You know you’re living in interesting times when news that the United States is seriously considering use of nuclear weapons against another country is not the top story.
In fact, the most linked-to article in the Blogosphere today seems to be this one, by Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post. Highlights:
As he drew back the curtain this week on the evidence against Vice President Cheney’s former top aide, Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time described a “concerted action” by “multiple people in the White House” — using classified information — to “discredit, punish or seek revenge against” a critic of President Bush’s war in Iraq. …
… One striking feature of that decision — unremarked until now, in part because Fitzgerald did not mention it — is that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before.
Regarding the “sixteen words“:
United Nations inspectors had exposed the main evidence for the uranium charge as crude forgeries in March 2003, but the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintained they had additional, secret evidence they could not disclose. In June, a British parliamentary inquiry concluded otherwise, delivering a scathing critique of Blair’s role in promoting the story. With no ally left, the White House debated whether to abandon the uranium claim and became embroiled in bitter finger-pointing about whom to fault for the error. A legal brief filed for Libby last month said that “certain officials at the CIA, the White House, and the State Department each sought to avoid or assign blame for intelligence failures relating to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”
It was at that moment that Libby, allegedly at Cheney’s direction, sought out at least three reporters to bolster the discredited uranium allegation. Libby made careful selections of language from the 2002 estimate, quoting a passage that said Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure uranium” in Africa.
This isn’t news to most of us who hang out in the Left Blogosphere, of course, but it’s nice to see the evil MSM finally catching on after, what, three years?
The Right and its allies are trying to bury the central issue of this case under truckloads of verbiage — e.g., the President didn’t do anything illegal; the President didn’t specifically direct Libby to “out” Valerie Plame; the Sixteen Words were not technically a lie, etc. The Washington Post itself is running an editorial today claiming the NIE leak was “good.” “President Bush was right to approve the declassification of parts of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq three years ago in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons,” it says. [UPDATE: See SusanG]
But that is not why the NIE was declassified. Bush didn’t go to war because the NIE told him Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons, because that same NIE said the “intelligence” in back of that claim was suspect. As Gellman and Linzer write, the “evidence” that was leaked had already been disproved months before.
It is obvious that the leaking was not about making anything clear, but about spreading disinformation for political purposes. It was, in fact, about making things muddy.
But as another indication of how interesting our times have become, the central issue is no longer about Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson. As Ron Chusid writes in the Democratic Daily Blog, the goal of the Bush Administration leakers was to discredit anyone who criticized Bush. It was not about explaining the President’s reasons for invading Iraq; it was not about setting records straight; it was not about preventing Matt Cooper from publishing inaccurate information; it was about shutting down legitimate criticism of Administration policies. Trashing Valerie Plame’s career and exposing ongoing intelligence operations were just collateral damage.
And, ultimately, it was about deceiving the American people.
Joe Wilson was on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos this morning, and Wilson said that if President Bush wants to salvage his reputation there are two things he should do. First, he and Cheney should release the transcripts of their interviews with Patrick Fitzgerald about Plame. Second, since recent court filings have revealed that “multiple people” in the White House took part in the Wilson-Plame smear campaign, Bush should find out who those “multiple people” are and fire them.
It won’t happen, of course, and I’m sure Wilson knows that.
Update: Michael Smith, London Times, “‘Forgers’ of key Iraq war contract named“