Sunday, July 31, 2005

Liberal Bloggers Getting Distracted by Details: The Rove Affair

In the squabbling over minutiae that's been going on over the Rove/Plame thing, I think the overall truth of the matter, and the overall narrative that should be advanced, is getting lost.

I agree more with Somerby's take on things, though he shouldn't use his "tangy tone" against liberals. It's alright to be partisan, as long as you're as honest as you can be. From what I've seen of the bloggers he's chastising, they try to be as honest as they can, unlike those he usually goes after, who are not trying very hard. He's right, though, in that it matters if we damage our own credibility and make issues murkier by getting bogged down in minutiae that is murky to begin with. But Somerby has recently been missing the bigger picture in his effort to keep liberals perfectly accurate.
  1. The Administration chose to use weak evidence as a reason for war.
  2. The Administration tried to shift blame for using weak evidence as a reason for war.
  3. The Administration considers its own interests above the interests of the country.

Here's the storyline, which is more important than Wilson, Novak, or Rove.

The Bush Administration wanted to go to war with Iraq. Their stated reason at the time was that Saddam Hussein had or was developing (or was working on developing, or was thinking about working on developing, or was planning to start thinking about working on developing) WMDs which he would use himself or give to terrorists to use on the United States. That was the thrust of the 2003 SOTU, and that's why Congress needed to declare war.

The Administration had been working for many months to collect the evidence of the truth of their position. They had evidence which supported their contention and evidence which contradicted their contention. But it was all murky, and people didn't really understand the evidence, and had different sources to choose to believe, depending on their biases (I had lots of arguments with my mom in the run up in which I quoted the other sources who contradicted the Administration line, which she rejected).

Then Wilson, in a self-important article, writes blatantly that those 16 words were not true, that he had told the Administration that information was not true, and that they must have ignored it. Really, he said Iraq hadn't bought uranium, but even so, the evidence was not good enough either to say that Iraq had sought uranium, or to say they hadn't. And the Administration didn't specifically and purposely ignore Wilson's report, it was just information they would ignore, anyway. The CIA had told them more than once not to use the information, but they kept trying, and finally succeeded in the 2003 SOTU.

So the Administration attempted to distance themselves from blame for using that information. They forgot that they shouldn't use it; it was Tenet's fault for not properly vetting the speech; they never knew about Wilson's trip, 'cause they never sent him or got his report.

If the Administration doesn't even know who Wilson is, they can't have deliberately ignored Joe Wilson's advice. That's the story that was being pushed by sources. Stay away from the Wilson's story, we don't even know who he is. The Vice President didn't send him. Tenet didn't send him. Somebody else sent him.

That gets to the murky, complicated issue of Plame.

Novak pushed the Administration's line. As he wrote, "The story, actually, is whether the administration deliberately ignored Wilson's advice." The thrust of his July 14, 2003 story was that Wilson's report was routine, low-level, inconclusive, and forgotten.

Novak identifies his first source as someone who is "no partisan gunslinger." (It's kind of hard to imagine anyone in the Bush Administration who could be described that way, but whatever) Novak asks a reasonable question: Why Wilson? That implies other good questions: What does he know about WMD and Niger, anyway? And what is Wilson's connection to the CIA?

The source tells Novak that Wilson was sent to Niger because Wilson's wife, an agency operative in WMD, suggested him. And that explains it. That's why Wilson was sent. Because his wife was an agency operative in WMD and suggested him.

I would have thought a more reasonable answer would have been because Wilson “has good relations with both the PM [Prime Minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” Or even, "Wilson's name was suggested by a CIA operative who is familiar with his qualifications."

Whether or not the source knew of any other qualifications Wilson might have had, the only reason Novak got was that Wilson's wife, who had the connection to the CIA, had suggested him. Novak alludes in passing to Wilson's familiarity with Africa and Niger, so he must have had some inkling that Wilson may have had qualifications other than being the husband of Valerie Plame.

Novak's source may not have been a "partisan gunslinger," I don't know. But at the very least, that source got the info from someone who was. After all, why identify Wilson's wife unless it furthers the purpose of downplaying the importance of Wilson's report? And Novak, being the partisan gunslinger he is, didn't ask.

At the very very least, this Administration was careless about national security information, because it looks like information that shouldn't have been made public was.

That's what it boils down to. Plame's identity was leaked for a purpose which we may not fully understand, but it doesn't pass the smell test, and people get that.

There is an argument I learned for writing up legal briefs. "Even if the facts are as the opposition says, they still lose based on the law..." We can accept apologist arguments as true, and they still lose on the issue.

  1. Even if Wilson is a fudger, the Administration chose to use weak evidence.
  2. Even if Novak is consistent and true, the Administration tried to shift blame for using weak evidence.
  3. Even if Rove didn't know he was breaking the law and even if Plame's identity didn't actually compromise national security, the Administration considers its own interests before the interests of the country.

I think the public can understand the larger narrative, which is not murky at all.

[all emphasis added unless otherwise noted]

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