"Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was the last American diplomat
to meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein . . ."
- Joseph Wilson, on how his obituary might read
His entry in the State Department's historical directory of Chiefs of Missions and Principal Officers
is just four lines:
Wilson, Joseph Charles, IV (1949- )
Foreign Service officer
1990 Chargé d'Affaires ad interim Iraq
1992 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Gabon and Sao Tome/Principe
But these four brief lines do not describe Foreign Service officer Joseph Wilson's
impact on three American Presidencies - and his role in unmasking the prevarications and misleading statements used by the administration of George W. Bush
in making a case for war against Iraq
and highlighting a struggle between those who provide intelligence and those who use it.
Wilson, the son of a pair of idiosyncratic foreign correspondents, was born in Bridgeport, CT, but raised mainly in California and France. With an irreverent and self-deprecating sense of humor, Wilson maintains he graduated in 1972 from the University of California - Santa Barbara with a degree in "history, volleyball and surfing." In 1976 he entered the Foreign Service.
Putting his fluency in French to use, the State Department immediately put him to work in the African country of Niger - where French is the offical language. Says Wilson of that initial posting to Niamey, Niger, "It was the lowest possible job in the embassy in the most remote part of the world."
Over the next dozen years Wilson made the long climb up the career diplomatic ladder. In 1988 he found himself as the Chargé d'Affaires - the #2 man - in Baghdad. In 1990, while the ambassador, April Glaspie, was out of the country, Wilson found himself in charge of the embassy. And while he was interim ambassador Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
The good news is we’ve been training for this all of our careers. The bad news is: Oh, shit, we’re in charge — what do we do now? -- Joe Wilson on his thoughts of being in charge of the American embassy in Iraq leading up to the Gulf War.
After Saddam invaded Kuwait hundreds of Americans and foreign nationals took refuge in the American embassy. To these potential hostages Wilson became a hero. At one point Saddam ordered the embassy to turn over all non-diplomats they were sheltering. Hussein threatened execution for diplomats that did not comply. Calling Hussein's bluff, Wilson held a press conference with a hangman's noose around his neck; telling reporters that if Hussein wanted to hang him, he'd bring his own rope.
Back in Washington, President George H. W. Bush was becoming impressed with Wilson's abilities. As his aides and advisors presented plans and courses of action regarding the embassy standoff, the President seemed to always ask the same question: "What does Joe Wilson say?" The President would later call Wilson a "truly inspiring" diplomat who exhibited "courageous leadership." In 1992, President George H. W. Bush named Wilson the U.S. Ambassador to the Gabonese Republic and, concurrently, to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe - positions Wilson held until 1995.
For the next two years Wilson served as the political adviser to the Commander-in-Chief United States European Command, General George Joulwan. This was during NATO's Bosnian intervention. In 1997 President William Jefferson Clinton appointed him to the National Security Council where he handled African affairs. Wilson left the council in 1998.
At this point the story should end. Career Foreign Service diplomats usually go quietly into retirement. Perhaps they'll write a book on their experiences or appear as talking head expertise on a cable news show. Occasionally their governments will call on them for some special assignment that requires their knowledge and expertise. In February 2002, Joseph Wilson received just such a call.
Vice President Dick Cheney had asked the CIA about allegations Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA, knowing Joe Wilson was familiar with both Iraq and Niger, called in Joe Wilson. After a meeting with various CIA and State Department analysts it was decided Wilson should travel to Niger and ferret out the truth of the allegations.
Wilson arrived in Niger late in February. He met the US ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, and found the ambassador knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. After a week of his own investigation, Wilson concurred. The document that spurred the investigation would later prove to be a forgery.
Imagine Joe Wilson's surprise, then, when President George W. Bush repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.
The vice president's office asked a serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate officials within our government.
The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.
-- Joe Wilson, NY Times, July 6, 2003
President George W. Bush's infamous "sixteen words" in his State of the Union speech triggered Joe Wilson's New York Times op/ed piece titled What I Didn't Find In Africa. Wilson's editorial caused many to relook at the intelligence data the administration had used to justify the war. Add to this that despite over a thousand Americans in Iraq specifically looking for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, none could be found.
In Britain, Tony Blair was being raked over the coals over allegations of a "sexed up" intelligence dossier. News reports charged that the Blair circle had exaggerated the Iraqi threat to win domestic support for backing Bush's war. In America, Bush had been largely immune to such charges. The Bush administration had largely blamed the intelligence gatherers - ie., the CIA. Wilson exposed the administration's claims. Here the CIA had provided the proper answer, yet the administration had refused to change its rhetoric despite the facts.
Faced with Wilson's editorial, the White House was forced to admit the uranium to Iraq allegation should never have been in the State of the Union speech. After the White House admitted its error, Wilson declined all television and radio interviews. But the story wouldn't end there.
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.
-- syndicated columnist Robert Novak, July 14, 2003
It did not take the administration long to retaliate against Joseph Wilson. The administration leaked to reporters that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative and tried to discredit Wilson by claiming that she had got him the job of going to Niger to investigate the uranium sale to Iraq allegations. In an attempt to discredit a critic, people in the Bush administration were willing to burn one of their own CIA agents.
Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the names of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.
-- George H. W. Bush, 1999
All of this has left Joe Wilson mentally updating that obituary. Where once he thought his one claim to fame would be "the last American diplomat to meet Saddam Hussein." He now figures it might be, "Joseph C. Wilson IV, the husband of the spy the White House outed, . . . "
Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, IV is CEO of JCWilson International Ventures, Corp., a firm specializing in Strategic Management and International Business Development.
Ambassador Wilson served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council from June 1997 until July 1998. In that capacity he was responsible for the coordination of U.S. policy to the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. He was one of the principal architects of President Clinton's historic trip to Africa in March 1998.
Ambassador Wilson was the Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of United States Armed Forces, Europe, 1995-1997. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Gabonese Republic and to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe from 1992 to 1995. From 1988 to 1991, Ambassador Wilson served in Baghdad, Iraq as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy. During "Desert Shield" he was the acting Ambassador and was responsible for the negotiations that resulted in the release of several hundred American hostages. He was the last official American to meet with Saddam Hussein before the launching of "Desert Storm."
Ambassador Wilson was a member of the U.S. Diplomatic Service from 1976 until 1998. His early assignments included Niamey, Niger, 1976-1978; Lome, Togo, 1978-79; the State Department Bureau of African Affairs, 1979-1981; and Pretoria, South Africa, 1981-1982.
In 1982, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Mission in Bujumbura, Burundi. In 1985-1986, he served in the offices of Senator Albert Gore and the House Majority Whip, Representative Thomas Foley, as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow. He was Deputy Chief of Mission in Brazzaville, Congo, 1986-88, prior to his assignment to Baghdad.
Ambassador Wilson was raised in California and graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1972. He is a graduate of the Senior Seminar (1992), the most advanced International Affairs training offered by the U.S. Government. He speaks fluent French.
Ambassador Wilson holds the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Award, the Department of State Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards, the University of California, Santa Barbara Distinguished Alumnus Award, and the American Foreign Service Association William R. Rivkin Award. Additionally, he has been decorated as a Commander in the Order of the Equatorial Star by the Government of Gabon and as an Admiral in the El Paso Navy by the El Paso County Commissioners.