Joseph C. Wilson IV
Colonel W. Patrick Lang (Retired)
Acting U.S. Ambassador to Iraq during “Desert Shield”
and presently CEO of JC Wilson International Ventures Corporation
“A Conversation between a Military Strategist and a U.S. Ambassador
on Post-War Developments in Iraq”
October 31, 2003
C. WILSON: The first line of my obituary used to read the
last American Diplomat to meet Sadaam Hussein and of course it now
reads the husband of the CIA spy who was outed by her own government
and that is one of the three interesting debates that is swirling
around me in Washington. It is the one over which I have no control
whatsoever. The crime, if there was a crime committed was a crime
against the national security of my country. It just happens to
have my wife’s name associated with it. It happens to be an
act that was done, an act that was taken either to make a political
point or to defend and protect a political agenda at the expense
of our national security.
It is also the one of these three debates where I take considerable
issue directly with the President of the United States for his apparent
non-chalance in dealing with this. It is not enough to say well,
the Justice Department is looking into it or leaks happen all the
time and we have a lot of Senior Administration officials and we
might not find the leaker. This is not a bit of information. This
is a person’s life and a person’s career. It is also
the national security of our country and in particular, in the case
of my wife, it is an individual who has spent a long career dealing
with issues that are of very high priority to this administration
and to me personally. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of
rogue states or non-state actors, it is in fact it seems to me to
be an issue that ought to be addressed as we address any other counter
espionage type problem. It should not be fogged off as just another
one of these Washington leaks. Because at the end of the day, if
you look at this, the person who decided that they were going to
make a political point at the expense of the national security of
our country, that person or persons are still in place. If they
were willing to do that yesterday, what is to discourage them from
doing it again tomorrow?
The breach of trust and the people at the agency will tell you this,
is between those who risk their lives to get the information necessary
for us to do the sorts of analysis that Pat did in his distinguished
career and do the sort of consuming of product I did during my less
than stellar career to quote Casper Weinberger.
They really need to have their identities and covers protected.
Otherwise, we will not be able to recruit people to do that job.
So, I would encourage everywhere I go, the President and the senior
officials in the Administration to get serious about this. Not necessarily
because my wife is in danger or I am in danger, but because the
national security of our country is compromised by this.
The other two great debates that are going on right now, I call
them how do we get in this mess in the first place and how do we
get out of it? Let me talk a little bit about how we got in this
mess in the first place.
I believe that this administration has materially misled the US
Congress, the International Community and by ascension, the American
people. The little piece of this that I own of course is the trip
to Niger and the infamous sixteen words that showed up in the President’s
State of the Union address.
I went and undertook this trip in February of 2002, just to refresh
everyone’s memory. It was long before I ever contributed to
John Kerry’s campaign. I undertook the trip at the request
of my government. I undertook it because a question had been raised
at the highest levels of our government as to whether or not Sadaam
had perhaps broken out of his box and was seriously trying to reactivate
a program designed to develop nuclear weapons. It was a legitimate
question. It deserved a legitimate answer. I was asked to go because
I have a unique set of experiences to bring to the table on this
issue. I had served there in the mid 1970’s. I had retained
many ties and friendships including with the Niger Ambassador to
the United States for the subsequent twenty-five years. When I was
senior director for Africa at the National Security Council in the
mid 1990’s, the government that was in place at the time of
these purported documents covering the memorandum of agreement for
the sale of Uranium from Niger to Iraq, that was the government
that was in place when I was in the White House. I had worked very
closely with them to try and move what was at the time a military’s
dictatorship back to the Democratic side of the ledger. So, I knew
these guys intimately. They were in Washington all of the time.
I was out there both in government and in African government helping
them. In fact after the President, the military dictator had been
assassinated, I went to see his successor and at the request of
some of my friends there and some of the colleagues with whom I
had been working, I went to see the new military dictator and I
told him in no uncertain terms, that the only way he was going to
get out of this mess, not just alive, but perhaps with a chance
to restore his own personal honor, and the honor of his organization,
the Presidential guard that had been responsible for the assassination
of his predecessor. The only chance he had was to get out and effect
a change back to democratic rule as quickly as possible. I told
him, I said, that you need to understand from my experience in Africa
that your successor president probably will not be very comfortable
with you standing watching his back after you have effected the
transition. After all, your organization was responsible for the
assassination of your predecessor shooting him in the back. Therefore,
I said to him, I think that you probably ought to leave the country
for a while. Those are pretty strong words to walk into a military
barracks and tell a guy who has assassinated his predecessor and
has assumed responsibility for his country.
I came back a year later during the course of the transition and
the president met me at the airport. He was on his way to Nigeria.
He was still present as the transition had not taken place although
the elections had taken place. He called me into the Presidential
Suite while all the other diplomats were out there having their
canopies and cocktails. He called me into the Presidential Suite
which made the hair on the neck of the Liberian Ambassador stand
up. He said to me, “Remember that conversation we had last
year?” I said, you bet, sure do. He told me that he had done
everything that I had suggested that he do. I told him yes and that
I was proud of him for having done it. Then he told me that he was
off to Nigeria on this official visit, but he wanted me to know
that he was also picking up the keys to his new house down there
because I will be moving there for that decent interval to allow
my new successor to get established and get his new regime established,
his administration established without fear that somehow my presidential
guard organization with me at the head of it will come back and
do to him what happened to his predecessor.
So, that is the level of confidence that I enjoyed with the group
of people who were accused of having signed this document which
was purported to be the sale of uranium to Iraq.
So, for those of you who have not followed it that closely, these
are the qualifications that I bring to the table. So, for those
of you that read Cliff May, or who read Casper Weinberger, or you
read some of these hacks who have never done anything serious in
their lives taking whacks at me, that sort of is the scene setter
Now, I went out there and I spent eight days out there and I talked
to everybody who knows anything about the business. I looked at
two pieces of this. I looked at how the uranium business operates.
Could it happen? I found that there is a consortium of international
partners. The managing partner of this is the French and that means
the French own the product from the time that it is in the ground
until the time that it gets to the consumer. Nothing could happen
in this regard without the French knowing and abetting it.
I looked at the bureaucracy and I found that because of the nature
of the agreement and participation, nothing could happen that did
not have the signatures of some key ministers in the government.
Neither of those conditions were met. This thing simply did not
happen. I went back and I reported that back to my government at
the most senior levels. If not the President of the United States,
certainly the office of the Vice President received a copy of my
There were two other reports that were done at the same time as
mine. One was the Ambassadors on the scene report and one was a
report made by a fourth star marine corps general who made his way
down to Niger and had taken a look at it. All three of us had concluded
the same thing. It did not happen. We have information to the contrary.
It cannot be authentic unless it contains three signatures. None
of which were on those documents.
All those reports were in the US Government files and yet eight
months later, the President of the United States, in the most important
speech of his administration, in a speech to the world, to the US
Congress, and to the American people detailing why we had to go
to war with Iraq, contains sixteen words which were on the surface
of it, a lie.
Now, people sort of accuse me of being partisan and having made
my opinions based on these. But, let me make one thing clear on
that. Had the President of the United States or those people advising
the President of the United States read our documents, three reports,
then that lie would never have been in the State of the Union address.
Instead, they based that lie in the State of the Union address on
forged documents that were so obviously forged that the IAEA had
said that a twenty minute search on Google would have told a lay
person that these were forgeries. The forgeries were so bad that
they could not make it into an Italian weekly tabloid which was
perfectly comfortable publishing the bare breasts of Italian women
inside its folds. This could not even pass the smell test for that
and yet somebody allowed this to get into the President’s
Now people ask the question or people say now Joe Wilson did this
because he is partisan. No, Joe Wilson made the trip out there and
reported back because he is a loyal American. Joe Wilson did not
betray his President. The person who betrayed his President and
by extension his country, was the person who allowed this lie to
get into the President’s speech.
Why is it important? It is important for two reasons. First of all,
because when a democracy goes to war, which is the most solemn decision
a government can take and I was in Baghdad when we made the decision
on Gulf War I and I was on the phone to our Congressional leaders
telling them why sanctions in and of themselves would not work and
why if we were going to get Sadaam out of Kuwait, we were going
to have to do it militarily or at least have the threat there to
do it militarily. So, I am no peacenik on this. But, when we have
a debate on issues as solemn as sending our sons and daughters off
to kill and die for our country, we have a right and our Congress
has a right to debate based upon a set of commonly accepted facts.
When those facts are not facts at all, but bits of information that
are put into play, put into the debate simply because they support
a political decision that has already been made, we have been denied
that solemn debate on an issue so important as war and peace.
Now, three hundred American dead later, and one hundred thirty thousand
troops out there, and we are still having this debate.
Now, the next issue, finally to conclude on that as I said in my
first appearance on Meet the Press, you have to ask yourself two
questions. If they lied about this, what else might they have lied
about? For two, who is going to believe the President of the United
States next time when he goes before the world and when he goes
before the American people and when he goes before the Congress
of the United States and says we have a real weapons of mass destruction
problem here. Who is going to believe him?
The other debate and I will conclude with this is of course the
way ahead. Now, I have come to believe now that we are there, there
are certain things that we need to do to get out of this with our
honor, our dignity and our leadership somewhat restored and that
includes staying there. I think the most dangerous thing that we
could possibly do for our own interests going forward is to cut
and run. Now, I would not have us in there the same way that we
are in there. I always argued that if you had to take military action,
it ought to be focused on the real national security threat which
the international community has determined is weapons of mass destruction
and that is a much different military action from invasion, conquest
and occupation. But, I always understood that we may have to take
military action and I argued that if we had to take military action,
it should be smart military action for the right reasons in response
to the internationally accepted disarmament threat and not dumb
military action for the wrong reasons or for reasons that we had
not debated. Redrawing the political map for the Middle East comes
immediately to mind.
But, we are there now and the President articulated a vision in
an American Enterprises Institute speech in February in which he
talked about Iraq as a democracy beacon for the rest of the region.
Now, that is an enormous undertaking. If anyone has ever done democratization,
and Pat knows this having watched it as long as I have or longer,
this is tough sledding. It is not easy. It is even more difficult
at the point of a gun. Somebody once said, and I have forgotten
who it was, although it was somebody famous. I don’t attribute
it to them anyway. Democracy is not unlike an English lawn. In order
to get it to look really good, you have to seed it, water it, fertilize
it and then roll it every day for six hundred years.
Now, anyone who has been involved in the battles of democracy in
our country for the last two hundred and twenty five years will
know that we get up every morning and we fight these battles. We
fight them at the City Planning Commission. We fight them at the
Board of Education. We fight them in county government. We fight
them in state government. We fight them with the Federal Government.
It is tough. We have parameters within which we fight these battles.
Over there, frankly, politics is blood sport. So, it is going to
be very tough to do it. It is even tougher to do it if those responsible
for it are doing such a bad job of managing it. So badly in fact
that I think the cynics could be excused if they believed that failure
for these people might be success. By that I mean that far from
achieving the President’s articulated vision of a single nation
state which is a democracy in Iraq, the people who are bringing
the reconstruction would find acceptable the vulcanization of Iraq
and essentially a sore in the middle of the Arab world which is
unstable for the foreseeable future. And that is what we will come
up against if we do not do this right.
So, my way ahead on all this is to take a look at it or try to describe
it as one would describe any failing business venture. If you have
a vision and you think the vision is still good, but you don’t
have quite the resources that you need to achieve that vision, what
do you do? Well, you go back into the market and you seek outside
Now, in order to attract that equity, you generally have to give
up seats on the Board, staff and line positions, and you have to
harmonize your position to match that of the vision of the outside
equity partners. I think that is where we are and we are getting
there, but way way too slowly. We can’t afford a lot more
ICRC or UN buildings being blown up because every time something
like that happens, the cost of money goes up. The cost of attracting
new partners into this failing business venture goes up. We only
have a limited amount of time to internationalize this and it does
not mean that we give up a lot of responsibility or authority, but
it means we get a lot of different faces and a lot of different
languages out there because at the end of the day, you want to change
attitudes in Iraq. You want the Iraqi’s to believe that in
fact what they are seeing is a global effort to help them through
these bad times that have been brought about by thirty years of
tyranny, three wars and Shock and Awe. As it stands now, they see
this as a foreign occupation for whatever reason. You ask an Iraqi
and he will give you five different reasons from Israel to oil to
American business to US interests.
We need more faces in there. It has to be something more than the
UN flag by the way because the UN is about as the manager of the
sanction program, viewed about as positive as we are.
We need to bring the Iraqi’s much more into it and transfer
as much sovereignty to them as they can accept at any one time.
We need to be much more aggressive in providing for the basic human
needs and the basic services. That essentially means that we are
going to need a different configuration of the military to ensure
that we can restore public safety, to ensure that we have safety
and security around those civilian organizations that are in fact
going to be doing the public services, whether it be sanitation,
water, plumbing, electricity, things like that.
We probably need to recreate these little liaison units that you
see Jerry Bremmer heading in Baghdad in some of the other metropolises.
So, because democracy essentially is a ground up exercise at least
as much as it is a top down exercise.
So, those are some of the things that I think we need to be thinking
our way through. Now, let me turn it over to Pat.
W. PATRICK LANG: Joe and I have a disadvantage
in talking to you about Iraq because we have both been there so
much. This makes it difficult you know.
I went to Iraq a lot during the Iran Iraq war, which was kind of
a combination battle that went on for seven or eight years with
horrendous casualties on both sides. I used to go over there periodically
to visit the Embassy that he later ran. We had a defense attaché
then that I would go over and visit with this guy and schmooze with
the Iraqis. They would take me up and show me their units and their
lines so that I would have some idea of what they were like.
I did that for a long time and then along came the cease -fire after
the Iraqis essentially defeated the Iranians. There was a period
of peace and then came the first Gulf War where we got to put all
that knowledge we had to work in a useful way. There is no doubt
that in the run up to the first Gulf War, they had chemical weapons
on a massive scale. We watched them in the Iran Iraq war progressively
learn to use them with greater and greater sophistication on the
battlefield to say nothing of their use against the Kurdish insurgence.
But, on the battlefield, they learned to integrate chemical fires
with conventional fire in a way which has not been seen since World
War I. They were really inventing a new military methodology for
all intents and purposes and they used that with great success.
We knew they had biological warfare laboratories they were working
on, but those were fairly common in the Middle East. I mean the
Syrians had similar things and a lot of people like to play with
that because all you need is a lab and a few scientists and you
can tell everyone how you are a serious player in this field.
But, it was really in the nuclear area and ballistic missiles that
they got to be really impressive and pretty scary. There was a great
argument inside the US intelligence community before the first Gulf
War that never gets reported correctly in the press. On the one
hand, you had the regional people like me, what the scientific people
called the ring leaders. On the other side, you had what we call
the technical people like nuclear scientists, engineers, things
like that. We used to have these tremendous fights that were knocked
down agency lines between CIA, DIA, and others. But split amongst
these two populations, were the ones that did not fit into either
category. We insisted from the available evidence that they were
within a year or so of their first detonation.
The nuclear scientists kind of gently waved us off and said no,
no that can’t be. Surely these people cannot be that close.
It turns out we were right or close enough for government work anyway.
In the ballistic missile area, they were doing some very interesting
things. They were building new kinds of weapons. In particular,
I don’t know if you know this, but they had a space program.
In this space program, they had managed to build a two stage missile
rocket which stood one of these things on top of one another and
in which they repeatedly achieved separation and the top stage went
to one hundred miles. It was unbelievable. When you thought of these
two capabilities together, the possibilities were really frightening.
So, in some ways when Sadaam Hussein went nuts and he was going
to invade Kuwait, it was almost a relief because if he had kept
his mouth shut and kept plugging away at this stuff until he had
achieved a nuclear detonation out in the desert, I don’t know.
I suppose you realize that changes everything. I mean everything
changes then in terms of what is possible and what you can do to
people or about people.
I mean look at North Korea. They have not even blown anything up
yet and they are being treated with undue respect.
So, that was his first big mistake in that he did that. His second
mistake was that in having invaded Kuwait, instead of just rearranging
the deck chairs in the Kuwaiti royal family and finding some compliant
prince you know, that he could rent for a while to run the place.
He instead abolished Kuwait and the Kuwaiti monarchy and integrated
Kuwait into Iraq.
I think this was probably they key thing that influenced the Saudi’s
to decide to let us into the country. I was not at all that confident
in fact that they were going to allow us into the country. None
of their previous behavior indicated anything but that they would
probably roll over and play dead and the Iraqi’s would get
anything they wanted. That seemed the most likely thing at the time.
In any event, that war was fought and in the aftermath, the UN weapons
inspectors received a great deal of help from the United States.
It has been long enough now and I don’t think that it is any
great secret. There were so many people coming out of Iraq that
knew where everything was that it was easy to tell the UN guys where
to go look.
So, in many cases, the UN inspection teams in the first couple of
years could go to the exact building and the exact room and look
in the right safe. They could pick the right safe drawer and say
I want these files and take them away. As a result of that, if you
remember they went around the countryside just tearing the Iraqi
nuclear program to bits.
In finding their nuclear weapons plants, which were grossly unsafe
anyway, but nevertheless they worked and destroying their stocks
of the stuff went on for several years.
In 1998, there was a crisis involving the UN people and they all
left. When this all started to heat up again a year or two ago,
I thought about this. They could not have much of a chemical weapons
capability left. Chemical weapons are a battlefield weapon anyway
and they are not persistent. They would be nasty in a subway station
as the Japanese found out. But, basically, it is not a strategic
weapon anyway. Their biological stuff, it was clear to me, would
be very unlikely that it would be extremely effective.
The one thing that really worried me when we started talking about
this stuff was the nuclear thing because I knew that they had five
thousand or so scientists and engineers and maybe they had really
gotten busy over the last four or five years and got this thing
running again and at some point down the line here in four, five
or six years may have a deliverable nuclear weapon. Now that would
be a real serious matter. In fact, that would not be a small thing.
We are talking about city killers here instead of things that are
just a terrible, tragic nuisance.
I was quite willing to go along with that until we got closer and
closer to the war. I was real sure the war was coming. I noticed
that in fact the case being made by the administration for the war
or the existence for these things, instead of being based on things
that were specific or direct evidence, were things like this was
bought which can only be used for this particular purpose. It should
be this chain of evidence leads you to this. Instead, you had them
constructing the same kind of grandiose, inferential case to prove
their point about the Iraqi programs that I would have constructed
were I still in that job and had to make the case with insufficient
The conclusion I had reached was that they probably did not have
it anymore. They probably still had programs, but they did not have
Having said that, you may think that I am really against the war.
Well, I am against war generally having been a participant a number
of times. Nevertheless, I think that this government was beastly
enough that if you want to make a case for invading Iraq and removing
Sadaam’s regime just on the basis of his beastliness, I will
buy that. I have bought it and I will still buy it. It is OK with
me. It may not be OK with all the Iraqis, but it is OK with me.