Memo To: Bill Richardson, UN Ambassador
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Needle in Iraqi Haystack
I remain a great fan of the Real Bill Richardson, one of the true bright lights in the Clinton Administration, and I know you have to do what you are doing because you are on the team and the team believes it has to plough ahead. My guess is that you know how silly you are beginning to sound on the weekend talk shows, insisting there is a secret flask of anthrax hidden in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The only reason the administration is getting away with this line is that members of Congress and journalists are playing along with the idea that it is serious. The Evans&Novak column yesterday, pointing out that Sandy Berger is kidding himself if he thinks he has Saddam in a box, will be the first of many. One of these days someone will ask you or President Clinton how these hundred inspectors, who have been snooping around for almost seven years, will find the needle in the Iraqi haystack, a haystack the size of California. I was surprised Sunday to find Tim Russert actually playing straight man, instead of asking you if it will ever be possible to find the secret flask of anthrax, or whatever the “weapon of mass destruction du jour.”
You must know that we are becoming the laughing stock of the world as we spend hundreds of millions of dollars cruising our fleet around the Persian Gulf, as if we have any intention of invading Iraq to find the secret flask. Members of Congress should be ashamed of themselves, afraid to ask for an accounting of how much money this is costing. If Sandy Berger would ask any of the high ranking members of the military what they think of this business -- under sodium pentathol -- they will laugh him off the block. This is comic book foreign policy. If a movie is made of this, it will star Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, sneaking around corners in search of the secret flask. When you were an independent Democratic congressman from New Mexico, you were able to cut through all this fudge and rescue the President from the corners his advisors had painted him. Tell you the truth, Bill, I wish you were back in Congress. I hope this is not how you are going to spend the rest of your term at the United Nations.
We are now at the point where the Iraqis are conducting tours of the palace grounds for “guests,” but not “inspectors.” My recommendation is that you draw straws to see who will disguise himself as a guest, with a fake mustache. Bob Novak might be able to set him up with press credentials from CNN. Chief UN inspector Richard Butler, who after seven years of snooping, believes he knows almost exactly where the secret flask can be found, if only Saddam Hussein will allow his folks to look under Tariq Aziz’s bed. To me, the big mystery is how the Clinton team is going to get out of this corner, with the meter running on our Seventh Fleet at several million bucks a day. Next week, Tariq Aziz is going to conduct guided tours of the palaces for anyone with an American Express Platinum Card. Saddam himself will announce a tax-free prize of a million barrels of oil to any guest who finds the secret flask. (If you can get Butler to tell me where it is and get me a visa, I will put on a fake mustache, snatch the flask, become an international hero, and a rich man!)
The only way out I can imagine, Bill, is that you propose to lift the sanctions if Saddam and Tariq agree to snap inspections. Let Butler and his boys pick one secret site per month that they wish to inspect, including Saddam’s bathroom, on a moment’s notice. If after a year of coming up empty, with the whole world taking bets, you would agree to end the inspections, as long as he promises to behave himself. If you find the secret flask, he will agree to immediately resign and spend his retirement years in a one-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv. Don’t you think that would be a good deal? Think about it, seriously. You have to make an offer so reasonable he can’t refuse it to get around the sovereignty issue, but one that also enables you to lift the sanctions. Snap inspections or something along that line may give you a way out.