Memo To: James Rubin, Asst. Secy, of State, Public Affairs
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Wrong on Iraq/UNSCOM
I've been thinking about your appearance on CNN's "Crossfire" last week, when Bob Novak gave you the devil on our government's treatment of the Islamic world in general and Iraq in particular. All your responses were reasonable, I thought, except on one factual error you made that is so critical I've decided to write you this memo. Do you remember when Novak asked "Isn't it a fact that we have not found any weapons of mass destruction since just after the Gulf War and then those we were led to by the Iraqi government? All these inspectors found nothing, isn 't that true?" To which you answered without any hesitation and thus with maximum credibility, "On the contrary, the weapon's inspectors, Mr. Novak, have found more weapons of mass destruction in the seven years since the Gulf War than were destroyed during the Gulf War. As recently as this year VXgas remnants were found by the U.N. inspectors. They have been working very, very hard uncovering an enormous amount of weapons of mass destruction. That's why their work is so important."
Now I'm sure you told the truth as you know it, Mr. Rubin, but what came out of your mouth in this instance is absolutely incorrect. When the President last year began using this formulation as justification for our continued sanctions and fresh military buildup, it occurred to me that he had to be stretching the facts. I've followed the situation in Iraq, albeit loosely, since the Iran/Iraq war broke out in 1979. In the years since the Gulf War ended, I never read or heard about any UNSCOM "discoveries" of weapons of mass destruction. My assumption was that the President's speechwriters decided to embellish on the fact that the weapons to which UNSCOM had been taken by the Iraqi government had more firepower than were delivered in the Gulf War. Like the parlor game of ghost, once this "fact" was repeated several times in the news media, it became total fact. Now you, the chief public affairs officer of our State Department, have come to believe in its correctness and play it back via your big megaphone. Newspaper editorial writers drag it out again and it is repeated endlessly on the talk shows and network evening news.
Because I spent much of my adult life as a reporter/columnist/editorial writer, I've come to know an implausible story when one comes along. As a result, early this year I asked the Iraqi United Nations Ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, more or less the same question Bob Novak asked you. I preceded the question by saying I expected a truthful answer, because the answer would have to be verifiable from official sources. Hamdoon told me there had been no weapons caches unearthed since November 1991 and that all those unearthed prior to that date had been the result of Iraqi guidance for UNSCOM. He indicated Baghdad and Saddam Hussein wanted to be as quick about the process as they could be in order to get the sanctions lifted.
You may know I am an outside advisor to Jack Kemp. I reported Hamdoon's statement to him and he was astonished to hear it. He assigned a research assistant to scour the UNSCOM records, and the assistant reported to Kemp that Hamdoon told the truth. The records clearly indicate no site discovered since 1991. The VX gas to which you referred was not "discovered" by UNSCOM inspectors. What happened was that UNSCOM decided to return to a site that had been opened to them since 1991. They had poked through it at the time and could have returned at any time to inspect it again. They said they picked missile shards out of the debris and sent the shards to our science labs in Aberdeen for analysis, and Aberdeen said they found traces of VX. The Iraqis never said they did not attempt to produce VX during the Iran/Iraq war. They said they did produce it, but told UNSCOM that they could never figure out how to weaponize it. Material from the same site was sent to French and Swiss labs, and they reported finding nothing. The U.S. response was that they probably didn't get the right fragments. My sources in the scientific community tell me it is extremely unlikely that traces of VX could be found amongst debris at a weapons site, that the Iraqis who deposited it there would have died a ghastly death — and as a result those in charge would not have had them trundle fragments laden with VX to such a site. It is more likely that one of the components of VX could have been found on the shards, but that would not prove the Iraqis had weaponized VX.
These are critical details, Mr. Secretary, because our government is about to blow Iraq to bits over this information. I've informed Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott about these inconsistencies and would urge you to make sure you have all your facts straight before you again represent them as the evidence which calls for the US to inflict further suffering on the people of Iraq. I'm sending a copy of this fax to the National Security Council and to the White House and Vice President's Office. And of course to Mr. Kemp and Mr. Novak.