that there was a growing sense that Iraq cannot be cornered indefinitely without the danger of President Hussein becoming even more threatening.

My understanding is that the United States is really the only country in the world that does not want to end the embargo under any realistic scenario, and that it is acting as if it thinks it can bring down Saddam Hussein by causing his people to suffer. This of course was the Clinton strategy in Haiti, in Cuba, and in North Korea. A prominent German politician now argues that the Iraqi embargo should be lifted and that there is no justification for U.S. troops in the region. Turkey has withdrawn its support. If the U.S. troops were to now invade Iraq to chase down Saddam's Republican Guard and annihilate them, they would do so with almost none of the support from the coalition that backed Desert Storm. Commander-in-chief Clinton would only have the unequivocal support of the Cold War hardliners who argued in 1991 for annihilation of Saddam's army of 1 million -- the "turkey shoot" against which Colin Powell of the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued. New York Times columnist William Safire, on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, vilified Powell for his position, blaming him for Saddam's latest military teasings, and urging a new turkey shoot. Insofar as General Powell is being seen as either GOP presidential timber or rumored to be the imminent replacement of Warren Christopher at State, it is clearly Safire's aim to cut him down. This is part of the continuing struggle between doves and hawks, diplomats and "bombers," as Colin Powell calls them derisively.

What now? The President is suddenly basking in the glory of war, with his triumphs in Haiti and Iraq. The Democratic pols are suddenly cheered up, expecting all this boldness will turn around the fortunes of their Senate and House candidates -- although Ross Perot is making a lot of noise in the other direction. The President would be well advised to latch onto Colin Powell as Secretary of State, which I'm told he would like to do. An incompetent Secretary of State requires a military budget at least twice the current size, to clean up his mistakes. What happens when the Iraq army relocates to a point 20 miles from the Kuwait border and just sits? We sit there too, which is why there is so much talk about going back in and finishing off Saddam's army. If we leave, Saddam has more military exercises on the border, and we have to return, babysitting the Emir as we are Aristide in Haiti. Now the Bosnian Serbs figure they can make some more noise, and so do the North Koreans. Everyone can play this cute little game.

The upshot, I'd have to guess, will be a settlement with Saddam, a lifting of the embargo, a recognition of Kuwait's borders, a certification of the monitors that he ain't building nuclear or biological weapons, et cetera. The President will of course take credit for the deal, having stood up to Saddam. And he will get the same deal he would have gotten six months ago if he had a competent Secretary of State, just as Jimmy Carter got the same deal from Kim Il Sung in Korea and General Cedras in Haiti as could have been had months earlier.

Will the American people be taken in by all this? Those who want to be will, of course. I'm always happy enough just to say all's well that ends well. If it does.

 Jude Wanniski