Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson
Bill Long 4/6/06
Reflections on His Visit to Willamette University
What was remarkable to me last evening when I was listening to Mr. Wilson tell the story of his wife's being "outed" by journalist Robert Novak in July 2003 and his subsequent harassment by the Bush Administration and its minions, is how the crowd of about 1000 reacted to various portions of his speech. Wilson made three points. The first, concerning his "advice" about what policy we should pursue in Iraq today, received tepid support; the second, concerning the importance of holding our government accountable for the decision to invade Iraq, received greater approval; the third, touching on the spirit of revenge and desire to squelch debate by the Bush Administration through character assassination, drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
The crowd's reaction was instructive to me because it demonstrated what I felt is an increasingly true phenomenon: that Americans are not simply opposed to the policy and style of the Bush Administration, but that we are outraged by its cavalier approach to rights of privacy of its citizens, to informed debate, to the lives of its people and to the precious commodity we call truth. What I saw was an increasingly vocal minority of people who are embarrassed and angered by our government. But I would say that these words are not even strong enough. What I witnessed were people who felt betrayed and who felt that somehow the promise of this great land and its claim to any kind of moral leadership in the world has been seriously compromised by the antics of the Bush Administration.
A Few Words on Joseph Wilson
Joe Wilson is no saint (which he pointed out) nor is he in the running for canonization. He lived his entire life, before 2002, in a private capacity.*
[*That is, he was known primarily to the diplomatic community and various Administrations, and not to the general public.]
That ended when he took little trip to Niger, where he was ambassador in the late 1980s, in February 2002. I will return to this trip below. A native of Southern California and a graduate of USCB (1972), Wilson served in the foreign diplomatic corps for 22 years (1976-98) in eight posts in Africa, broken up by a 2 1/2 year stint (1988-1991) in Iraq on the eve of the First Gulf War. He was acting in the place of the US Ambassador to Iraq in the last six months before the outbreak of Desert Storm in 1991, and he was the last US official to meet with Saddam Hussein before that invasion. Thus, he presented himself (credibly so) as a person with deep and long-standing knowledge of Africa and the Middle East. In all fairness, I think he is more familiar with the former than the latter; I am not sure he is as comfortable in Arabic as he is in French, for example. Nevertheless, he was a person uniquely placed and trusted in our foreign service to assess the question of whether Saddam Hussein had, in fact, sought yellowcake uranium from the poor country of Niger in the late 1990s as part of its program to build weapons of mass destruction.
One point should be made in passing, however. Just because you are uniquely placed for anything in life does not make you either the right person to do something or the person who will be called up on to do it. Political administrations, schools, businesses and others often make unwise choices when they do things; just because they are awash in competence does not mean that they will chose to rely on competent people.
So, in February 2002 he was sent to Niger to assess the truth of rumors regarding Saddam Hussein's having sought yellowcake uranium from Niger. This mission has receive loads of scrutiny in the press and on TV shows in the past few years, and I can add nothing factual to the debate. Suffice it to say that whether he was "given" the job by his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, whom we all now know worked in the WMD program at the CIA (probably not) or to what extent she was influential in his getting the mission to Niamey (she probably was), is relatively unimportant for me. What resulted is important: three independent reports from three different sources all concurring that Saddam Hussein sought and got no uranium from Niger in the late 1990s.
Returning From His African non-Safari
Upon his return from Niger late in February 2002, with his report that there was no evidence Saddam Hussein's people approached Niger for yellowcake uranium in the late 1990s, Wilson contends that he became the target of character assassination by Vice-President Dick Cheney and his senior staff, including Scooter Libby. Wilson contends that Cheney sought three kinds of "dirt" on him-- his womanizing tendencies, his having smoked marijuana while a student at UCSB in the late 1960s and the fact that his wife was a CIA agent dealing with weapons of mass destruction issues (the last was important if Cheney wanted to "blow her cover," which of course is what eventually happened). Wilson said that this information about Cheney has subsequently come to light, and there is no reason to doubt the veracity of what he says. What he says is entirely consistent with the modus operandi of an Administration which has sought to squelch its critics and defame any who would challenge it, especially in the years following 9/11. That is, Wilson's point (and I concur) is that the Bush Administration was given so much "slack" by the American people in the wake of 9/11 that Bush considered any kind of reasoned debate and opposition to be tantamount to treason. Thus it is entirely consistent with the Bush approach to governance after 9/11 that people who accused the Admninstration of lying or, more gently said, putting out misleading information would themselves become subject to personal attack.
Well, the Cheney folks saw that they would get nowhere with allegations of womanizing. Indeed, if they went that route, they might have to face what Henry Hyde faced in the 1990s when President Clinton was attacked on those same grounds. And, the allegation of marijuana use at UCSB in the late 1960s would have received a "ho-hum" reception from Americans in the know. I "studied" at UCSB in the summer of 1968, and pot was as prevalent there in those days as tie-dyed shirts in Isla Vista. Thus, the only way of attack left, if that is what they wanted to do, was to go directly at Wilson's wife and "blow" her cover.
The next essay tells the "rest" of Joe Wilson's story.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long