Memo To: Secretary of State Colin Powell
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Reading the Obituaries
Of course you noticed New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman taking a little poke at you yesterday in “Policy by Obituary.” He accuses you of doing nothing notable in your first several months on the job, not a thing that comes readily to mind. It is a gentle poke, to be sure, in that he says it is “way to early” to judge you a failure, Mr. Secretary. “Sometimes the best policies involve doing nothing, because there’s nothing to be done. But there are two basic ways to do nothing. One is to rely on biology, the other is to rely on creative diplomacy, and for now the Bush foreign policy is more biology than diplomacy.”
Friedman is a clever fellow and his column cannot be missed, as he often has excellent insights and important advice to our government and others. He accurately notes that in the several troubled areas of the world where creative diplomacy might do some good, we are instead waiting for the political leaders in those countries to die: Castro in Cuba, Saddam in Iraq, Arafat in the Middle East, Kim Jong Il in North Korea. In case you have forgotten, Friedman a few years back gave up on the Clinton Administration doing anything creative about Saddam Hussein and devoted his column, “Head Shot,” to seriously argue that we should bump him off. My guess is that the reason Saddam expelled the UN weapons inspectors is that among them were CIA plants nosing around for a good way to assassinate the Iraqi leader, as it has been a giant hoax -- backed by the NYTimes and other major media -- that the weapons inspectors were actually looking for weapons of mass destruction. There is also a law in the United States that prohibits assassination as a policy tool. Only Israel has a foreign policy that formally permits assassination.
Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see Friedman now come around to the idea of creative diplomacy. He says we should be hammering on the fact that Israel offered Arafat 95% of what the Palestinians wanted and they were not satisfied. That sounds rather lame to me, but if we focused on the 5% instead of the 95%, perhaps that would get us someplace. I’ve recommended that Jewish leaders here meet with Louis Farrakhan, who has the confidence of the Islamic world, with the aim of bringing in the Vatican, as the last 5% pretty much involves Jerusalem, and secular leaders cannot deal away holy ground and make peace last. I’m told Min. Farrakhan has been having private and semi-public meetings with important rabbis, and more will occur this coming weekend. I’ve offered a number of times to have Min. Farrakhan come by the Times and meet with the editorial board or individual columnists, but no dice -- Journalism by Obituary.
On Castro, Friedman suggests we lift the economic embargo. Yes, I know you would like to do that, Mr. Secretary. President Bill Clinton would have done so in a minute. But there are those maniacs in the Cuban exile community in Florida, who have been waiting for Castro to die for 40 years. When President John F. Kennedy tried a “head shot” way back then, it boomeranged, didn’t it? I’m afraid the Friedman advice is not much good here either. On North Korea, he recommends we lower the cross-bar on Pyongyang’s sale of missiles, which is about the only way they earn hard currency. The problem there is that our Military-Industrial Complex needs to prevent creative diplomacy around the world with these “rogues” or there will be no reason to spend a zillion dollars on a Missile Defense Shield. My idea du jour, General Powell, is that you and Don Rumsfeld switch jobs. He is always fanatical at anything he does, and would be fanatical as a diplomat instead of trying to cook up wars as Pentagon chief.
Friedman’s advice on Iraq is interesting, but still has a glitch or two: “If we are not going to go to war against Saddam, let’s at least put a serious offer on the table that puts all the focus on him: let’s offer Iraq full diplomatic relations with the U.S. in return for full intrusive U.S. inspections of Iraq’s weapons facilities.” Now I know for a fact that Baghdad would have jumped at this offer years ago, although it would not go for the idea of “full intrusive U.S. inspections.” Tom Friedman knows this means “Head Shot,” for we are mainly interested in getting close enough to Saddam to bump him off. As a signator to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Saddam already permits routine inspections by the international agency that supervises the treaty. We admit he has no nuke plans, which means if he is producing weapons of mass destruction, they would have to be chemical or biological, and there is no way “full intrusive U.S. inspections” could locate those facilities, as they need be no bigger than a garage and Iraq is bigger than California.
Saddam does get along with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, and I think it still may be possible to broker a face-saving deal where UN “inspectors” certified as genuine by the Security Council would look where they wish for a month or two, and if they find nothing, they leave. Saddam thought this was the deal he agreed to three years ago, when he allowed the UNSCOM inspectors to look into his palaces and peek under his bed. But we never had any intention of living up to that deal and openly welshed on it. Our hapless Secretary of State at the time, Madeleine Albright, openly announced that we would never agree to lift the sanctions until Saddam was a cooked goose. You may recall her telling CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children because of the UN embargo was well worth the price to keep Saddam cornered – certainly diplomacy at its most “creative.”
Well, Mr. Secretary, you do have your work cut out for you, I would say. The most important foreign-affairs columnist in the world is going to give you a few more months before you do something creative, before he starts calling for your scalp. But the most creative advice he has for you looks like yesterday’s mashed potatoes.