Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2007, page 63

Waging Peace

Joseph Wilson Speaks at Iowa State University

“Citizens have the right and the responsibility to question government,” Ambassador Joseph Wilson told an Iowa State University audience. (Photo M. Gillespie)

FORMER AMBASSADOR Joseph Wilson, whose July 6, 2003 op-ed in The New York Times caused senior Bush administration officials to panic and leak to reporters the identity of Wilson’s wife, CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame, spoke at Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames on Feb. 21.

In an address titled, ”Global Justice and Human Rights: A Diplomatic Perspective,” Wilson, experienced, knowledgeable, articulate and witty, ­offered nuanced views regarding a range of domestic political, national security and foreign policy issues.

”Supporting the troops is more than putting a yellow ribbon on the back of your car,” said Wilson. ”We have put our soldiers in an impossible position. We have put our national security in great difficulty. We...did not have the sort of debate that one should have before you send kids off to kill and to die for your country.

”This was not a war in defense of our national security interests,” Wilson told a receptive capacity crowd of more than 400 in the Great Hall in ISU’s Memorial Union. “This was a war in support of an academic theory, and not a very good one at that.

”If you go back and you read the Project for a New American Century, now, with the benefit of some hindsight, I think most people will agree...that far from being a plan for the foreign policy of America in the 21st century, it is a collection of ideological rants and assertions,” said the career foreign service officer and diplomat, who went on to offer a stirring defense of dissent.

”Debating what is right for the United States is what we do as a society,” he emphasized. “That’s what makes our democracy strong. That is what the founding fathers intended. They intended for this to be a discussion....They intended for issues to be decided based on facts, based on better arguments, based on the dynamic of putting together conflicting opinions knowing that out of that would come compromise...That was subverted by this administration,” asserted Wilson.

He proceeded to recount and critique the Bush administration’s intelligence effort prior to the invasion of Iraq, with special emphasis on its claim that Saddam Hussain had sought to obtain uranium from Niger, and on Wilson’s own role in debunking that claim.

”What do you do, what is your responsibility as a citizen,” he asked, “when it becomes apparent to you that your government has fundamentally misstated the facts, that your president has lied to the Congress of the United States, to the American people, and, indeed, to the world in the most important speech of his administration, a speech that underpinned the justification for going to war?”

Citing the First Amendment, Wilson pointed out that citizens have the right and the responsibility to question government. ”So writing a 1,500-word article in The New York Times entitled ”˜What I Did Not Find in Africa’ was not an act of high political dissent. It was not an act of great moral courage. It was quite simply an act of citizenship,” he explained.

Speaking three weeks before a jury found Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis ”Scooter” Libby, guilty of four felony charges of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements that impeded the Department of Justice investigation into who illegally told reporters that Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer who had sent her husband to Africa on a ”junket,” Wilson told his ISU audience that he recently had called Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to express his appreciation for the work he and his team had done.

In response to a question from this reporter about press coverage of intelligence prior to the Iraq war and of intelligence regarding Iran today, Wilson noted that ”at the end of the day...there were not enough of us who were prepared to stand up and say [the invasion of Iraq] is not a great idea... I think we all let ourselves down.” He added, ”I think the press is in an abominable state.”

Wilson seemed untroubled about Iran’s nuclear program, saying, ”I don’t think Iran is a country you need to worry about.” Instead, he said he thought the Bush administration ought to ”check [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf’s pulse every morning.”

Michael Gillespie