Déjà-vu: Just as with Iraq, WSJ editorial writers hyped "urgency" of Iranian nuclear threat

››› ››› SIMON MALOY & KURT DONALDSON

On Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot and editorial writer Bret Stephens addressed the "urgency" of the "crisis" regarding Iran's attempts to enrich uranium and reported pursuit of nuclear weapons. Gigot and Stephens engaged in similar rhetoric regarding Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear capabilities prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

On the April 15 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot and editorial writer Bret Stephens addressed the "urgency" of the "crisis" regarding Iran's attempts to enrich uranium and reported pursuit of nuclear weapons. Responding to April 12 comments from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gigot asked Stephens if there was "any doubt in your mind that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon and is making real progress in doing so." Stephens answered, in part: "[O]ur estimates that the Iranians are 10 years or five years away from making a bomb were wildly exaggerated. They're going to be able to enrich uranium in the next year or two. So, it adds urgency to the crisis." Gigot's and Stephens's remarks concerning Iran's purported nuclear capabilities have a familiar ring -- they both engaged in similar rhetoric regarding Saddam Hussein's alleged nuclear capabilities prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

From the April 15 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report:

RICE (video clip): We're consulting with our allies about what the next steps need to be. But there's no doubt in my mind that if the Iranians continue down this course, there has to be some course of action by the [United Nations] Security Council.

GIGOT: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reacting to Iran's claims, this week, that it has enriched uranium for the first time -- an advance necessary to produce a nuclear weapon. The news came just a day after President Bush dismissed reports of U.S. plans for a military strike on Iran as "wild speculation." Bret, after this week, there is any doubt in your mind that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon and is making real progress in doing so?

STEPHENS: Well, that's the -- the key point is the progress. I think we've known for quite a while that their intention is to build a bomb. What they've done now is really a very significant technological breakthrough. It's kind of like inventing the wheel for the first time. The trick was -- they've run centrifuges at 80,000 rotations per minute.

GIGOT: Not easy to do.

STEPHENS: Not easy to do. And once you can -- once you master that kind of technology, it's only a matter of replicating it over and over again to get sufficient quantities of bomb-grade -- of bomb-grade enriched uranium. And it shows that our estimates that the Iranians are 10 years or five years away from making a bomb were wildly exaggerated. They're going to be able to enrich uranium in the next year or two. So, it adds urgency to the crisis.

In the lead-up to the March 20, 2003, U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Journal editorial page, which Gigot has overseen since 2001, frequently hyped the likelihood that Saddam was not far from producing or obtaining a nuclear weapon. Such claims were later found to be erroneous -- the Iraq Survey Group's report, released in October 2004, found that there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that Iraq's WMD programs were either destroyed or discontinued after the 1991 Gulf War and had not resumed at the time of the 2003 invasion.

The Journal forwarded alarmist claims about Iraq's nuclear capabilities on numerous occasions:

  • August 2, 2002: Above all, a debate would let Mr. Bush demonstrate that he has by far the stronger case. Even the critics concede that Saddam is a threat, after all, a tyrant who has gassed his own people, tried to kill a U.S. President and whose military routinely fires at American pilots patrolling no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that before the Gulf War Saddam was 'within a year or two' of having nuclear weapons. And at Wednesday's Senate hearings, former Iraqi nuclear engineer Khidir Hamza said Saddam will have enough weapons-grade uranium for three nuclear bombs by 2005.
  • August 29, 2002: There is always the chance that Congress could refuse the President. But this must be measured against the strong case the Administration has, a case Vice President Dick Cheney pressed earlier this week in Nashville. Mr. Cheney flatly declared that when it comes to a nuclear-armed Saddam, 'the risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.'
  • September 25, 2002: And then there is the redoubtable Mr. Blair, an ally who continues to risk dissent in his party and country for a cause in which he believes. Yesterday Mr. Blair released a dossier of intelligence on Iraq. The 50-page report describes how Saddam has tried to buy uranium from Africa for use in nuclear weapons, has 20 missiles that could reach British military bases in Cyprus as well as Israel and NATO members Greece and Turkey, and stating that Iraq's chemical weapons are on standby for use within 45 minutes. 'The policy of containment is not working. The WMD program is not shut down. It is up and running,' Mr. Blair told Parliament.
  • September 9, 2002: Democrats hardly need two more months now to deliberate over this evidence, most of which they already know. They merely want to push any decision past Election Day so their votes won't put their Senate majority at risk. They can then posture as statesmen for two months but only declare themselves after the day when voters would be able to hold them immediately responsible. Let's hope Saddam's nuclear weapons program is operating on the same wait-until-the-election timetable.
  • January 27, 2003, editorial titled, "If Saddam Survives":

Specifically, what would the world look like a year from now if Saddam remains in power in Baghdad?

[...]

Savoring their new global clout, the French begin to argue that the inspectors have found nothing and so U.N. Resolution 1441 has been fulfilled. The Russians back them up, hoping to get repaid on their loans to Baghdad. Tony -- or "Toady" as he is now derided -- Blair is toppled as Labor Party leader and British Prime Minister. Slowly the international "containment" of Saddam begins to erode, just as it did in the 1990s. The Iraqi dictator finds it even easier to finance his nuclear weapons project.

  • February 6, 2003: The Secretary of State [Colin Powell] had to provide this smoking proof because some people still refuse to believe what they see with their own eyes. An example is the way many, including U.N. inspector [International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohamed] El Baradei, have accepted Iraq's explanation that its import of high-strength aluminum tubes was for conventional rocketry, not uranium enrichment.
  • March 8, 2003: President Bush has said he wants weapons inspectors back in Iraq. But this raises the question of what will happen if Saddam says yes. Already the Iraqi dictator is up to his old tricks of leading the world, and especially the ever-trusting United Nations, on a wild weapons chase that only buys him more time to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Gigot has personally made similar claims. From the August 30, 2002, edition of CNBC's WSJ Editorial Board with Stuart Varney:

GIGOT: We know before the Gulf -- the argument for the Gulf War was, 'Well, he's probably six or seven years away from obtaining nuclear weapons.' Once we got in there and looked around, people concluded -- our intelligence people concluded it was more like one year. And so we really don't know what he has. We've been -- the inspectors have been out since 1998. We don't know what he's done in the interim. So, I mean -- the question is: Are we willing to take that risk? And that's the question I would like the president to pose to Congress and try and get their approval.

From the March 15, 2002, edition of WSJ Editorial Board with Stuart Varney:

GIGOT: We know the inspectors, when they were there the last time before he kicked them out, had seen all kinds of evidence of poison gas development, biological laboratories, and including -- and attempts to get nuclear weapons. So, we know that he's looking for them. Does he have categorical evidence that he's got them yet? Probably not. But we know he's looking for them.

Stephens, who once served as editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post, also warned of Saddam's possible nuclear weapons capabilities. From a November 15, 2002, Jerusalem Post article by Stephens, titled, "So is it war?":

For how long? The 105-day process currently mandated by [United Nations Security Council] Resolution 1441 - 45 days for [U.N. weapons inspector Hans] Blix to get his people on the ground, plus 60 to produce a report - concludes at the end of February. That gives the US and its allies sufficient time to assemble a massive military force in the region. But it gives little time, given meteorological conditions and probable diplomatic imbroglios, to launch and conclude a successful invasion.

By then, the US may face a radically different, possibly more hostile, international climate. The winds of war may abate. Or Saddam may unveil, to an astonished world, the Arab world's first nuclear bomb. Whatever happens, the countdown has begun, but towards what nobody can yet say.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Paul Gigot
Show/Publication
Journal Editorial Report
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