Monday, July 18, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Today's Plame post

In one of the footnotes to Running the World, David Rothkopf has a great quote from former NSC director Anthony Lake:

If something that the government does can either be the product of a conspiracy or an accident, bet on the accident. It's just far too hard to get elements of the government working together well enough to conduct and execute--and keep secret--a conspiracy.

The flip-side of this argument is that, when an administration does something wrong, and the explanations are either malevolence or incompetence, bet on the latter.

The revelations of the last week regarding Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and the whole Plame Game business makes me wonder if this was a similar story -- that it turns out Rove/Libby were clearly involved in the Plame leak, but they didn't know they were the source, since they claim to have gotten the information from journalists. Indeed, Matt Cooper's story doesn't necessarily square with the original version of events, which had the White House aggressively calling reporters left and right to impugn Joseph Wilson and his wife.

In my own blogging on the topic, I have wavered between thinking the White House acted maliciously on a grand scale or acted incompetently... and maliciously on a petty scale.

All the stuff from last week suggested incompetence -- until I came across this Los Angeles Times story by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten:

Top aides to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were intensely focused on discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV in the days after he wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times suggesting the administration manipulated intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq, federal investigators have been told.

Prosecutors investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, a CIA officer who had worked undercover, have been told that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were especially intent on undercutting Wilson's credibility, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Although lower-level White House staffers typically handle most contacts with the media, Rove and Libby began personally communicating with reporters about Wilson, prosecutors were told.

A source directly familiar with information provided to prosecutors said Rove's interest was so strong that it prompted questions in the White House. When asked at one point why he was pursuing the diplomat so aggressively, Rove reportedly responded: "He's a Democrat." Rove then cited Wilson's campaign donations, which leaned toward Democrats, the person familiar with the case said.

This story does jibe with the malevolent interpretation of events.

In commenting on this story, Kevin Drum points out something that's been bugging me about the Plame Game for the past week:

there's a part of the meta-story here that I can't quite figure out. This anecdote hasn't been previously reported, which means this is yet another leak from someone close to the case. But it's a tiny, inconsequential leak. Sure, it makes Rove look petty, but that's hardly very noteworthy since a quick Google search would turn up a dozen anecdotes about Rove that expose him as far worse than merely petty.

This is what's been happening for several days now. We've been treated to a succession of teensy little leaks, which means that multiple people close to this case apparently want to keep the story alive in the press. At the same time, despite the fact that the leakers are presumably privy to some or all of the grand jury testimony so far, they're either unable or unwilling to provide any genuinely juicy leaks.

But which is it? Unable or unwilling? Or is there a third possibility? The answer says a lot about how strong a case Patrick Fitzgerald is putting together and what kind of media game the principals in the case are playing.

I don't know what's going on here.... but I'm sure my commenters will.

posted by Dan on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM


One interesting effect of this drip drip of trivia is how it has dominated the news cycle for the non-Aruba inclined during a period that otherwise would have been dominated by SCOTUS speculation and posturing. Who benefits from that? It's almost as though Rove, knowing he had enough to keep the press' attention sat on it until he needed the distraction.

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

How about a fourth possibility. This is a scandel involving the media and the media is therefore far more willing to publish the dribs and drabs than it would be if the scandel involved military procurement or somesuch.

posted by: PD Shaw on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

I think your initial instincts are pretty sound, Dan, and incidentally thank you for getting right off the news from the nanny world. Nothing about Plame Gate is remotely as creepy as that.

Incompetence can assume many forms besides the obvious one of beng unequal to the execution of one's assignments. Another is deficient vision with respect to one's goals. I've mentioned here before that the surge in Rove's interest in Wilson two years ago was probably not something he came by on his own. There have got to be about 10,000 people working for the federal government who gave more money to Democrats than Wilson did, and the attention he's gotten from this affair recently has predictably made him a minor celebrity. Besides, the administration had already taken the line that the line in the State of the Union (about uranium from Africa) that started this controversy in the first place didn't belong there. So why have Libby and Rove go nuts trying to tear down Wilson?

Because Wilson suggested the call for him to go to Niger flowed from a request for information from Vice President Cheney, is my guess. Rove (and Libby, which goes without saying) started trying to cut down Wilson because Cheney felt he had been fingered and, zealous to protect his own position, felt it necessary to discredit this critic.

The right thing -- in terms of PR and message management -- would have been for Cheney to let the matter drop. He has to read a couple of hurtful stories on the theme that he was tangentially responsible for one line in a speech that the administration had already disavowed, and that is it. Instead he reacted furiously, urged Rove and Libby to make Wilson pay for implicating him, and set in motion the chain of events that has brought us to this point.

This explanation, which reflects discreditably on everyone but especially Cheney, strikes me as most likely because Cheney was the only person in the White House even plausibly at risk for damage arising from Wilson's NYT Op-Ed. Alternative theories centering on Rove's personal malevolence or some more involved conspiracy I find less convincing for the reasons Dan lays out in his post. Finally, AWOL (to coin a phrase) from this theory is President Bush himself, which in a narrow sense is exculpatory but raises the question of whether a truly strong President would let his Vice President use White House staff to run amuck in this way.

posted by: Zathras on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

Nevermind all this! Did you hear that Eminem may have broken up Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey!
This administration is so good at scoping the frame of these "newsworthy" events and people are still dumb enough to sit here and debate them. I mean is it such a stretch to believe that one of our politicians may have used the media as a tool for political payback (I mean, it's not like they used the media to take us to war or anything). NO! OF COURSE NOT!! NOT IN AMERICA!!! My favorite line is "compromising the identity of one of our intelligence agents amounts to treason!" Karl Rove basically handed bush the presidency doing this crap and here we are like morons falling in line, again. Learn a word people D-I-V-E-R-S-I-O-N! That's the TRUE reason there are no conspiracies (well...that and apathy). Karl Rove and bush have been destroying political opponents through crafty use of the media and managed to make it all the way to the top. Now we're supposed to believe someone is beating them at their own game? If so, this breakup has been long overdue.
Look, they had a long run together and so what they had to reveal some unfortunate things to the public! I still think they did some good!
(I'm talking about Nick & Jessica because like Eminem said "F*&k Bush")

posted by: tj on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

You can call a guy who got the idiot son of a one-term preseident elected to the white house twice on a lot of things. 'Incompetent' doesn't come to mind.

posted by: Michael Carroll on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

I am being very entertained at the spectacle of the MSM howling about a story with all the interest of a dead badger found on an interstate and the lynch mob antics of the dhimmiecrats. I mean this is so much funnier than ole Michael Jackson's excuses.

posted by: Thomas Jackson on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

How about the truth, that when you leave a glass on the edge of the table, its probably going to get knocked over. Plame was a high profile socialite that work overtly at Langley, a well known fact in Washington who pulled strings to get her unqualified husband a mission. Her husband was a lying blowhard politico who twisted the mission for political assault. For a woman who may want to go back undercover, those are not wise decisions. Plame worked openly for the CIA just as George Tenet did. Noting that to the media after another reporter tells you is not much of a scandal, its more of an eventuality.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]


Now, if Iraq were attempting to break into the mines in the dark of night, then maybe you'd need an undercover operative, but I wouldn't call Wilson "unqualified":

Ambassador Wilson was a member of the U.S. Diplomatic Service from 1976 until 1998. His early assignments included Niamey, Niger, 1976-1978; Lome, Togo, 1978-79; the State Department Brueau of African Affairs, 1979-1981; and Pretoria, South Africa, 1981-1982.

In 1982, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Mission in Bujumbura, Burundi. He was Deputy Chief of Mission in Brazzaville, Congo, 1986-88, prior to his assignment to Baghdad.

From 1988 to 1991, Ambassador Wilson served in Baghdad, Iraq as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy. During ''Desert Shield'' he was the acting Ambassador and was responsible for the negotiations that resulted in the release of several hundred American hostages. He was the last official American to meet with Saddam Hussein before the launching of ''Desert Storm.''

Let's see . . . He was hailed as "truly inspiring" and "courageous" by George H. W. Bush after sheltering more than one hundred Americans at the US embassy in Baghdad, and mocking Saddam Hussein's threats to execute anyone who refused to hand over foreigners.

Ambassador Wilson served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Gabonese Republic and to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe from 1992 to 1995.

Ambassador Wilson served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council from June 1997 until July 1998. In that capacity he was responsible for the coordination of U.S. policy to the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

posted by: jpsagen on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

I would think that Wilson would be suited for the job because he had the experience, the high level contacts, and business interests in the region that would provid cover for the purpose of his trip. I do not think that it would be unusual for the CIA to peg someone with Wilson's level of access for a fact finding mission.

posted by: jpsagen on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]


As far a Valerie "pulling strings" to get her husband sent to Niger, that seems like a strong statement. I recall that Valerie told her superiors in the CIA that her husband had good relations with the Niger prime minister and the former Minister of Mines, (not to mention lots of French contacts) both of whom could possibly shed light on any yellowcake activity. Valerie did not suggest or recommend that Joseph Wilson be sent to Niger.

This doesn't seem nefarious to me. Wilson's bona fides justified his invitation by the CIA to visit Niger.

From a LA Times Article (July 21, 2004):

"A senior intelligence officer," the reporters wrote, "confirmed that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked 'alongside' the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger.
"But he said she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment. 'They [the officers who did ask Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she was married to, which is not surprising,' he said.

posted by: jpsagen on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

Um, for clarification . . . the French contacts were important since the Frenchies owned/ran the mines.

posted by: jpsagen on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

There is no need to pay any attention to the murky details, mixed motives and mounting meta-analysis of the Plame case. It's just this year's version of a classic Washington tradition: the summertime political scandal.

The usual ingredients of a summer scandal are:

-- Daytime highs of 90+ in Washington.
-- A grumpy press corps with too much time and not enough news on its hands.
-- An alleged technical violation of an obscure law by a presidential aide.
-- Endless partisan jockeying over matters of perception rather than substance.

Yup, this one qualifies on on all counts. Look for it to starting running out of steam around Labor Day.

posted by: Mikhail on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

Wilson is certainly an incompetent lying blowhard. But that is being too kind. Suffice it to say that Wilson is laughing all the way to the bank, all this tempest in a teapot serving as excellent publicity for his book. This is an example of the media inflating itself in its own mind and serving as a hack public relations service for a hack writer.

posted by: Henry Felsworth on 07.18.05 at 12:11 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?