June 07, 2003

The Saudi Question in Tanenhaus'

The Saudi Question in Tanenhaus' Interview

BTW, another angle that has been less observed in the blogosphere regarding the Tanenhaus interview has to do with the Saudi question. The story has been distorted, typically, so that Wolfowitz is depicted as saying that WMD was the reason chosen by bureaucratic sleight of hand for the sake of convenience, and that one of the real reasons the U.S. went to war was so we could get our boys out of Saudi thereby removing a potential source of recruits to groups like al-Qaeda and also giving Crown Prince Abudullah some breathing room with respect to domestic pressures.

But few have mentioned that the specific question that Wolfowitz answered that set off the entire firestorm regarding WMD-as-bureaucratic-excuse had to do with Saudi Arabia so it would be logical that Wolfowitz mention the Kingdom in his answer:

Q: "Was that one of the arguments that was raised early on by you and others that Iraq actually does connect, not to connect the dots too much, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia, our troops being there, and bin Laden's rage about that, which he's built on so many years, also connects the World Trade Center attacks, that there's a logic of motive or something like that? Or does that read too much into--" [my emphasis]

Wolfowitz: "No, I think it happens to be correct. The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but -- hold on one second --"

(Pause) "Kellems: Sam there may be some value in clarity on the point that it may take years to get post-Saddam Iraq right. It can be easily misconstrued, especially when it comes to --"

Wolfowitz: --" there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two. Sorry, hold on again." [my emphasis] [ed. note: Since when is a "fundamental concern" a bureaucratic excuse or a "pretext (see post on Le Monde below). And c'mon Josh, are you really "hard pressed to interpret [Wolfowitz's comments] any other way"?

Kellems: "By the way, it's probably the longest uninterrupted phone conversation I've witnessed, so --"

Q: "This is extraordinary."

Kellems: "You had good timing."

Q: "I'm really grateful."

Wolfowitz: "To wrap it up. The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his UN presentation."

Q: So this notion then that the strategic question was really a part of the equation, that you were looking at Saudi Arabia?

Wolfowitz: "I was. It's one of the reasons why I took a very different view of what the argument that removing Saddam Hussein would destabilize the Middle East. I said on the record, I don't understand how people can really believe that removing this huge source of instability is going to be a cause of instability in the Middle East. I understand what they're thinking about. I'm not blind to the uncertainties of this situation, but they just seem to be blind."

Dear readers: No I haven't developed an unhealthy obsession with Paul Wolfowitz and yes I will be returning to other topics soon (I think?). But it might bear saying that the bottom line right now is that there are a lot of knives out there for Paul Wolfowitz (especially since no significant, if any, WMD has yet to be turned up in Iraq). And because he is alternately reviled, distrusted, and feared by many worldwide--his interviews look set to be distorted, simplified--their context often ignored (with some wholesale fabrications thrown in for good measure like the Pravdva "quotes").

But serious media like The Guardian or Pravda(?) can and must do better. Wolfowitz too, however, I suspect, has learned some lessons these past weeks. Don't, in this intense climate of post-war recriminations and mistrust especially, use phrases like "sea of oil" or "that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled..." Both phrases, in their full context, where thoroughly non-objectionable. But the combination of anger and suspicion regarding U.S. war aims--combined with shoddy journalism--can provide literally millions of anti-war types (or undecideds) with supposedly reliable information to confirm their worst fears about U.S. geopolitical intentions. So the press has to be significantly more responsible--while Wolfowitz and those in positions like his need to choose their words with even more care than usual.

Posted by Gregory at June 7, 2003 05:08 PM
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