Cheney, Wilson Share Iraq History

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Vice President Dick Cheney says he did not know Ambassador Joseph Wilson. But Cheney's life intersected with Wilson's during the first Iraq war. Wilson is the husband of Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA agent whose name was leaked to the press.


Whatever their relationship, Vice President Cheney and Joseph Wilson certainly had opportunities to meet or at least to be in contact more than a decade before June 2003. As NPR's David Greene reports, their lives intersected during an earlier war in Iraq.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Did Dick Cheney know Joe Wilson? That depends on who you ask, Cheney or Wilson. The vice president appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" in September of 2003, three months after The New York Times says he spoke about Wilson to his chief of staff. Tim Russert was asking the vice president about Wilson's report on Saddam Hussein and uranium in Africa.

(Soundbite of "Meet the Press")

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Host): Were you briefed on his findings in February-March of 2002?

Vice President DICK CHENEY: No. I don't know Joe Wilson. I've never met Joe Wilson.

GREENE: Cheney seemed eager to get his point across.

(Soundbite of "Meet the Press")

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Joe Wilson--I don't know who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.

GREENE: Just days later Wilson did an interview on "Democracy Now!," a radio program on the Pacifica Network. He didn't totally disagree with Cheney.

(Soundbite of "Democracy Now!")

Ambassador JOSEPH WILSON: Well, first of all, the vice president's actually right. We've never met.

GREENE: But Wilson said he'd be surprised if Cheney didn't remember him from the first Gulf War. Cheney was secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush. Wilson was a top American diplomat in Baghdad.

(Soundbite of "Democracy Now!")

Amb. WILSON: As one of the principals at the National Security Council, he was certainly in National Security Council meetings chaired by President Bush when discussions were being held on reports that I was submitting on a regular basis from Baghdad. So while we've never met, he certainly knows who I am or should know who I am, unless his memory is flawed or faulty.

GREENE: The vice president would have to reach back 15 years to a time when he and Wilson were playing pivotal roles in the first Iraq conflict. Wilson had been second in command at the US mission in Baghdad--that is, until Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990. The chief of the mission, April Glaspie, had been out of town and didn't return after the invasion, leaving Wilson in charge. On Christmas Day of 1990, the Chicago Tribune interviewed Wilson. He was bracing for war, one of few Americans in Baghdad preparing a dinner of turkey and stuffing. He couldn't have cranberry sauce because that didn't make it around UN-imposed sanctions. Wilson told the Tribune that he'd be tremendously disappointed if war broke out. `If you consider that war represents failure of diplomacy,' he said, `that means we will have failed.' Around the same time Secretary of Defense Cheney was in Saudi Arabia, where US troops were pouring in. Cheney told reporters they were nearly ready.

(Soundbite of press briefing)

Secretary DICK CHENEY (Defense Department): As they get stood up, married up with their equipment and are deployed, we expand our capabilities. That expansion of our capabilities will continue as we bring more and more forces into the region. But we would be prepared today if we were ordered today to undertake military action.

GREENE: Whether Cheney knew Wilson or knew of Wilson at the time remains a mystery. White House officials refused to talk about the relationship today. One person who has closely followed Cheney's career is James Mann, author of "Rise of the Vulcans," a book about some of the people who were in the war Cabinets of both Bush presidencies. He said it's possible Wilson just never crossed Cheney's path.

Mr. JAMES MANN (Author, "Rise of the Vulcans"): When he came to Washington, for example, he would have dealt with the secretary of State or the National Security Council, so at least in theory it's--I find it plausible that he would have never met him.

GREENE: But Chas Freeman, who was US ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, recalls Wilson worked to stop Saddam Hussein from taking Americans hostage. He said Cheney would have been well aware of Wilson's activities.

Mr. CHAS FREEMAN (Former Ambassador): Joe was a very forceful intervener against all that, and would have been in very constant contact with the Situation Room at the White House and sending cables back for discussions that the secretary of Defense certainly would have participated in very actively.

GREENE: And so whether Vice President Dick Cheney knows Joe Wilson or not may be a matter of definition. David Greene, NPR News, Washington.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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