In today’s Washington Post, Jim Hoagland asks why the White House didn’t answer Joe Wilson’s 2003 op ed openly instead of resorting to a smear campaign.
Dear Mr. President,
Wouldn’t a letter to the editor have sufficed?
Seriously. Wouldn’t it have been better if you or Karl Rove or Scooter Libby had just written a letter to the newspapers that got so deep under the official skin by publishing the leaks and articles provided by former ambassador Joe Wilson?
“He’s full of it” would have been one time-honored approach, followed by convincing supporting detail, of which you had some. Why not spring for a stamp and argue your case in public, rather than let Official A (aka Rove) and Libby overreact with anonymous counter-leaks about Wilson’s wife, the CIA officer and Vanity Fair babe?
Mr. Hoagland assumes that the Bush administration could answer Wilson’s charges without lying or subterfuge, which I doubt. But it’s still a good question, and it gets to the heart of what’s fundamentally wrong with the Bush Administration: It doesn’t trust anyone outside its small inner circle.
In the past, presidents have responded to their opposition by writing letters to the editor. Even when he was bogged down by the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln would from time to time fire off a letter to a newspaper to answer some of his critics. If Scooter Libby had composed a counter-op ed to answer Joe Wilson instead of embarking on the secret smear campaign, probably both Wilson’s article and Libby’s answer quickly would have dropped into the memory hole.
Hoagland continues, addressing President Bush,
It is not surprising that your White House distrusts and/or despises the media, the CIA, the State Department’s career officers, the United Nations and a host of other institutions that you could not control, but that you could not accept that you could not control. Like most paranoia, yours is not totally unfounded: People in those institutions were out to defy and/or get you.
But you and yours helped them accomplish the mission. One lesson available in this story is that amateurs are no match for the CIA in disinformation campaigns. The spies are far better at operating in the shadows than you politicians will ever be. They have a license to dissemble. …
It’s not clear to me how the CIA has been “dissembling” in the Plame case, but let’s go on
… But you feared something else more. You feared openness. You feared laying out your fallibilities along with your strengths for others to judge. You feared laying out facts — good, bad and indifferent — for others to judge. You were unable even to acknowledge that the fiefdoms within your administration were at war. So all attacks had to be subterranean.
This leads to a devastating but now inescapable conclusion: You distrusted not only the media but the public at large, which, unlike yourself, does rely on publicly available information that is carried in the media. …
…Telling the public that there was an independent stream of intelligence, with all the problems and counterattacks it would have triggered from the opposition leakers, would have been better for you than aides’ taking it on themselves to plant stealthy suggestions of nepotism at the CIA.
This administration has a pathological fear of openness, even in circumstances that shouldn’t require secrets. This has got to be the least transparent administration ever to take up space in the White House.