Memo To: President Bush
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Our Closed Capital
[This memo ran in this space last Wednesday afternoon, but so briefly because of the Thanksgiving holiday that it did not get much attention. As you will see, I'm not only urging the President to relax some of the security procedures in D.C., but also and more importantly urging him to open his mind to ideas on the causes of political terrorism.]
* * * * *
I try not to bother you too often, Mr. President, but I know my advice to you will be resoundingly rejected by everyone close to you, so my only hope is to reach you directly. And I know when you campaigned last year, you really did intend to open up Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic again, but gave in when the Secret Service protested. I've been in and out of Washington thousands of times since I first came to work for the National Observer in 1965 – and for six years lived in the Maryland suburbs and hung my hat in the Senate press gallery. When I came to Washington last week to make my rounds, the first time since late March, I became depressed. On four beautiful fall days, when there would normally be many thousands of American families visiting town and touring the White House and Capitol, there were few signs of them. Now I see you are canceling the Christmas tours. How sad. When the police are told to button everything down, they do not fool around. It was not just that I found more concrete barricades and metal detectors in the federal triangle than I ever encountered before. There were far more barriers than I'd ever spotted on my trips to Red China and more police checking my photo ID and glaring menacingly at me (maybe I look Arab) than I'd seen in Moscow during the Cold War.
What really shocked me was the closed mentality of the town. You know when a man crosses his arms, the body language indicates he is hostile to what you are saying and has stopped listening. That's what I encountered everywhere, always with a few exceptions that proved the rule. A great many of the people I met with simply do not want to hear any reasons why the Islamic world produced the terrorists who struck on September 11! You may not know, but three years ago I urged Jesse Helms to hold hearings on the causes of political terrorism and the mind of a political terrorist, or the same conditions that drove Ramzi Ahmed Yousef to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 "will succeed in taking the twin towers down completely." In other words, I was urging the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to open himself up, but instead he was talked into closing himself down. Is it any better now, Mr. President? I don't think so. That's not what I'm finding at all. We are closing down more than ever when we should be opening up more than ever, if we ever want to dry up these sources of terrorism. Here are some examples of what I mean:
One of the things Yousef cited when sentenced to life in prison in 1998 was the embargo we have had on Iraq since 1991 which has produced massive loss of life of Iraqi civilians, including some 500,000 children according to the United Nations. I first realized in 1993 that our government never intended to lift the embargo, no matter what Saddam Hussein did to comply with UN resolutions. President Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said so plainly in 1998 and now the whole world knows we acted faithlessly. When I bring this up, I get dead silence. It is something the Political Establishment knows but does not want to hear about.
On this trip to Washington, I urged senior leaders of the Congress to ask the Library of Congress to look into the charges that in 1981 Saddam Hussein "gassed his own people," in the Kurdish province of Iraq, this being evidence that he is so evil that we should bomb Iraq as soon as we polish off the Taliban. I've done so, Mr. President, and find the best evidence is that the few thousand Kurds who were gassed almost certainly were caught between the Iraqi army and the Iranian army, and were "collateral damage" at the hands of Iranian cyanide gas, not Iraqi gas. When I made this suggestion to one U.S. Senator who wants to go to war with Iraq, he told me it didn't matter whether Saddam gassed his own people. If he gassed Iranians that was enough for him. When I told him it seems the U.S. supplied Saddam with the mustard gas he used on the Iranians, to which Iraq has always admitted, I got a cold glare and a shrug of the shoulders. The Senator does not want to hear any arguments that get in the way of his determination to go to war with Iraq.
You do probably know, Mr. President, that I have been defending the Nation of Islam's leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, since I watched the Million Man March in 1995 and since I met him for the first time in 1996. I'm satisfied beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is not only a good and holy man, but the most important Muslim in the world. You might think Bin Laden is, but Bin Laden is an outcast in the entire Muslim hierarchy outside Afghanistan. Min. Farrakhan's views on the Middle East are practically identical to yours, as you would find if you talked to him. But the political establishment long ago decided it did not want any of us to really listen to him, and so he has been effectively demonized. We are all told he once said "Judaism is a gutter religion," or some other pejorative. He never said this, and I have offered a $1000 reward to anyone who can find such a statement in his speeches or writings. He has never, ever said anything pejorative of Judaism or of Christianity or of the Pope. But try as I might, I can not persuade anyone to check as I have.
Why is he so important? Because he is the most trusted black American in our own black community and the most admired American Muslim in the entire Islamic world. In his world travels, he is received with state dinners throughout Asian and African countries he visits and is welcome in all of them. It is because he speaks his mind. He is a truthteller, Mr. President. What he has to say may be politically inconvenient for some of us to hear – and I do not agree with all of what he says in any case. But political terrorism throughout human history develops when there is no one to represent the petitions of those who wish to be heard by those in control. I was absolutely shocked some weeks ago when my close friend Bob Novak, who arranged to have Min. Farrakhan on his weekend CNN show, "Novak, Hunt & Shields," was forced to cancel because Al Hunt and Mark Shields would not appear on the program with Min. Farrakhan! So much for the Free Press. I think this is the first time in the history of American Journalism that this has happened.
It is not only Hunt and Shields. It is essentially the entire national press corps, who can think only to vilify Min. Farrakhan or to make fun of me for defending him. Three years ago, I asked Min. Farrakhan if he would meet with the editors of the Jewish weekly Forward, and he said he would meet with any journalists I would recommend and would travel to New York especially for the Forward. The editors told me it would be impossible. The paper could not break ranks with a Jewish political establishment that did not wish a black Muslim like Farrakhan to get any credibility. The Wall Street Journal editorial board and The New York Times editorial board have similarly rebuffed my attempts to have him as a guest or to write op-eds defending him.
If you would check, you will find that former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who was last year the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is one Jewish Democrat who has actually prayed with Min. Farrakhan. In 1997, I had dinner with Min. Farrakhan and your Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who was then chairing the African subcommittee of Senate Foreign Relations. Ask him about it. Min. Farrakhan offered to help him understand Africa, black and Muslim, as he personally knows all the leaders. As much as he might have enjoyed the dinner, John would not have any further contact with the Minister or take him up on his offer. He clearly feared his political career would end if he did so. In your campaign last year, you noted Sen. Joseph Lieberman said he would meet with Farrakhan without pre-conditions. When your running mate, Dick Cheney was asked, he said he would not meet with him. He was covering his eyes and his ears. He was contributing to the closing down of Washington.
I could give you several other examples of how difficult it is for the Islamic world to be heard, to become part of the process by which our government makes foreign policy. Perhaps I will add to my arguments sometime after Thanksgiving. But for now, Mr. President, I suggest you might begin thinking of opening up your arms and your mind about the invisible barriers that have been collecting there -- and at the same time begin thinking of removing some of the concrete that is separating the world from our democracy. And invite Min. Farrakhan to a meeting in the White House. You do not have to give him anything. Just listen. More than anything else you can do, this would make those people in the Islamic world who are thinking of more acts of terrorism to pause, to hold back, to wait and see if your opening will be wider and permanent.