Joseph C. Wilson IV oversaw the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq in 1991, just before U.S. and allied forces launched Operation Desert Storm. Wilson defied a directive from the State Department’s Operations Center to evacuate the American Embassy under cover of darkness, insisting that the U.S. departure be coordinated with the embassies of our allies. “It was important . . . not to abandon the other diplomats,” he recalled. They and their governments “had been part of this drama” and would participate in the coming war. On January 12, Wilson flew out of Iraq with the American flag and a planeload of U.S. and foreign diplomats, U.S. citizens, and a few members of the press.
Shortly thereafter Wilson was at the White House, briefing President George H.W. Bush and senior cabinet officials — about 36 hours before the start of the Gulf War. It was a heady moment for a self-described “California ex-hippie surfer.” The President then invited Wilson to meet First Lady Barbara Bush. His recollection? “To be hugged by Barbara Bush is really something . . . She’s great at that, and she’s a great lady.”
Wilson had foreign service postings in Niger, Togo, South Africa, Burundi, Congo, Iraq, and finally as the Ambassador to Gabon. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1998. After retirement, he was famously asked by the CIA to travel to Niger to evaluate claims that Saddam Hussein purchased uranium there. Wilson found no credible evidence to support the claim, which nevertheless resurfaced in President George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. The interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on January 8, 2001.