Memo to: Andrew Card, White House chief of staff
Re: Briefing your boss
Just for the record, Andrew, as much as I have disagreed with the administration’s foreign policy these past four years, I have never accused the president of telling lies to the American people. I could fill a book with the untruths he has publicly spoken since his presidency began, but I’ve always assumed it is because he has been briefed by people in the government who wish him to be misinformed the neocons and their allies in the administration, particularly John Bolton. The press corps has not been much of a help either. When it comes to matters involving weapons of mass destruction, even the New York Times gets all tangled up in the various treaties, documents, and technicalities. It gets far worse as you work down the food chain to Fox News. I genuinely believe the president would not have gone to war with Iraq two years ago if he had been properly briefed. I write to you now because the buck stops at your desk in seeing to it that he is not further misinformed on matters that could lead to more wars if he acts precipitously on information keeping him in the dark.
Over the weekend, I realized I should be doing something about this when I read Dr. Gordon Prather’s column on the administration’s concerns about an Iranian nuclear weapons program. In one portion, Prather wrote:
“In February, President Bush had emerged from a meeting with ‘European leaders’ and made this declaration: ‘The reason we’re having these [EU-US] discussions is because [the Iranians] were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn’t enrich uranium. These discussions are occurring because they have breached a contract with the international community. They’re the party that needs to be held to account, not any of us.’
“Of course, (a) the Iranians have not as yet enriched any uranium, (b) the Paris Agreement was not a ‘treaty,’ and (c) the Iranians hadn’t breached any international contract.”
You should read the column in full to get the particulars, but I assure you Dr. Prather is not only expert in WMD, but also practically knows by heart all the relevant treaties, documents, and technicalities at issue. When he says the Iranians have not enriched any uranium or breached any international contract, he knows what he is talking about.
Prather’s weekend column referred to the president’s statements of February, so I thought perhaps these flaws had been corrected by now. Yesterday, though, at the president’s Rose Garden press conference, he not only repeated the errors, but magnified them. Here he was responding to a question about Iran: “Now, our policy is very clear on that, and that is that the Iranians violated the NPT agreement, we found out they violated the agreement, and therefore they’re not to be trusted when it comes to highly enriched uranium or highly enriching uranium.”
This may have gone whistling right past your ears, Andy. Certainly nobody in the press corps raised a flag. But the president erred when he said Iran violated the Nonproliferation Treaty. They did not, which also means the president remains misinformed when he says “we found out they violated the agreement.” And if you would only check with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), you will find Iran has lived up to every jot and tittle of the NPT. It only failed to report a technical irregularity of no consequence, one that broke no NPT rules and that the IAEA would look foolish in taking to the UN Security Council as Condoleezza Rice keeps threatening. Similar technical irregularities have been acknowledged by Brazil and South Korea in their peaceful uses of atomic energy.
In the same press conference, President Bush went on to discuss North Korea:
“Secondly, in terms of North Korea, North Korea had a weapons program that they had concealed, as you might recall, prior to 2002 as a matter of fact, it was prior to 2000. It was a bilateral so-called bilateral agreement between North Korea and the United States, and it turns out that they had violated that agreement because they were enriching uranium, contrary to the agreement. We caught them on that. And therefore I decided to change the policy to encourage other nations to be involved with convincing North Korea to abandon its weapons program. And that’s where we are.”
Here again, Mr. Bush appears to have been briefed by someone in the White House who gets his information from Fox News or The Washington Times. In fact, North Korea had no weapons program they had concealed prior to 2000 or 2002. There is not the slightest evidence that Kim Jong Il ever violated the Nonproliferation Treaty, and that he only went through the formality of withdrawing from the NPT when the United States accused Pyongyang of violating the NPT and then broke Washington’s promise to supply it with conventional fuel while a light-water reactor was being constructed.
North Korea WAS NOT enriching uranium, Andy, and President Bush errs when he says “We caught them on that.” Indeed, there is no evidence to this day that North Korea is enriching uranium. They haven’t said they are and our intelligence community has never located a facility that might be used for such a purpose. And under the terms of the NPT, North Korea would be entitled to do so in order to supply low-enriched uranium to the light-water reactor we agreed to have built for them in 1994 if they agreed to stop work on the plutonium reactors the Clinton administration considered threatening. By the way, you should know we never intended to keep that promise, even though South Korea, China, and Japan agreed to pay for it, and construction never began.
Do you see what I mean? There is just an awful lot of baloney floating around, disguised as slam-dunk Truth with a capital “T.” What you might do to satisfy yourself that the president knows what he is talking about and that I am full of baloney is ask your intelligence czar, John Negroponte, to provide you with a report that will stand up to serious scrutiny on who is violating what, and who has caught whom in violations of agreements or treaties. And I would suggest to Negroponte that he not ask John Bolton to write the report, as Bolton is probably more proficient at slicing baloney than anyone else on the team.