Thursday, July 22, 2004

From an old friend of my father, and an occasional reader of this blog:
Dear Op-ed Editor and Public Editor:

I think the Times needs to provide a correction for a statement by
Stephen Sestanovich in his Op-ed article "How Saddam Failed the Yeltsin Test."

In his next-to-last paragraph Mr. Sestanovich writes: "When Saddam
Hussein forced out United Nations inspectors in 1998, President Clinton
responded with days of bombings. . . ." This statement, which presents
a view repeated endlessly during the run-up to the Iraq war, perpetuates
misinformation about the cicumstances under which UNSCOM inspectors left Iraq in Decembeer 1998. Coming from someone who held a high post in the Clinton administration at the time and who is currently a senior fellow at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, this statement would seem to carry considerable authority. But it is wrong--or, at the very least, misleading--as the Times reported in 1998 and has reaffirmed within the past two years.

UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler withdrew the weapons inspectors from Iraq in a coordinated arrangement with Washington just two days in advance of a new bombing campaign by the United States. Butler, the head of a UN agency, took this action without securing the agreement of the UN Security Council. The correct story of the inspectors' withdrawal is essential because the issue of what was seen as the inadequate response to renewed UN inspections under Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei in 2002 was so important a part of the Bush administration's justification for acting unilaterally in invading Iraq.

I find Mr. Sestanovich's statement astonishing and one calling for
correction, not just because it is false but because, uncorrected, it
becomes part of the backlash by the Bush administration and its
supporters against the recent criticisms of the Bush administration's
case for going to war in Iraq. Both the Clinton and Bush
administrations should take responsibility for undermining the UN
inspection regime and so opening the door to the war policy upon which
the Bush administration chose to act.


Joel Isaacson

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