From windswept Wyoming, Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R) has raised an almighty howl about a column we wrote last August on his performance in a meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Simpson protested before the Wyoming Press Association recently that we had taken some remarks he made to Saddam out of context. We are happy to provide the context.
Simpson was one of five Senate leaders who called on Saddam in Baghdad last April. By coincidence, the meeting occurred at the same time that we were writing about Saddam. We warned that he was "the emerging mad dog of the Middle East" and criticized the Bush administration for doing business with him.
The Senate leaders presented a letter to Saddam, signed by all five, including Simpson. "We cannot stress too firmly our conviction," the letter said, "that your efforts to develop a nuclear, chemical and biological capability seriously jeopardize -- rather than enhance -- your security, potentially threaten other nations of the region and provoke dangerous tensions throughout the Middle East.
"Your recent statements threatening to use chemical weapons against Israel have created anxiety among nations throughout the world. In your own interest and in the interest of peace in the Middle East, we urge you to reconsider pursuit of these dangerous programs and provocative assertions."
The Iraqi ruler didn't even bother to deny that he had a chemical arsenal. He admitted freely that he had violated the Geneva accords, which ban chemical weapons.
"I said that if Israel uses atomic bombs, we will strike it with binary chemical weapons," Saddam told the senators. "I repeat, if this is done, we will do that. We have relayed this command to the air and missile base commanders, that the moment they hear that Israel has struck any place in Iraq with an atomic bomb, they must load as many binary chemical weapons that reach Israel and deliver them to Israeli territory . . . ."
What was Simpson's reaction to all this? He blamed the media, as is his habit. Nowhere in the transcript is there a response from Simpson to Saddam's threat of chemical warfare. Instead, the senator used his time to say:
"I believe your problems lie with the Western media and not with the U.S. government. As long as you are isolated from the media, the press -- and it is a haughty and pampered press -- they all consider themselves political geniuses. That is, the journalists do. They are very cynical. What I advise is that you invite them to come here and see for themselves."
When we published the transcript last August, Simpson disputed it because it was supplied from a tape made by Saddam's staff. Before we printed excerpts, we checked with other senators who were at the meeting, and they vouched for its accuracy.
In the end, Simpson said that the quotes were correct, but that his meaning was misunderstood. He said he was simply trying to gain more access to Iraq for the Western press.