Washington APlame, or The Lady's Not for Burning
by Jim Lobe
October 6, 2003

One has to feel sorry for Republicans. Although they control both houses of the U.S. Congress and the White House, they must think they're living through a bad dream. Consider Republicans on Capitol Hill in particular:

After campaigning for a constitutional amendment that would require the federal government to balance its budget, they're forced to defend the biggest deficits in U.S. history, all requested by their president.

After electing a president who promised never to engage in "nation-building" overseas, he's demanding that they finance the biggest nation-building exercise since Vietnam.

They ran on a platform that promised that U.S. troops would never be used for peacekeeping. Now they're being asked to defend an occupation where 130,000 troops are engaged mainly in directing traffic, giving away soccer balls, and mediating tribal disputes in dusty Iraqi villages, while being shot at by unknown assailants who almost always get away.

They elected a president who promised to pursue a "humble" foreign policy, and now they're expected to pay for a global empire whose manpower requirements are wreaking havoc on their beloved army and the reserves.

If all that makes them feel as if they've passed over into some parallel universe, now, after years of beating up on Democrats for criticising the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), they're being told by their leader to pretend that the public "outing" of a covert officer by two "senior White House officials" is no big deal.

And not just any covert officer at that.

A woman, devoted wife and mother of two small children, whose job, until her cover was blown by those "senior White House officials", was to track down rogues and terrorists bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. A secret heroine in the twilight world of President George W. Bush's "war on terror".

Moreover, Valerie Plame, the spy in question, is by all accounts both blonde and beautiful; precisely the kind of female, in other words, for whose protection real Republican men, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, California gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Top Gun George W. Bush, are supposed to lay down their lives...at least rhetorically.

Clearly the Republican reflex is to pour forth their outrage against the dastardly traitors who exposed her identity and call for their execution, rather than the measly 10 years prescribed for such crimes by a 1982 law enacted to protect covert operatives from exposure.

But they have a serious problem.

Those "most insidious of traitors", as former President George H.W. Bush once called such people, apparently are also tight with the current president, at least if you can believe five yet-to-be-identified Washington reporters who confirmed to The Washington Post this week that they, like Robert Novak, the right-wing columnist who first named Plame in print in July, were told by two senior White House officials about Plame's secret identity. The traitors appear, in other words, to be Republicans, and not just any Republicans.

Most of the speculation is focused on Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's powerful chief of staff and national security adviser.

The stakes are very high, as indicated by the fact that Republicans on Capitol Hill have been told not only to stifle their righteous indignation, but also to enlist in a campaign, as one anonymous Republican Congressional aide told the New York Times this week, to "slime and defend" against Plame and her husband, ret. Amb. Joseph Wilson.

Wilson, a career diplomat who was sent by the CIA to Niger in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq had bought huge quantities of uranium yellowcake, published an article in the New York Times in early July in which he charged that the White House must have known that those reports were unfounded and fraudulent when Bush cited them in his State of the Union Address last January as evidence that Hussein was building a nuclear weapon. It is widely known that Cheney and Libby, both superhawks on Iraq, displayed a special interest in those reports.

Within a week of the publication of that article, the calls to Novak and the other reporters about Plame's identity and relationship with Wilson were made.

Last week, word that the CIA had formally asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation was leaked to the press.

Already on the defensive over the mounting death toll and skyrocketing financial costs in Iraq, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, and plummeting poll ratings, the White House and its allies in the media have spent much of the past few days trying to smear her and her husband.

Thus, according to anonymous sources, Plame is really a mere "analyst", not a covert officer at all.

Plame told lots of people she worked for the CIA, according to another story that is being plied to reporters. Both accounts appear to be untrue.

Louder guns are firing on Wilson who had publicly opposed the war before it was fought and has contributed money to Sen. John Kerry's campaign. He didn't even a file a written report on his findings in Niger, goes one story.. "He's not even a professionally trained intelligence operative, so why take his account seriously?" goes another line of attack.

But even attacking Wilson is a tough target for Republicans whose performance under fire when he was the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Baghdad before and during the first Gulf War is virtually legendary. Known for his irreverence and panache, he became a hero to hundreds of expatriates – many of them oilmen who are Republicans by instinct – whom Hussein had threatened to hold as hostages. The elder Bush praised him at the time a "truly inspiring diplomat" and extolled his "courageous leadership".

Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson are definitely not the best targets for attack, especially for Republicans.

So, while the vast majority of those Republican lawmakers have gone along, however grimly, with all the other demands the Bush administration has made on them – even those that made it appear that they were betraying their own conservative ideals – this one may be too much to swallow. Indeed, one key committee chairman met privately with Wilson Thursday.

Meanwhile, Democrats – whose recent transformation into fiscal conservatives, sceptics of nation-building, and defenders of the armed forces and the CIA has been just as disorienting as the Republican metamorphosis under Bush – are demanding that an independent prosecutor be appointed to get to the bottom of the case and punish those responsible for Plame's betrayal to the maximum extent of the law.

And cheering them on, albeit more discreetly, are thousands of professional U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers, and Army officers – past and present – who see in the White House's treatment of Plame and Wilson metaphors for the ideological zeal and ruthlessness of the Bush administration. Those national-security professionals, who tend to vote Republican, are angry. For them, in Valerie Plame, they have found their Joan of Arc, and she's definitely not for burning.

(Inter Press Service)

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Recent columns by Jim Lobe

Washington APlame, or The Lady's Not for Burning

It's the Policy, Stupid

The Sharks Are Circling in Washington

Column archive

Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since the well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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