The idea that, because of the Plame Affair, conservative columnist Bob Novak may be called on to reveal his sources perhaps even be subpoenaed leads to an interesting question: Did the leaker (or leakers) hope to ensnare Novak in a legal and ethical web and discredit him as a reporter when they chose him as the conduit of their calumny?
It makes sense because Novak, aside from his partisan leanings, was an acerbic opponent of the Iraq war, and a thorn in the side of the neocons. Neocon David Frum, Bush’s ex-speechwriter and co-author of the infamous “axis of evil” meme, denounced Novak in a long screed excommunicating antiwar conservatives from the Respectable Right: Frum took care to smear Novak as especially guilty of “anti-Semitism” (never mind that Novak is of Jewish heritage: logic never once entered into Commissar Frum‘s feverish invective).
The only problem with this theory is that, in outing a CIA undercover operative, the leakers also drew attention to themselves but that is not necessarily a fatal error. An investigation of some sort into how and why we were lied into war was in the works, anyway. By narrowing the scope of such an inquiry, the leakers were making the best of a bad situation. And they may not have much to worry about anyway .
The President has already ruled out the three top suspects in this case: Karl Rove, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Elliot Abrams. Rove is widely quoted as saying to MSNBC correspondent Chris Matthews that Valerie Plame Wilson was “fair game,” and the other two have a storied history of scandal approached by few other denizens of Washington. Furthermore, amid all the stories detailing yesterday’s “deadline” for government personnel to turn over records pertaining to contacts with Novak and at least half a dozen other reporters in the Washington press corps who had the Plame story peddled to them there is very little mention of a key factor: the documents are being turned over to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, rather than to the Justice Department directly. Is there any doubt that they will be vetted in the name of “national security” and sanitized before being turned over? It should be no problem digging up the pertinent paragraphs in the “Patriot” Act to legalize the cover-up.
As we head into a presidential election year, the Wilson-Plame scandal is inevitably framed in partisan terms, and is thus much easier to dismiss as “gotcha” politics. This tends to narrow the scope of the investigation even further. With White House wagons circling, the first real consequence of this controversy is to make Novak the target of a smear campaign and perhaps even prosecution.
Let’s get one thing clear: Novak committed no crime. He merely reported one. The criminals are the “senior administration officials” who whispered secrets in his ear with the knowledge that they would almost certainly see print. To all those supposedly “antiwar” Republican-haters, who write Novak off as a shill for the Bush administration: without Novak’s reporting, the machinations of the neocons would still be taking place in the dark. His column shone the spotlight on their intrigues, and in no way did he denigrate or dismiss Joe Wilson. As Jack Shafer put it in Slate:
“Whatever the leakers’ objective, Novak did not serve them very well. I defy anyone to read Novak’s now-famous column and summarize it coherently. The brief discussion of Plame and her shadowy occupation seems gratuitous in the larger frame of the article, which, if anything, sympathizes with Wilson’s view that the case for war wasn’t properly made.”
The neocons hate Bob Novak. It’s true he has been the recipient of a lot of neocon-inspired leaks over the years, as Dana Milbank pointed out recently in the Washington Post, but that was back in the cold war era, when the distinctions between neos and traditional conservatives mattered much less. Novak was content to play ball with them on the question of perceived weakness in the face of the Soviet threat. Once that threat ended, however, the alliance was sundered. Novak opposed Gulf War I, as well as the conquest of Iraq, and gives important visibility to the conservative anti-interventionist position. The neocons will never forgive him for writing that the Iraq war was “Sharon’s war.”
Just as the neoconservative network inside this administration handed the President a booby-trapped bit of “intelligence” that wound up being based on a forgery, so they handed Novak a ticking time-bomb of a story, one set to go off with the starting gun of the race for the White House.
If their minions in the administration are facing an investigation that could discredit them, then the neocons might as well take one of their enemies down with them. If the President and even Donald Rumsfeld are having second thoughts about the grandiose plans of the neocons, who want to “transform” the entire Middle East through war, of course then why not take down the Bushies, too? It’s like that scene in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf is facing off the Balrog. The monstrous creature is shoved into a bottomless pit but a tentacle of the vanquished monster grips the wizard’s ankle in a final burst of malevolent energy, dragging Gandalf down into the abyss.
Various legal analyses of the circumstances of this case tend to downplay the possibility of Novak being in legal trouble, but I wouldn’t rule it out just yet. Law professor and blogger extraordinaire Glenn Reynolds would drag Novak into court, and presumably jail him for refusing to divulge his sources. Witless lefties of Pavlovian tendencies are also calling for Novak’s scalp, ignorantly reacting in typically knee-jerk fashion, because they are just too stupid to see what the neocons are up to.
Former CIA agent Larry Johnson tore into Novak on MSNBC the other day: Johnson holds him responsible for whatever collateral damage Plame’s unmasking entails. Everyone she ever dealt with, was seen talking with, etc., is now, Johnson explained, “outed” along with Mrs. Wilson. But it is absurd to hold Novak responsible for that, since a) he was told that she worked as an analyst, not an undercover agent, and 2) when he told them he was going to print her name, none of his CIA sources raised much of a ruckus.
The neoconservative network that fed a President hungry for misinformation, and lied the nation into war, is under attack from all sides. Even some Republicans in Congress are up in arms about the costs, and projected length of our stay in Iraq. The neocons may be cornered, but they are fighting back all the more viciously because of it. That is why they outed an undercover CIA officer: on the theory that the best defense is a good offense, they are taking out their enemies the antiwar conservatives, Joe Wilson, Novak, and whoever’s next picking them off one by one. As Stuart Taylor, Jr., legal affairs writer for The Atlantic, points out:
“The most relevant Supreme Court precedents suggest that the courts would probably reject claims that reporters have an absolute First Amendment right to protect their sources. The most obvious target for a subpoena would be conservative columnist Robert D. Novak, who in July identified Valerie Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, as a CIA “operative on weapons of mass destruction,” citing “two senior administration officials” as his sources.”
By dragging the media into court, and putting them on trial, in effect, the cornered rats in this administration may yet be able to turn the tables. The spectacle of Novak or any of the other six or so Washington reporters being threatened with prosecution, while the White House exonerates the prime suspects in advance, will signal that the rats have triumphed, again.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I forgot to say “Happy Anniversary” to The American Conservative on October 1, the staff and friends marked the passing of TAC‘s first year with a party in the Washington, D.C. area. I was invited, but too damn broke to go, darnit. I was there in spirit, at any rate, and I have no doubt that a good time was had by all. This has been a great year for the rebirth of the Old Right. Those antiwar warriors of the 1930s and 1940s who warned that we would gain the world while losing our old Republic (and our own souls) in the bargain have much to say to us today. That a contemporary magazine of political opinion is saying it, without compromise and in colorful fashion, affords me about as much political gratification as seems possible in these dark days.
Speaking of the Old Right, a new edition of my history of that movement is in the works, re-titled, with a lengthy Afterword and other new material. The earlier edition of my book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, took the story of the neocon-paleocon divergence up until 1993. The War Party: How the Neocons Infiltrated the American Right and Hijacked U.S. Foreign Policy, will take us up to date.
I was pleasantly surprised, during an interview with Kyodo News Services Hiro-Tsugu Aida, that he asked me about the John Randolph Club (JRC). They say prophets are never honored in their own time, and in their own country, but at least were famous in Japan!
Whats the JRC, you say? Its a not-so-secret cabal of paleoconservatives, founded in 1991 or thereabouts: check out the late Murray N. Rothbards first presidential address to the second annual meeting of the JRC. Rothbard was exactly right: now that the Bolsheviks are extinct, or nearly so, it is time to turn to the problem of eliminating the influence of their Menshevik first cousins. As Rothbard put it in his speech:
“Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology and feminism on the left over to neoconservatism on the right. We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands of Marxists.”
Murray sure had that right!
The JRC is an informal group of paleocon and libertarian writers and publicists who take ideas seriously and yet arent dour ideologues who have no idea how to have a good time. And New Orleans, the site of their 14th annual meeting, is certainly the place to have a good time. Im speaking on the revival of the Old Rights theory of American exceptionalism and its application to U.S. foreign policy. If you hurry, theres still time to reserve a spot: come hear and hobnob with Peter Brimelow, Taki, Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming, and a host of others. Its at the elegant Saint Louis Hotel, in the French Quarter, November 14-15. Call Chris Check, at (815) 964-5811 for more details.