The significance of the Plame affair is not about
former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson; or his wife, Valerie Plame; or Vice President
Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby; or even President
George W. Bush's alter ego, Karl Rove. White House v. Wilsons is about Iraq, where
our sons and daughters and many others are daily meeting violent
death. And it's about manipulation.
It's about how our elected representatives were deceived into voting for an
unprovoked war and what happened when one man stood up and called the administration's
bluff. And it's about the perfect storm now gathering, as more lies are exposed
(whether in journalists' e-mails or in the minutes of high-level meetings at
10 Downing Street), as guerrilla war escalates in Iraq, and as more and more
American citizens find themselves agreeing with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that
administration leaders seem to be "making it up as they go along."
It wasn't envisaged this way by the naïve "neoconservative"
ideologues that got us into the quagmire in Iraq. They may still believe that
all will be well if the Iraqi people can only get it into their heads that we
are liberators, not occupiers.
So much smoke is being blown over White House v. Wilsons that it is becoming
almost impossible to see the forest for the trees. Bewildered houseguests from
outside the Beltway throw up their hands: "It's all just politics
and character assassination." And that may well be precisely the impression
the media wish to leave with us. Otherwise, left to our own devices, we might
conclude they served us poorly with the indiscriminate, hyper-patriotic cheerleading
that helped slide us into the worst foreign policy debacle in our nation's history.
Our weekend guests had a hard time trying to understand why the White House
two years ago blew the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of former
ambassador Joseph Wilson. Sure, Wilson had caught and exposed the Bush administration
in a very serious lie. But almost immediately, top officials conceded that Ambassador
Wilson was essentially correct in dismissing the flimsy report that Iraq was
trying to acquire uranium in Africa.
Betrayal of Trust
So why the neuralgic reaction? Why go to such
lengths to impugn Wilson's credibility; and what purpose would be served by
harming his wife as well? At first blush, it does seem awfully petty. But dig
a little deeper and you'll get a glimpse of what lies behind the White House
campaign against the Wilsons.
Revenge? There was certainly a strong desire to retaliate. And Karl Rove did
tell NBC's Chris Matthews at the time that wives were "fair game."
Angry at White House dissembling, Wilson had doffed his ambassadorial hat and
thrown down the gauntlet when he told the press that the Iraq-Niger caper "begs
the question about what else they are lying about." And, indeed, how many
more untruths have been uncovered over the past two years?
Was the relentless White House campaign to vilify the Wilsons aimed primarily
at serving notice that a similar fate awaits any whose conscience might prompt
them to expose still more of the lies used to "justify" the attack
on Iraq? That, too, was surely part of it. And, sad to say, it has worked at
least until now. Yes, we have learned about the "Curveball" deception
on Iraqi biological warfare, the misdiagnosed aluminum tubes, and the "unpiloted
aerial vehicles" that congresspersons were told could threaten our coastal
cities. But it was hard reality and the basic laws of physics that held administration
arguments up to ridicule. None of the exposés came from the mouths of
people like Joe Wilson, who could not abide crass deception in matters of war
The main motivation of the White House character assassins had more to do with
the particular lie that Joseph Wilson exposed and the essential role it played
in the administration's plans. For a nuclear-armed Iraq was the most compelling
threat that could be peddled to our elected representatives and senators to
deceive them into approving a war launched for reasons we now know were unrelated
to any putative Iraqi WMD program.
The Big Lie
The Bush administration needed to assert that
Iraq was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Taking that line posed a
huge challenge. On the one hand, a new threat had to be created/hyped out of
thin air; and, on the other, the pundits had to be too lazy to refresh their
memories on what senior U.S. officials had said about Iraq's military capability
"Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect
to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against
- Colin Powell, Feb. 24, 2001
"We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not
- Condoleezza Rice, July 29, 2001
These statements went quickly down the memory hole. Immediately after 9/11,
administration officials, with Vice President Dick Cheney in the lead, began
to warn that Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" were just over the
horizon. On Aug. 26, 2002, a month after senior U.S. officials had convinced
their British counterparts that intelligence was being "fixed" around
a policy of war, Vice President Dick Cheney was the first to use that fabricated
and twisted intelligence to deceive Americans at large. In a major speech he
claimed: "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear
weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from the firsthand testimony
of defectors including Saddam's own son-in-law."
In fact, Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, had told us just the opposite:
"All weapons biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed,"
he told his debriefers in 1995. Everything else he told them was true. And so
was that. Kamel had been in charge of those programs; the weaponry was destroyed
at his command.
But no matter. Cheney's speech, and the subsequent National Intelligence Estimate
cooked to his recipe, allowed the president to raise the specter of mushroom
clouds over U.S. cities, to force a yes vote in Congress for war, and to win
back the Senate the following month.
The Niger lie was thus both the cornerstone of the Bush agenda and the key
to unraveling how the "fixing" worked. Rove, master of the administration's
strategy yet only two years out of Texas, tried to scare reporters off the scent
and crossed a major legal line, triggering the worst possible result: a special
prosecutor with subpoena power and a grand jury.
So it is Rove himself who has invited the skunk to the neocon picnic: Special
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. He shows no penchant to join in the fun and games,
and still less to speak prematurely. He appears to be a real pro, and as long
has he can avoid being fired, he could potentially take all the fun out of things.
Neocon pundit William Kristol no doubt was reflecting a growing sense of unease
when he commented recently that Fitzpatrick is "the problem for the White
House; we have no idea what he knows."
Reprinted courtesy of TomPaine.com.