Undeclared presidential candidate Ross Perot on Thursday accused President Bush of covertly aiding Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s nuclear and chemical weapons programs and turning a blind eye as Hussein was preparing to annex neighboring Kuwait.
“For 10 years, we created Saddam Hussein with your taxpayer money,” Perot said in a two-hour appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. As late as May of 1990--less than three months before Iraq seized Kuwait--"our President was sending delegations over to burp and diaper and pamper Saddam Hussein and tell him how nice he was.”
The Texas software tycoon said that on the eve of the Kuwaiti invasion, April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, was instructed to signal Hussein that Washington would not object if he seized Kuwait’s northern oil fields.
According to Perot, Bush was astonished when Hussein “took the whole thing.” He said that Iraq’s actions threatened Bush’s “manhood,” and “off we go into the wild blue yonder with the lives of our servicemen at risk because of 10 years of stupid mistakes. . . . “
Perot’s charges parallel the findings of several congressional committees and a continuing investigation by The Times of the Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations’ policies toward Iraq.
Bill Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee for President, appeared earlier this week on the “Today” show to answer viewers’ calls for an hour. NBC extended Perot’s appearance to two hours because of viewer interest and has offered Clinton an additional hour at an unspecified date. Bush has so far declined to appear under the show’s call-in forum.
The first call to Perot, from “Bob” in Bowie, Md., was an ambush that could not be prevented because the network was not using a tape delay to screen calls. After asking Perot how he’d break the gridlock between the White House and Congress, he followed with a question that contained an obscene reference to the anatomy of New York shock radio personality Howard Stern.
Host Katie Couric chided “Bob” for “not a good second question” and pressed on. Perot was unflustered and launched into his standard spiel on how if he is elected he’ll have Congress and the White House “dancing like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire used to.”
For the ensuing two hours, Perot fielded a range of questions on topics from affirmative action to environmental policy--even whether he’d accept a salary as President. (He wouldn’t.) Perot continually steered the conversation back to his assessment of the causes and the cure of America’s economic decline, saying that U.S. leaders of both parties had sacrificed American prosperity by excessive government spending and naive trade concessions to Japan, Germany and other emerging economic superpowers.
He was sharply critical of Bush for overseeing the deregulation of the savings and loan industry in the early 1980s, for indulging in the perks and pomp of the “regal presidency,” and for failing to bring the budget and fiscal deficit under control.
He said that lobbying by foreign nations, corporations and individuals should be outlawed and charged that a number of former government officials now on the payroll of foreign entities are employed by the Bush reelection campaign.
Perot clearly was referring to deputy campaign manager James Lake, a public relations man whose overseas clients include the Japanese Auto Parts Industry Assn. and the Abu Dhabi investors who are the principal owners of the rogue Bank of Credit & Commerce International. Another Bush adviser, Charles Black, runs a lobbying firm that worked for Japanese fishing interests earlier this year.
Perot also made an obvious effort to reach out to women and blacks, who polls indicate remain decidedly cool to his candidacy. Asked if he’d consider former Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan as his running mate, Perot praised the eloquent black academic as “a real pioneer, a great woman, just a role model for all of us.”
Another caller asked his views on affirmative action. Perot said he hoped to create a society and an economy in which everyone is equally qualified because “it produces tremendous stress . . . if a less-qualified person is promoted over a more-qualified person.”
A South Carolina woman inquired whether women would play a significant role in his campaign. There currently are no women in Perot’s inner circle.
The Texan replied, in essence, that some of his best friends are women. “I have a wife and four daughters, so I’m thoroughly in the control of five great women. . . . In grade school, the girls were smarter than the boys; in high school and so forth. The brain power and the talent’s there, and you will see women in major roles.”
On a question certain to generate continuing controversy--Perot’s suggestion that the wealthy voluntarily forgo Social Security benefits--one Florida retiree said she and her husband were “absolutely shocked” at the idea and engaged in a mini-debate with the prospective candidate.
Perot denied that he had suggested that retirees with more than $60,000 in annual income give up their Social Security benefits and said that he had only stated that people like him could and should voluntarily forfeit their checks to help balance the federal budget.
“That’s what voluntarily means: I will give it up. I think there are many, many people who will say, ‘If that will help, I’ll give it up,’ ” Perot said.
On the environment, Perot said that although stewardship of the planet is important, rebuilding the nation’s industrial base would be a higher priority if he were elected. “We cannot honestly solve these environmental problems unless we put our financial house in order,” he said.
After his “Today” appearance, Perot visited former President Richard M. Nixon and got a foreign policy briefing that lasted nearly two hours, the Associated Press reported, quoting an anonymous Republican source.
Nixon, who recently returned from a visit to the Soviet Union, had made it clear that he stands ready to talk about foreign policy with any candidate.