Bobby Ray Inman’s views about Israel have come under sharp scrutiny here following his surprise withdrawal this week as President Clinton’s nominee for defense secretary.
At an extraordinary news conference Tuesday, Inman, a retired admiral, withdrew his name from consideration even before any Senate confirmation hearings were held.
Among the reasons Inman gave for pulling out was what he called a “new McCarthyism” in the news media, including columns by New York Times columnist William Safire.
“In ultimately reaching my decision that I’m simply not prepared to pay the current cost of public service in distortion of my record, I want to dwell briefly on my past experience and history with Mr. Safire,” Inman told the reporters gathered in Austin, Texas.
Inman specifically referred to one column Safire wrote that appeared in the Times on Dec. 23, a week after his nomination.
In the column, Safire charged Inman with having an “anti-Israel bias,” and attacked Inman for various actions relating to Israel during the early 1980s, when Inman served as a top CIA official in the Reagan administration.
Overall, Safire concluded in the column that Inman was a failure as an executive and as a judge of character. He also called him a “cheat” when it came to paying taxes – a reference to Inman’s failure to pay Social Security taxes for household help.
AT his news conference, Inman said that he and Safire had clashed over a 1981 Inman decision to limit U.S. sharing of satellite technology with Israel, following Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.
“I made the decision,” Inman said, “to limit the process, to say that in the future they (Israel) could draw material within 250 miles of the border, but beyond that, they would have to ask.”
Safire, for his part, charged in his Dec. 23 column that during his CIA days, Inman had planted a false story with reporters that Israel was trying to provoke an American attack on Libya, and that Inman was angry when Safire reported on the alleged deception.
“He was displeased at having his cover blown and anti-Israel bias shown,” Safire wrote.
“Inman’s animus also later contributed to the excessive sentencing of Jonathan Pollard,” the columnist charged.
Inman said Tuesday that the Dec. 23 column “agitated” him because of “its unfairness.”
He also cited “reports” that Safire was working in collusion with Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) to bring Inman down.
“There were reports, which both will probably deny, that there was a trade between Mr. Safire and Senator Dole, that if Senator Dole would turn up the heat on my nomination that Safire would turn up the heat on Whitewater Development,” Inman said.
President Clinton’s connections to the controversial Whitewater Development Co. are about to be investigated by a special counsel.
Later Tuesday, Dole denied those charges, and a New York Times piece Wednesday said that Safire also denied the charges.
Another New York Times columnist, A.M. Rosenthal, who formerly served as the paper’s executive editor, said Wednesday in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the charges of collusion were “the height of ridiculousness.”
“The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous,” Rosenthal said of the Inman episode, “that a man who wanted to be secretary of defense would leave because of a column or two.
“It seems to me he was never psychologically fit for the job,” Rosenthal said. “It was a tough piece, but if he can’t handle that, he can’t handle tougher problems.”