By Ian Sherr
Joseph Wilson’s belt buckler reads, "Baghdad, Iraq" across the top. He wears it like a badge of honor now, joking that the first line of his obituary would have said that he was the last American diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein before Operation Desert Storm. Now, however, it will read that he is the husband of Valerie Plame.
Standing before a full crowd at the University of California’s Washington Center (UCDC), former Ambassador Joseph Wilson spoke last Monday about his life, from his beginnings at UC Santa Barbara, where he majored in "history, volleyball and surfing," to the present day, embroiled in a scandalous lawsuit with high-ranking officials in the Bush Administration.
Wilson was a relatively unknown diplomat in Africa until 2003, when he published an opinion piece in the New York Times criticizing President Bush’s State of the Union Address earlier that year. Specifically, Wilson pointed to misleading statements saying Iraqi officials had attempted to purchase "yellowcake" uranium from the African country of Niger.
"When it became apparent in succeeding months that the Administration was not going to acknowledge that it was wrong and it had known months before the State of the Union Address that there was nothing to this allegation," Wilson said."I felt it was my duty as a citizen to write an article, publicly calling on the Administration to correct the record."
Soon after Wilson’s piece was published, well-known Political Columnist and TV Personality Robert Novak published a story "outing" Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent.
"In compromising [my wife’s] identity, they stepped over the line of the law," Wilson said.
After detailing what he referred to as a three-year character assassination campaign against himself and his family, Wilson said that if he had it to do over again, he still would have written the New York Times piece.
"Whatever Valerie and I have had to endure at the hands of these guys over the past three years has been a mere inconvenience when you think about what our country’s been through-particularly our military service members."
He added, "Being smeared by the likes of Scooter Libby is nothing like being blown up by an IED in downtown Baghdad."
Wilson also gave the crowd insight into the current political climate, such as the debate over whether or not to "stay the course" in Iraq, or "cut and run."
"If, in fact, our role is to find the international Jihadists, the Pentagon itself has estimated their numbers at between four and seven percent of the forces arrayed against us in Iraq now," Wilson said. "So, why should we be putting our troops in harm’s way to fight someone else’s insurgency-our focus should be a little more narrowed."
Wilson also said that the repercussions of the war and the ensuing debates have made the role of future diplomats much harder.
"I think, for the next generation of diplomat and soldier, it will be a much more dangerous world," Wilson said. "That said, I was in a lot of tough situations, and I survived. And lord knows, this country needs its next generation of diplomats to be really good."
No matter how skilled politicians and diplomats of tomorrow may be, Wilson says that supporting new democracies will not be an easy task.
"It takes time, it takes persistence and it takes all of the tools in your foreign policy toolbox," Wilson said. "It seems that the only tool the administration is prepared to use is a hammer. And when that’s your only tool, then all of your problems begin to look like nails."