The Clinton-Gore-Albright Unilateral Strike on Iraq

We’re being told by Democrats that the Bush administration’s war against Saddam was illegitimate because it allegedly lacked United Nations approval and sufficient multilateral support. What Democrats are not saying is that the previous presidential administration—a Democratic one—did not meet this standard in Iraq, nor did it care to. The case in point occurred ten years before the Bush invasion, and involved names like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Madeleine Albright, and a man named George Bush—George H. W. Bush.

On April 14, 1993, a group of Iraqi terrorists put the final touches on a 170-pound bomb built into the body panels of a Toyota Landcruiser. The vehicle was smuggled into Kuwait in the dark of night. The bomb was equipped with a radio-controlled firing system. The vehicle was positioned at Kuwait University, where it was poised to take the life of ex-president George H. W. Bush during a three-day visit honoring him for liberating Kuwait two years earlier. This was just one of countless examples of Iraq’s state-sponsored terrorism—another reality that Democrats today conveniently deny—and of Saddam targeting American citizens.

The plot failed. The Kuwaiti government arrested 16 people, including 11 Iraqi nationals. The Kuwaitis eventually identified two vehicles loaded with remote-controlled bombs. Altogether, several hundred pounds of explosives were seized. The explosives held enough firepower to kill not just the former president but also his entourage.

“I was forced into this operation,” later confessed one Iraqi saboteur, Raad al-Assadi. “Our regime does not permit us to object.” His partner in crime was fellow Iraqi Wali Abdelhadi al-Ghazali, a male nurse by profession, who, in attempting to kill the former president, forsook any Hippocratic oath. He was the driver of a van packed with explosives. He was also instructed in how to detonate the Toyota. To ensure success, Ghazali was fitted with a belt packed with explosives—a suicide vest—if the vehicle bombs failed. Suicide vests are a common accoutrement in Iraq; coalition troops found thousands of them in April 2003, destined for special use against Israeli Jews in particular.

News of the botched assassination reached the new Clinton administration. Especially alarmed was Vice President Gore, only on the job a few months but not naïve to the fact that the dirty deed could not be dismissed. Though Iraq was suspected, its exact role was not immediately known. Yet, even before the FBI and CIA reports were completed, Gore smelled a rat. He knew the foiled assassination attempt had Saddam’s bloody fingerprints all over it. He undertook his own personal inquiry into the plot.

Saddam was behind this, Gore concluded to Clinton. The president consulted with Gore extensively on what to do. Doing nothing, Gore told Clinton, would make the freshman president appear weak and rekindle concerns that Democrats were too wishy-washy about employing force. He firmly steered the president, then with no foreign policy experience, toward retaliation. He insisted Iraq be punished. As U.S. News & World Report reported, Gore “concluded that retaliation was not only appropriate but required.” Saddam, Gore told Clinton, must pay for trying to kill George H. W. Bush.

On the weekend of June 25-27, 1993, military retaliation followed. The Clinton administration struck hard with a volley of missiles on Baghdad. The strike killed a number of Iraqis but left Saddam in power and unscathed.

The Clinton administration did not seek U.N. approval for the strike, and some U.N. Security Council members were quite annoyed, including France’s representative, Jean-Bernard Merimee. They were bothered that the Clinton team proceeded on its own evidence, prior to the end of the trial of the saboteurs. However, Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, strongly objected, insisting that classified American intelligence confirmed that Saddam’s regime was behind the plot. According to Albright, U.S. evidence alone was sufficient for U.S. unilateral action; U.N. approval was not necessary, and neither was any type of U.N. investigation. Albright, Clinton, and Gore were adamant: the United States did not need U.N. approval to use force against Iraq.

In almost every respect, Madeleine Albright and Al Gore in particular acted contrary to the angry public position they later staked during the presidency of George W. Bush.

For the record, I was impressed with how the Clinton administration handled this incident. I wrote it up in a 2000 book on Vice President Gore. My information was taken from articles in the New York Times, London Times, the Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News & World Report, as well as interviews. When I shared this material then, during the 2000 presidential race, Democrats and Gore supporters were rightly pleased. I’ve republished the account almost verbatim in a 2004 book on President George W. Bush, which liberals are dismissing as Bush campaign propaganda.

Democrats behave completely differently when a Republican is in the Oval Office. They’ve mindlessly done a total reversal—from unilateralists to multilateralists, from hawks to doves—because of partisan politics. The case of Iraq is a tragic example.