A Cautious Man
November 11, 2003
I'd be unworthy of the high trust that's been placed in me if I didn't do everything in my power to keep our beloved Freedonia in peace with the world. I'd be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered. But suppose he doesn't. A fine thing that'll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept. That'll add a lot to my prestige, won't it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people? Think of it - I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept. Why, the cheap ball-pushing swine, he'll never get away with it I tell you, he'll never get away with it!President Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), in Duck Soup
And so the war began …
Recently, we heard something very similar from Richard Perle, concerning the reported peace overtures from Iraq:
Perle told ABC television's ''This Week With George Stephanopoulos'' that the offer by former chief of intelligence, Gen. Tahir Habbush made through Imad Hage, a prominent Lebanese-American businessman, was one of many approaches for a last-minute peace deal."A fine thing that would have been", to paraphrase President Firefly.
''There were a number of governments that were trying to broker something with the Iraqis,'' Perle said. ''So this was not credible, this offline approach, indirect as it was.''
The Bush administration has been accused by Democrats of being overeager to go to war with Iraq, ignoring possible diplomatic avenues to peace including that conveyed through Perle and exaggerating the threat from Iraq.
Perle said it also included oil concessions and he thought it was part of an effort to use that offer to discredit U.S. intentions. ''This was a trap,'' Perle said. ''I think it was clearly a trap. It was intended to discredit the administration's policy, it was intended to discredit our effort to liberate Iraq.''
These meetings and other communications all took place just days before the start of military operations on March 19, 2003. According to the news stories confirmed by Mr. Perle, a Lebanese-American businessman, Imad Hage, met with Richard Perle. The meetings had been set up through Michael Maloof, who was working in the Pentagon as an analyst in an intelligence unit set up to look for ties between terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and countries like Iraq. Hage, in turn, had met in Beirut with Hassan al-Obeidi, chief of foreign operations of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, and later in Baghdad with Tahir Jalil Habbush, the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (and No. 16 on the United States list of most wanted Iraqi leaders). The key part of the story, and of the chronology, is this:
Working through Mr. Maloof, Mr. Hage finally arranged to meet with Mr. Perle in London in early March. The two met in an office in Knightsbridge for about two hours to discuss the Iraqi proposals, the men said. Mr. Hage told Mr. Perle that the Iraqis wanted to meet with him or someone from the administration.
Mr. Perle said he subsequently contacted a C.I.A. official to ask if he should meet with the Iraqis. "The answer came back that they weren't interested in pursuing it," Mr. Perle said in an interview, "and I was given the impression that there had already been contacts."
Mr. Perle now plays down the importance of his contact with Mr. Hage. He said he found it difficult to believe that Saddam Hussein would make serious proposals through that kind of channel. "There were so many other ways to communicate," he said. "There were any number of governments involved in the end game, the Russians, French, Saudis."
Nonetheless, Mr. Hage continued to deliver messages from the Iraqis to Mr. Maloof.
In one note to Mr. Perle in mid-March, Mr. Maloof relayed a message from Mr. Hage that Mr. Obeidi and Mr. Habbush "were prepared to meet with you in Beirut, and as soon as possible, concerning `unconditional terms.' " The message from Mr. Hage said, "Such a meeting has Saddam Hussein's clearance."
No meetings took place, and the invasion began on March 20. Mr. Hage, speaking in Beirut, wonders what might have happened if the Americans had pursued the back channel to Baghdad.
What's especially bizarre about this story is the fact that, at exactly the same time, the Administration was making a great show of giving the Iraq regime a "last chance", a "get out of Dodge City now" type of warning. The President spoke on March 17, 2003, saying:
Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power. For the last four-and-a-half months, the United States and our allies have worked within the Security Council to enforce that Council's long-standing demands. Yet, some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it. Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.So, the President told Iraq they had one last chance. A Presidential advisor, Mr. Perle, has indicated that he had communications from Iraq with an offer to avoid the war. But, that was "a trap". As President Firefly would say: "Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people?"
In recent days, some governments in the Middle East have been doing their part. They have delivered public and private messages urging the dictator to leave Iraq, so that disarmament can proceed peacefully. He has thus far refused. All the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end. Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing. For their own safety, all foreign nationals -- including journalists and inspectors -- should leave Iraq immediately.