Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson criticized President Bush for allegedly manipulating intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to justify the U.S. invasion in a speech at GW Monday night.
Wilson has been caught in a frenzy of controversy that began in the summer when he contradicted Bush’s claims that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium – a key ingredient in nuclear weapons- from Niger.
Based on his own trip to Niger in February 2002 as a CIA representative, Wilson said he found no such transaction could have taken place between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the African country.
“It’s not something that could easily be hidden,” Wilson said about the alleged sale of 500,000 tons of uranium to Iraq. “We are not talking about blood diamonds, something you put in your pockets.”
“If (Bush administration officials) are lying about this, what else could they be lying about?” he added.
White House officials have acknowledged that the intelligence surrounding the Niger claim was “flawed” but have denied they manipulated intelligence.
The storm surrounding Wilson intensified after the name of his wife, a covert CIA agent, was leaked to syndicated columnist Robert Novak shortly after the publication of Wilson’s editorial. Under federal law, it is illegal to disclose the name of a CIA operative.
On Monday, in what he said was an unprepared speech at the Elliott School of International Affairs building, Wilson said he supported the toppling of Hussein because he was a threat to peace in the Middle East.
Wilson described himself as an advocate of “smart war as opposed to dumb war.”
He said the U.S. could have sent inspection teams into Iraq to search for unconventional weapons instead of launching a full-scale invasion.
Wilson elicited chuckles from the approximately 250 people in attendance when he said critics have described him as a “left-wing archaistic hag against the war because he is a peacenik.”
But he repeatedly pointed out that he was not anti-war.
“If you have to use force, it has to be for the right reason and not for something dumb,” he said.
Wilson also criticized the White House for allegedly leaking his wife’s name to the press. The Department of Justice is leading an investigation to determine who disclosed the agent’s name.
Wilson accused the administration for allegedly leaking his wife’s name “to discourage others who may have facts underpinning the decision to go to war.”
Wilson served as acting ambassador to Iraq during the run-up to the Persian Gulf War and is the last American official to have met with Hussein before U.S. forces drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 1991. What began as a speech centered on the war in Iraq turned into a discussion about the 2004 presidential elections during the question-and-answer period that followed Wilson’s hour-long speech.
An audience member questioned Wilson for endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who voted to go to war in Iraq.
Wilson appeared taken aback by the question but answered, “I did not come here tonight to talk about who I am endorsing.”
However, Wilson brought up the endorsement twice and reiterated that he was never anti-war.
“I am not anti-Republican and I am not a rabid Democrat,” he said. “But I will support a candidate with a different foreign policy than Bush.”