Remembering Bobby

Leon Wieseltier - The New Republic - February 7, 1994

TRB From Washington

A heavy snow fell on Washington today and it came from Austin. With his unforgettable press conference, Bobby Ray Inman has provided the political culture that he detests, I mean the political culture of America with its canonical image of The Man with Something to Hide. Inman was withdrawing himself from public service because he was withdrawing himself from the light. He sounded like a man who knew what a paper was about to publish. And so at no point in his afternoon of narcissism did Inman mention the really bothersome thing in his past, which is his close relationship with Names Guerin, the head of a company called International Signal and Control, who now sits in a jail in Florida for transferring military technology to Iraq and South Africa. (On April 27, 1992, Inman wrote to Judge Louis Bechtle of Philadelphia "During the period 1975-1978 [when Inman was director of the National Security Agency] I came to know and worked with Mr. James Guerin...on classified U.S. government activities...that related to the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons capability...Mr. Guerin displayed patriotism toward our country and a willingness to provide useful information even though it could have risked unfavorable publicity for his company." This document, to which William Safire has drawn attention, is reproduced in Spider's Web, Alan Friedman's densely documented study of the arming of Iraq by the Bush administration, where I also find that Inman sat on the "proxy board" of Guerin's company.) Instead it snowed, as Unman discoursed with ardor on his commitment to working with the National Organization of Women to reform the laws regarding Social Security payments for domestic help, so that "native born" women "with little education" do not suffer anymore for the busy schedules of powerful employers such as himself.

But Inman was an artless dodger. His game became grotesque as he sank into conspiracy theories and worse. Inman turns out to be dermatologically challenged; that is, he has no skin. He attacked the press violently, and argued that its intrusiveness would have made his work at the Pentagon impossible. ("I am not seeking legislation" to restrain the press, he assured his audience. Drinks were on the house at every saloon in the District.) The objects of his fury were not reporters so much as columnists, who should be more properly called, according to Inman's view of the world, fifth columnists. William Safire, whose hostility to the Inman nomination has been unremitting, was denounced with comical intensity. Inman even said that he was the victim of a secret plot, "a trade," between William Safire and Robert Dole, according to which "Dole would turn up the heat on my nomination [and[ Safire would turn up the heat on Whitewater." You could almost hear that Patsky Cline song.

And then things went from crazy to ugly. Having accused the press of a "new McCarthyism," Inman proceeded to same. Speculating on Safire's motives, he did not quite say that the columnist was working for Israel, but he did say, with a strut, that the columnist's opposition to his nomination was owed to the result of his decision in 1981, when he was deputy director of the CIA, in the wake of Israel's raid on Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak, to withhold intelligence from Israel that might be useful for another such action. "Casey was giving away too much," Inman concluded at the time, according to Bob Woodward's Veil , for which he was obviously a source. "Inman didn't see how the United States could maintain any balanced policy if Israel was permitted to drop bombs all over the Middle East. He quickly created new rules by which Israel could get photos and other sensitive intelligence only for defense. Enter Jonathan Pollard? I have no idea. But enter William Safire. At his press conference Inman recalled that Safire complained to William Casey, Inman's superior at the CIA, and an admirer of the Israeli approach to Saddam's bomb, about Inman's "new rules."

From another passage in Woodward's book I learn that Inman's inhibition of Israel was a practical matter. He believed that the Israelis would bomb the military installations of Libya. So this is the position of the man who came so close to the stewardship of America's security on the subject of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East; he continues to defend a convicted businessman as a patriot for providing information to the United States about Iraq's nuclear program, even as the convicted businessman sits in jail for illegally transferring instruments of warfare to Iraq and South Africa, but he continues to oppose Israel for destroying Iraq's nuclear program, even as he learns, in the aftermath of the Gulf war, that Saddam's nuclear program was fearfully advanced and that Saddam's threats to use his missile technology against Israel were not empty. Who can doubt that Israel used American Intelligence about Iraq in its own "defense"? And who can doubt, if Libya builds a bomb, and Israel, using American intelligence about Libya, destroys it, that Israel would be using American intelligence in its own "defense"?

Inman, that's who. And his misunderstanding of democracy is no less gross than his misunderstanding of defense. For a start, Safire was not oppressing Inman as a columnist, he was oppressing Inman as a journalist. Inman's connection to Guerin is not an opinion, it is a fact. But the sleaziness of Inman's outburst was more general. He was hiding from the press behind the public's paranoia about the press. There is something especially hypocritical, something especially repulsive, about the populism of the gentleman from K. Street. But here was the well-named Inman tricking himself out as the wounded outsider, as the latest Middle-American victim of all those scribbling insiders. Historians studying the debasement of populism at the end of the century will have to make room, in their chapters on the Texan contribution, for Inman. He is an exemplary epigone of Perot.

This was the man in whom Bill Clinton reposed his confidence. Forgive me, but this administration is just plain bizarre. One of the most pressing challenges for the secretary of defense, after all, is the proliferation of nuclear weaponry to North Korea; but here is the secretary of defense-designate fleeing government, and citing as a cause of his flight the animadversions of Ellen Goodman, "I am better off, and the country is better off, with me in the private sector," he said at his press conference. About this, at least, he was half right. A man who will not stand up to Ellen Goodman will not stand up to Kim II Sung.

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