Monday, February 05, 2007

Why Scooter Matters

All right, no one will make fun of you if you admit that the Scooter Libby trial in Washington is not on the top of your list of concerns. But a little review can get us up to speed.
It all got started when a former US ambassador, Joseph Wilson, was sent in 2002 to the African country of Niger to check out a rumor that people from Saddam Hussein's Iraq had been seen around looking to purchase enriched uranium, presumably to construct nuclear weapons. It still isn't clear who gave him the order, but his two week trip turned up nothing that the administration could pretend was real evidence to support the rumor. Nevertheless, President Bush cited the rumor anyway, quoting "British intelligence", in his 2003 State of the Union address, which itself was a major event in the runup to the Iraq invasion.
Wilson did not take it well that his findings had been ignored and wrote an article which appeared in the New York Times stating that his trip had turned up nothing and suggesting there had been NO weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Since WMD was the chief justification to the public for war, high level Bush folks felt it was necessary to attack Wilson, and did so to the press, revealing in the process that Wilson's wife Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. Not surprisingly, many of these attacks came from the office of Dick Cheney, whose chief of staff was I. Louis "Scooter" Libby.
There was only one problem with that strategy. It's illegal to reveal the occupation of certain CIA employees. It's a felony. So when that little fact became known, Bush stifled a yawn to say that it was a big administration, and finding a leaker might turn out to be impossible. He would nevertheless do all he could to find the villain, and that anyone who leaked classified stuff would be out of his administration. No, he didn't say that he would start the investigation by asking the Vice President if HE knew anything about it.
Charges never came on the leak itself, but Libby was charged with lying to a grand jury, also a felony. The trial was scheduled conveniently post-election, and is now I think in its third week. The soft-hearted need not worry that a guy named "Scooter" could be in harm's way in a prison because even if Libby is convicted (and thus far several witnesses have backed the prosecution), he surely would be pardoned by Bush. Mr. Libby may depend on the kindness of strangers in the future, but they are liable to be the kind of stranger who could put you in a cushy spot on someone's board of directors.
But here's the purpose of this piece. Scooter Libby matters because the court proceedings reveal the vice president's office as a place where character assassination, lying and fear mongering are just tools of the trade. There are no regrets that Valerie Plame's career is ended, or that other people who served with her in phony CIA front operations are put into danger. No one worries that Plame has been assigned to work on finding out about the Iran nuclear program and that losing her expertise might be problematic. No one protests that men and women who serve as ambassadors are not exactly the stuff of rebellions and that, after all, Wilson was just telling what turned out to be the truth. ALL OF THAT is thought to be secondary to controlling the message and maintaining the myth du jour of Iraqi WMDs even though the CIA had an informer in Saddam's inner circle who was positive no Iraqi nuclear program existed.
So, parents, you have permission to dread the day your high-achieving son or daughter declares an ambition to enter government service as a way to "make a difference." His/her career may be expendable, depending on the whims of "high level officials". You may want to counsel them to consider joining a rock band instead.


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