The meaning of the Plame affair

Posted: Nov 04, 2005 12:05 AM

Democrats were saved from utter devastation last week by the indictment of Lewis Libby. At least they could console themselves that one high-ranking White House official was in danger of being jailed for a very long time (and their glee when contemplating the maximum possible sentence was undisguised).

 Yet the let-down was palpable. One well-known cable host, who had been beating the drums for a Karl Rove indictment for months, anticipated privately that "Friday will be Christmas morning!" It turned out to be considerably less gratifying. Libby is a big fish, but Rove was the real prize. Liberals believe that Rove does the thinking for the president. Rove is the one whose disgrace would cut most deeply into the Bush administration's reputation. And Rove is the one whose removal would, they hope, paralyze the president for the remainder of his term.

 Some Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have demanded Rove's resignation anyway. And most have over-interpreted the story to the point of incoherence. As The Weekly Standard has reported, liberals like Frank Rich in The New York Times have urged that the Plame leak investigation is really about whether the Bush administration lied to take the country into an unnecessary war. "What makes Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy that was not at all petty: the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq." Or, as Al Franken's website would have it: "Bush lied and our soldiers died."

 The most florid version of the Plame story alleges that Rove purposely blew Plame's cover as a covert CIA agent in order to punish her husband, Joseph Wilson, for publishing an op-ed in The New York Times declaring that Iraq had not purchased yellowcake from Niger. But this overlooks one big fact. Wilson himself has been outed as a liar by no less an authority than the Senate Intelligence Committee.

 Wilson had brashly claimed that he warned the government that documents delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Rome purporting to prove the Iraq/Niger connection were forgeries. But Wilson's trip to Niger had taken place in February 2002. The forgeries were not delivered until October 2002. Further, though Wilson's op-ed claimed that he had found no evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger, others at the CIA apparently interpreted his oral report differently, believing that it leant more rather than less credence to the yellowcake story (see "The White House, The CIA, and the Wilsons," by Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard). Wilson reported that Iraq was interested in furthering economic ties to Niger. Considering that Niger's exports amount to uranium and goats ("One of the poorest countries in the world, Niger's economy is based largely on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits"), it's a good guess what Iraq had in mind.

 It may be relevant to notice that Plame and Wilson were donors to Democratic causes, including the Al Gore campaign, the John Kerry campaign, George Soros's America Coming Together, and others. And it's surely worth investigating whether it was Wilson himself who "outed" his wife by writing the original op-ed. But the larger question is this: How can Democrats plausibly claim that they were deceived into supporting the Iraq War when so many of them are on record endorsing the rationale?

 In December 1998, while George Bush was still Texas governor and Dick Cheney was in the private sector, Rep. Nancy Pelosi said, "As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process. . . . I believe in negotiated solutions to international conflict. This is, unfortunately, not going to be the case in this situation . . ." That same year, President Bill Clinton declared, "One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line." In 2002, Sen. Carl Levin said, "We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them." Even Al Gore noted in 2002 that "We know that he [Saddam] has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

 Sen. John Kerry spent most of 2004 attempting to wriggle away from his vote in favor of the Iraq War. Today, the entire Democratic Party seems to be attempting something worse -- to criminalize and demonize the administration for having taken the tough decisions (with decisive numbers of Democratic votes) and now declining, as some Democrats seem to prefer, to declare defeat and flee.