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
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
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.