When someone is accused of a crime, a key component of determining their innocence or guilt is assigning a motive and this remains the biggest mystery of the Scooter Libby affair. Why did the vice president’s then-chief of staff embark on a campaign to expose a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, and put her and her colleagues in danger?
The explanation we’ve been given, so far, has been that it was revenge for having put the administration’s Saddam-has-nukes meme in doubt. By writing that July 6, 2003, op-ed for the New York Times, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, attracted the ire of Libby and other neocons in the office of the vice president, who had been instrumental in formulating and defending that administration talking point.
However, this rationale for Libby’s behavior was never all that convincing. Why, after all, would the Cheneyites go to such extremes, particularly since the horse was already out of the barn? The “intelligence” used to rationalize the contention that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear program by procuring uranium “yellowcake” from the African nation of Niger had already been debunked by the International Atomic Energy Agency and exposed as a forgery. It didn’t serve any useful purpose to go after Wilson, and his wife, in this manner. As detailed in the indictment, Libby fully understood the risks he was taking: when asked by his then-principal deputy, Eric Edelman, whether administration officials could make the claim to reporters that Wilson was sent to Niger solely because of his wife’s efforts, Libby replied that “there would be complications at the CIA in disclosing the information publicly, and that he could not discuss the matter on a non-secure telephone line.”
There had to have been more to it than anger at an administration critic. There was something about this particular critic, and his critique, that grated on Libby’s nerves and made him want to recklessly lash out what was it?
Slate’s Mickey Kaus has a theory and a bit of new information to back it up, both of which have received very little attention to date. I must admit that I saw Kaus’ item on this matter when it first came out, and planned to write about it, but never did partly because, as Kaus says, it is potentially “so radioactive that nobody wants to talk about it.”
Here is what Kaus wrote a couple of weeks ago:
“Mystery Solved? kf thinks it has resolved the mystery of what NBC is hiding about the crucial Russert/Libby telephone conversation of July 10, 2003. It’s known that Libby called Russert to, in Russert’s words, ‘complain about something that he had been watching on MSNBC, and he was rather agitated about it.’ NBC has been strangely non-communicative about which MSNBC program Libby was complaining about, though Michael Crowley, TalkLeft, JustOne Minute, and the New York Times have all suggested that it was Chris Matthews’ Hardball, which had been discussing the Iraq War, the faulty WMD intelligence and Joseph Wilson’s now-famous trip to Niger. But if that’s the case, why couldn’t NBC just say it?
“Here’s one answer: kf hears, through trustworthy and knowledgeable sources, that in his conversation with Russert Libby gave vent to the archetypal (and wrongheaded) charge that Matthews was animated by anti-Semitism presumably because Matthews talked a lot about ‘neoconservative’ Bush aides and war supporters and interviewed guests (such as Pat Caddell) who did too.”
NBC, says Kaus, didn’t want to get involved in a messy dispute over such a sensitive subject, and, he opines, perhaps prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has specifically asked Russert to keep mum. Such a conversation would have been memorable, at the very least, and Russert’s testimony at the trial to that effect would be damaging to Libby.
Another reason I hesitated to write about this was I didn’t know quite what to make of it. Okay, I could have had yet another “I-told-you-so” moment, in which I pointed to this column and crowed that my prediction that Libby’s defenders would soon be denouncing his prosecution as an “anti-Semitic” pogrom was on the mark, albeit not a bull’s-eye. However, that is hardly enough to build an entire column around.
What I didn’t understand at the time was how this crystallized and helped explain not only Libby’s motive but also the larger context of l’affaire Plame. Kaus, however, in returning to the subject, cites this piece by blogger Tom Maguire that puts it all in perspective. Maguire analyzes a series of statements made by Wilson that clearly put the former ambassador in the camp of those who believe this war was ginned up to benefit Israel, and goes on to assert:
“If we accept that Libby viewed some people as anti-Semitic for the nature of their attacks on the neocons, it is possible, based on these excerpts or others, that Joe Wilson was placed by Libby in that category. And what does that suggest? Well, was anyone convinced by Libby’s ‘I heard about Plame in June from Cheney, but forgot it completely until I heard it again from Russert in July’ defense? I didn’t think so. But that already weak-defense becomes absurd if the prosecution can argue that Libby was motivated to ‘Get Joe’ because he believed Wilson to be anti-Semitic.”
Maguire goes on to theorize that this may point to a “lone gunman” theory, in which Libby motivated by anger at what he viewed as Wilson’s anti-Semitism went on a “get Joe” jihad for intensely personal reasons not shared by anyone else in the administration. “Or,” he writes:
“I scarcely dare suggest it, but if this was a conspiracy led by a fellow out to quash the anti-Semites, is there any particular ethnic characteristic we might look for in Libby’s co-conspirators? Maybe David Wurmser is a more likely suspect than Karl Rove.
“I doubt the prosecution would ever let it get that far the last example particularly illustrates that Fitzgerald would be treading on very thin ice if he started suggesting that a Jewish cabal was out to get Wilson. Frankly, I think the whole topic is sufficiently radioactive that neither side will tackle it. However, I am not prosecuting this; I am just trying to figure out what happened, and why.”
The problem with Maguire’s analysis, at this point, is that he segues too easily into the “Jewish cabal” theme. Kaus rightly disdains this as a canard. As we have seen in the Larry Franklin spy case, you don’t have to be Jewish to put Israel first. Franklin, a devout Catholic, and also a devout neocon, didn’t need much prompting to hand over [.pdf] vitally important intelligence to AIPAC operatives Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who then passed it on to their Israeli controllers. Aside from that, you have only to listen to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, or one of their brain-dead followers, to see the extent to which the contemporary conservative movement is imbued with the same loyalty to Israel as the Communists used to feel toward the Soviet Union. Neoconservatism, like Christian dispensationalism, is as much a theology as it is an ideology, in style if not in substance. Such a strongly held belief could easily lead anyone, no matter their particular ethno-religious identity, to break the law, betray their country and worse.
Cheney’s office, it is quite true, is permeated through and through with officials formerly associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank set up by AIPAC. As Middle East scholar Juan Cole points out: “WINEP wields enormous influence, to the point where it almost functions as a governmental entity.” Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher once remarked, according to Cole, that “the State Department owes WINEP a finder’s fee for providing it with key personnel,” and this is doubly true these days when it comes to the Office of the Vice President. John Hannah, former WINEP director, is Cheney’s chief Middle East expert (although he doesn’t speak Arabic, and, like so many neocons, his area of expertise is really Sovietology).
David Wurmser, another WINEP alumni, also figures prominently in Cheney’s national security team. Wurmser has the added distinction of being a co-author, along with Douglas Feith (former deputy secretary of defense for policy), and Richard Perle, and others, of a now-famous policy paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm,” written in 1996 for Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The theme of the paper was that Israel had been backed into a corner and needed to break out of its isolation by going on the offensive and changing the strategic balance of the region. With the ultimate goal of destroying Syria and moving back into Lebanon, the authors of “A Clean Break” averred that the road to Damascus had to go through Baghdad. This paper, as Joe Wilson pointed out in a talk (transcript here) given before the publication of his Times op-ed piece, underscored the real source of the administration’s war fever:
“The real agenda in all of this of course, was to redraw the political map of the Middle East. Now that is code, whether you like it or not, but it is code for putting into place the strategy memorandum that was done by Richard Perle and his study group in the mid-90’s which was called, ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm.’ And what it is cut to the quick is if you take out some of these countries, some of these governments that are antagonistic to Israel then you provide the Israeli government with greater wherewithal to impose its terms and conditions upon the Palestinian people whatever those terms and conditions might be. In other words, the road to peace in the Middle East goes through Baghdad and Damascus. Maybe Tehran. And maybe Cairo and maybe Tripoli if these guys actually have their way. Rather than going through Jerusalem.”
In the question period, Wilson opined that if Americans wake up some day and realize that their soldiers are “dying for Israel,” the backlash would undermine our long-standing strategic relationship with Tel Aviv.
The prescience of Wilson’s talk is absolutely eerie. When I hear administration officials and their amen corner declare that no one knew there were no WMD, no one knew the Iraq war would strengthen terrorism rather than weaken it, no one could have predicted the insurgency and the mounting antiwar sentiment, my answer is: Wilson did. Like the prophet Cassandra, Wilson channeled the dark future just beginning to stain the edges of the War Party’s rosy scenario all except the instrumental role he and his wife would play in the reaction against the war. He could not have known that, even as he was speaking to a crowd of anti-interventionist activists that day, the War Party was angling to target not only him but his wife for reasons, if Mickey Kaus’ sources are correct, that are becoming clearer by the day.
The country is now going through a process similar to that which occurred after World War I. That war, you’ll remember, was to be “the war to end all wars,” and U.S. intervention was the result, not of some right-wing Republican militarist’s fancy, but of the dedicated belief by a “progessive” internationalist Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, that we had to “make the world safe for democracy.” In the aftermath, as liberals surveyed the ruins of Europe, counted up the millions of losses, and weighed it all in the balance, they decided they’d been bamboozled, misled, used, and abused by the War Party in a fatal misapplication of “progressive” ideals. Congress was aroused. Investigations were held. The people were appalled by the influence exerted by the munitions-makers and the war industry, as well as the big financiers, in bringing us into the European war, and an entire generation of American liberals turned against interventionism and militarism. We are going through a similar reevaluation today, only the process is occurring much faster, and the question is now arising until it is heard virtually everywhere: Who lied us into war?
There is much we don’t know, as yet, and if our secretive government officials have their way, we’ll never know how and why the intelligence was “cooked” and who were the chefs. The by-now-apocryphal “phase two” of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report [.pdf] on how we gathered prewar intelligence during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq may or may not occur, depending on how Senator Pat Roberts‘ digestion is that day. A Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to take up the matter, but luckily our republic is not yet completely comatose, and we have Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Libby case, looking into the matter of how a prominent administration critic was targeted by Libby and others in this administration. As we learn more about their motives, we begin to understand how and why the War Party pulled off a coup d’etat, as Colin Powell characterized the actions of the neocons in the vice president’s office and the top civilian echelons of the Pentagon. The “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s former top aide, made critical decisions on its own, without consulting or even informing anyone else. Well, then, who were they consulting and informing? Whose orders were they following?
It’s a mystery, but we have one important clue: the role played by Larry Franklin, confessed Israeli spy, who has pled guilty to violating the Espionage Act in handing over classified information to Israel. Working in tandem with Washington’s neocon network, Franklin attended a prewar meeting in Rome with a group of Iranians, led by Manucher Ghorbanifar, and also including the head of Italian military intelligence, and a delegation of American neocons. This conclave, according to Italy’s La Repubblica, was the fulcrum of the Niger uranium forgeries.
Michael Ledeen, founding president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has close ties to Israel ties he used to set up the mechanism that allowed the Iran-Contra scheme to go forward. According to La Repubblica, Ledeen brokered the transmission of the forgeries from Rome to Washington, where the “intelligence” contained therein was injected into Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address in the form of the infamous “16 words.”
Another participant in the Rome powwow, neocon ideologue Harold Rhode, has ties to the Libby network. Along with Judith Miller, Rhode is a principal of the Iraqi Jewish Archive an interest shared by their mutual friend, Ahmed Chalabi. They’re all just one big happy family, and they take a natural interest in each other’s activities. This explains why Miller’s doings during this period were of vital interest to Franklin, as well as to his Israeli handler, as related in Franklin’s indictment [.pdf]:
“On or about June 3, 2003, Franklin met with F[oreign]O[fficial]-3 [Israeli embassy chief political officer Naor Gilon] at the POAC [Pentagon Officers Athletic Club], and the discussion centered on a specific person, not in the United Status government, and her thoughts concerning the nuclear program of the Middle Eastern country and, separately, certain charity, efforts in Foreign Nation A.”
The subject their discussion was undoubtedly Miller and this, mind you, at a time when Valerie Plame’s identity was just beginning to percolate outward from the vice president’s office via Libby’s grapevine. It’s not at all surprising that Franklin and Gilon should be concerned with Miller, a central figure in the Plame affair: they were all part of the same network, bound together by a common ideology as well as a common interest in covering the tracks of the War Party.
By the time of the Franklin-Gilon tête-à-tête, the tom-toms were already beating “Get the anti-Semite!” One wonders what else Franklin and his Israeli contact discussed that day, and if the name of a certain female CIA agent came up.
The Libby case is focusing the spotlight on a vicious internecine struggle that wracked the U.S. government in the prelude to war, and it is no doubt true that one side the neocons considered their adversaries to be “anti-Semitic.” Just as neocon pundits such as Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, Joshua Muravchik, and Jonah Goldberg have long complained that the word “neocon” is in reality a “code word” for “Jew,” so the neocons in the government used the same argument to discredit their internal enemies and energize their campaign to discredit Wilson and “out” his wife in the process. “Anti-Semites,” you see, must be punished and anyone who opposes the neocons’ war plans is an “anti-Semite,” by definition, especially someone like Wilson, who fully understands the key role played by Israel’s partisans in lying us into war.
As in World War I, the pendulum is now swinging away from militarism and interventionism and toward a new understanding of how we get into wars in the first place, and the first question that’s being asked is: Who benefits? This time around, the answer, to many, is disquieting and increasingly undeniable, as we learn more specifics. The outing of Valerie Plame may not have been a covert operation carried out by Israel’s fifth column in Washington, designed to take out alleged “anti-Semites” in the CIA but then we have to assume that someone sure is doing a bang-up job of making it look like that is precisely what happened.
As I have said on many occasions, the process by which we were lied to and lured into the Iraqi quagmire resembles, in all its essentials, a classic disinformation campaign such as would be run by a foreign intelligence operation. The usurpation of authority in the national security bureaucracy, the corruption of the intelligence-gathering process including the introduction of forged documents and the deployment of an extensive network both inside and outside of government, all point to a large-scale covert action designed to drag us into war. It wouldn’t be the first time a foreign intelligence agency played a key role in getting us into a foreign war, and as long as the Empire lasts it won’t be the last.