Fifty-eight percent of the American people believe the U.S. government manipulated intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, i.e., they believe government officials lied in order to drag us into war. In this they have been way ahead of the politicians, the “experts,” and the pundits in short, the Beltway crowd, which cavils at the mere suggestion that our rulers don’t always have our best interests at heart. The trial of Scooter Libby charged with lying to federal prosecutors who were trying to find out who “outed” Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent dealing with nuclear proliferation promises to confirm the public’s suspicions, and in spades.
In tracing the circuitous path of deception that lured us into Iraq, more often than not we wind up in the office of the vice president (OVP): this was, and is, the command center of the War Party, a nest of neocons bound and determined to implement their grand strategy for the Middle East. As Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter was the field marshal of an ongoing campaign to justify the war, no matter what the facts were, mold the “intelligence” to fit a foregone conclusion, and, when necessary, discredit and even destroy anyone who stood in the way.
Libby, together with his co-conspirators in the OVP and the White House, labored long and hard to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had dared to bring up the sensitive Niger uranium question in a New York Times op-ed piece.
I say sensitive, because there is more than a hint of fraud in this particular matter, which, as you’ll remember, culminated in a contention by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Saddam was embarked on an effort to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, with the goal of making a nuclear weapon. The documents supposedly attesting to this turned out to be crude forgeries raising some questions about how and by whom they were vetted.
One of the great mysteries of l’affaire Plame is why the Bushies lashed out so severely at Ambassador Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, by exposing her CIA connection and effectively ending her career. After all, there were plenty of internal government critics who opposed the rush to war, including in the CIA, and they were never “outed” or otherwise rendered professionally disabled. Why pick on Plame?
This extraordinary malevolence was due, I believe, to the extreme danger to the outers represented by the Niger uranium fraud. They couldn’t afford to have anyone going around drawing attention to what was, perhaps, their biggest mistake a harebrained scheme to manufacture “evidence” that the Iraqis were importing fissile materials (“yellowcake“) as part of Saddam’s supposedly ongoing nuclear weapons program. It was a stupid plan because it was based on documents of dubious provenance, which were debunked by IAEA scientists in a few hours using nothing more exotic than Google. No matter how energetically they tried to cover their tracks U.S. decision-makers apparently based their analyses of the Niger documents on summaries, rather than the originals the question of who shepherded these fakes through the vetting process was bound to be raised once the deception was uncovered.
Ambassador Wilson’s interest in this matter was therefore extremely unwelcome and bound to raise the ire of the neocons in the OVP, who had pushed this Niger narrative for all it was worth. Furthermore, the option of knocking out Wilson via his wife had the added attraction of taking out two birds with one stone, as Plame was reportedly in charge of evaluating Iran’s potential for assembling weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. With her and her compadres in the undercover CIA operation she headed out of the way, the U.S. would effectively be running blind when it came to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and would have to rely on sources other than our own intelligence agencies.
The witness list is a veritable who’s who of the OVP, and the Washington press corps, with some CIA to spice up the mix: star witnesses include Cheney, Doug Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and Colin Powell. The prosecution is out to prove that, in an effort to throw sand in the faces of investigators, the defendant deliberately misled them as to his interactions with the media. Libby was intent on spreading far and wide the meme that Wilson was a fraud, a recipient of “nepotism,” and not a credible source when it came to evaluating intelligence. And if they had to “out” a CIA agent, and destroy an important covert operation, well, then, so be it.
According to many news reports, Libby’s will be the archetypal neocon defense: that a vastly superior being such as himself, who was concerned on a daily basis with the most earth-shattering matters a veritable Master of the Universe could hardly be expected to remember all the mundane details of his various machinations and campaigns to “spin” the truth.
The American people are in no mood for this kind of arrogance, and I predict they will not take kindly to its prominent display in U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ‘s courtroom. Regardless of this jury’s verdict, Libby’s “don’t bother me with details” memory-lapse defense is bound to convict him in the eyes of the public. And if the jury is in any way a proximate reflection of the public, their judgment is bound to be a harsh one.
The value of this prosecution is twofold. First, it will expose the netherworld of the neocons who have come to dominate our foreign policy deliberations, where they have operated for years in almost total darkness. With Dick Cheney’s office at the epicenter of their schemes, they went on a rampage, utilizing high-pressure tactics that often strained the bounds of legality in a relentless campaign to con us into war. They thought themselves above the law, because, after all, they were (and are) serving a Higher Purpose.
Yet no one is above the law: not Scooter Libby, not the neocons, and not the vice president of the United States. This is a reality that will be brought home to them, and forcefully, by prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald and they don’t call him “Bulldog” for nothing.
So get out the popcorn and pass the chips and dip: here is an event that has all the earmarks of top-notch entertainment, as well as lots of educational value. It’s going to be a primer on the politics of power and revenge, dramatized by enough interesting characters to people half a dozen novels, with a narrative driven by the built-in suspense of a courtroom drama.
The real value of Fitzgerald’s uncovering of the inner secrets of the War Party, however, is not just that it will be plenty of fun although one can’t help but look forward to this aspect of the case but also that it could well lead to more prosecutions and further probes into the shenanigans indulged in by Scooter and his friends in the run-up to war with Iraq.
The Democrats in Congress have promised us a cornucopia of investigations: let’s see how fast they follow up on the leads provided by Fitz and his crew. The OVP was at the center of this administration’s push for war, and they had a hand in every pie: the Libby trial is bound to provide us with plenty of clues as to the secret ingredients they used to cook the intelligence.
They fed us a feast of fabrications and now that the nation is suffering the equivalent of a massive case of food poisoning, it’s high time we called the chief chef and his assistant cooks on the carpet.