Rove should Resign: President Bush and the Wilson Case
It has for some time struck me that despite all the phony talk about “compassionate conservatism,” the Bush team has just plain mean tendencies. The giddy pleasure Bush took in executions used to disgust even fellow Republicans, and it briefly emerged as an issue in the presidential debates in fall of 2000. Then in response to home made bombs in Iraq making hamburger of our brave men and women under arms, Bush said “Bring it on!” (He wanted more mayhem wreaked on our troops?) This streak of sadism has come into public view with the issue of Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife. Wilson, a former Foreign Service Officer who served his country with distinction in difficult postings, including Iraq, was asked by the CIA to go to Niger in spring of 2002 to check out the plausibility of the allegation that Iraq was buying uranium.
The CIA was asked to check the story by Vice President Dick Cheney. Wilson had deep experience with Iraq and with West Africa, and was able quickly to examine the structure of the uranium production in Niger, which is under Western control. He concluded that the story was false and implausible, and briefed the CIA to that effect. He was, of course, entirely correct. At the time, he did not know that the allegations about Niger uranium were based on forged documents that surfaced with Italian intelligence and got passed on to the British. The fraudulent documents seemed to show Niger acknowledgment of Iraqi orders for yellowcake uranium in 2000. But they were signed by persons who had not been in office since the late 1980s, and the signatures were clumsy forgeries. Who forged the documents is not known. But my own prime suspects are Ahmad Chalabi, who wanted the US to overthrow Saddam and hand him Iraq on a silver platter, and Ariel Sharon’s intelligence officers, who wanted the US to overthrow Saddam and hand them Iraq on a silver platter.
The CIA reported Wilson’s negative findings to the National Security Council and to Dick Cheney. Since Condi Rice and Dick Cheney don’t hear anything they don’t want to hear, they somehow construed the report as the mere opinion of an unnamed retired foreign service officer (Wilson’s name was not passed up to its superiors by the CIA, which is now highly ironic). Cheney and Rice have both denied knowing anything about Wilson’s report, but given USG procedures these denials are simply not credible. Nor was Wilson the only one who was skeptical. Secretary of State Colin Powell was apparently urged to include the Niger story in his presentation to the UN before the war, and angrily refused. If Powell knew it was bullshit, then so did Cheney and Rice.
Some reports indicate that it was Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and the Pentagon Office of Special Plans that kept the Niger uranium story in play, and that Wolfowitz urged Bush to put it into his State of the Union address in January of 2003.
After the Iraq War, at a time when the Bush administration was still alleging that Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction would soon be found, Wilson wrote an op-ed for the New York Times detailing his mission. Since Bush and Cheney had continued to publicize the fraudulent story about Niger uranium and a post-1998 Iraqi nuclear weapons program (which did not exist), Wilson’s account was extremely damaging to them and deprived them of plausible deniability. Without a public account from Wilson of his mission, Bush administration officials could pretend, as Paul Wolfowitz had, that the intelligence was just murky. But if a retired FSO could put the matter to rest with a brief excursion, and if International Atomic Energy Commission official Muhammad el-Baradei could see the forged Niger documents for what they were immediately, then the intelligence was not murky at all. It was crystal clear. There was a fraud going on.
In revenge, two high White House officials started telling journalists in July that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative specializing in tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction. The journalists (six or so according to the WP) declined to run the story because it seemed to them irrelevant to Wilson’s allegations. Of course, it was. Feminists will appreciate a possible subtext here, which is that if Valerie Plame got the CIA to send her husband on the Niger mission, then somehow that downgraded its seriousness–it originated with a woman and could be seen as nepotism. (We won’t bring up Lynn Cheney here).
Only the curmudgeonly and apparently entirely unprincipled columnist Robert Novak ran with the story, outing Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. (“Operative” is what he called her in his column then. Today he said he was told she was just an analyst. This claim cannot be true, because he used “operative” in print, and also in a conversation with Wilson). This was on July 14
The outing of Ms. Plame as a CIA operative was an attempt to punish Joe Wilson and to send a strong signal to other potential whistle blowers. It is unpleasant to be outed as working for the CIA. It ends your career and makes it impossible to go on consulting in that field. It also potentially endangers large numbers of friends and associates, who are outed along with you. The vindictive character of the action is clear. One reporter told Joe Wilson that after the Novak piece appeared, Bush political strategist Karl Rove said, “Joe Wilson’s wife is fair game.” Wilson initially thought that Rove’s remark might suggest that Rove himself authorized the leak. But on reflection he now admits that it is not conclusive, and Rove could simply have approved of the action ex post facto.
Since the Iraq War was a get-up job based entirely on fraudulent or shaky intelligence that was further slanted in their public presentation of it by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Bush, there must be many US government employees who could tell tales on the administration’s dishonesty and incompetence. The White House officials who outed Ms. Plame were telling them that the full weight of the US government would come down on them like a ton of bricks if they dared do any such thing.
Of course, what those two high White House officials did is highly illegal under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Act
Now CIA director George Tenet has formally requested a Justice Department investigation, and the FBI has been assigned to the case. Some Democrats are demanding a special counsel, since John Ashcroft is highly unlikely to ferret out or punish Bush administration White House officials.
What I would say is that Karl Rove should be made to resign if he said the words attributed to him, “Joe Wilson’s wife is fair game.” He was condoning the breaking of US law and the endangering of US intelligence personnel and assets, especially in the field of Ms. Plame’s specialty, the tracking of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
And that is the greatest irony of all. Ms. Plame, who really was working to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, has been ruined by persons who only pretended to do so for political gain, and whose invasion of Iraq did nothing to make the US one whit safer.
Meanwhile, Joe Wilson is a genuine hero, who has spoken truth to power and refused to be intimidated. Anyone in the US government who has any admiration for him and any gumption at all, and who cares about our country, should emulate his example if they have further evidence for deliberate Bush administration discounting of solid intelligence in favor of their stock cover story on Iraq. Make it public. Now.
For those who want to follow this story in detail, see Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo at