Washington scandals often have ritualistic moments. The Plame/CIA leak matter (also known as the Rove scandal) has had its share. There was the lack of attention from the establishment press for months (until the news leaked that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak). There has been dismissal from spinners. (Watergate was derided at first by Nixonites as a "third-rate burglary"; the Plame/CIA leak has been pooh-poohed by Bushies as no big deal.) There has been absurd stonewalling from the White House. ("We'd be delighted to tell the public what we know, but, alas, we cannot even say it's a no-no to leak classified information because an investigation is under way.")
And there has been the inconvenient quote. Nixon had "I am not a crook." Scott McClellan has his 2003 claim that it would be "ridiculous" to suggest Karl Rove was involved in the Plame/CIA leak. (No, Rove only confirmed the leak--which was classified information--to at least two reporters, by his lawyer's account.) But there is one ritualistic action that has yet to occur: a member of the president's own party publicly criticizing the White House for the wrongdoing being investigated.
Now that it is known that Rove and Scooter Libby passed information about Valerie Wilson's classified relationship with the CIA to reporters, no prominent GOPers has said boo. The Republicans who talk about the scandal on the chattering-head shows have followed the White House's lead and have suggested that (a) no one should judge Rove and Libby's actions--or the White House's previous and false denials--until the inquiry is over and (b) the only real issue is whether a crime was committed.
Look at Bay Buchanan on CNN. "What we're hearing is rumors," she said, adding "we do not know anything at this point." That's utterly wrong and misleading. We know, for instance, the White House misinformed the public about Rove's involvement in the leak. She also argued that the White House is right to say, "We have no facts." No facts? The White House--well, at least Rove and Libby and maybe other White House aides--possess many relevant facts. And the chief dogcatcher at 1600 Pennsylvania, if he reads the newspapers, can find plenty of facts--that is, information confirmed by Rove's attorney--about Rove's role in this episode. (Could Rove's lawyer be lying?) But as I have previously (and repeatedly) pointed out, it's the job of the Rove spinners to deny and distort reality.
Sadly, John McCain has been drawn into this dishonest campaign. McCain has tried to promote himself as the straight-talking politician. You might even think he would be a candidate to perform the specific ritual I mentioned above: the from-within-the-party blast. But scratch him from that list. On Hardball a few nights ago, McCain once again placed politics and loyalty to Bush (the guy who dragged McCain's reputation through the mud in 2000) above straight talk. He repeatedly defended Rove, saying that when Rove confirmed Valerie Wilson's CIA ID for Bob Novak and Matt Cooper he was merely countering "false information" being put out by former Joseph Wilson "concerning whether Dick Cheney sent him to Africa." McCain went on: "It's understandable why Rove would say to a reporter, 'Hey, look, the vice president did not send Wilson to Niger. ¬† It was done at the recommendation of his wife, etcetera, etcetera.'"
Regular readers will know this is the same-old disinformation being hurled by GOP spinners. One need only look at Wilson's July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed piece--the article that precipitated the White House assault on Wilson--to see that Wilson did not claim he was sent to Niger by Cheney. Wilson wrote:
In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake--a form of lightly processed ore--by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
Yet here was McCain promoting one of the biggest canards being pushed by the Save Rove dissemblers: that Wilson had claimed he was personally dispatched by Cheney and that Rove was only making sure reporters did not report that falsehood. That's really being a team player. McCain went further and said, "Karl Rove has stated that he did not do anything wrong and break any law. I take him at his word." How Jesus-like of McCain, turning the other cheek in this fashion. The Bush campaign that Rove ran in 2000 spread lies about McCain. When Chris Matthews reminded McCain of that, the senator just chucked and said, "politics is not beanbags."
McCain was back in POW-mode--like when he addressed the GOP convention in 2000 and praised Bush. Back then, he looked like a hostage force-reading a script that had been handed to him. Now he's being the good solider and misinforming the public to protect the man who undid his presidential campaign in 2000, presumably to keep intact the possibility of a presidential bid in 2008.
During the interview, Matthews remarked to McCain, "You are known to have a higher ethical standard than most politicians." McCain responded, "I hope."
Anyone who ties himself to Rove ought to be careful about claiming the ethical high ground.
When it comes to discussing Iraq on talk shows, I often am a broken record. For over a year or so, I've repeatedly said that there is a significant gap between the security dilemma in Iraq and the political developments. Whenever there is good news on the political or PR front in Iraq--Saddam Hussein captured, elections held, Sunnis brought into the constitution-drafting committee, etc.--pro-war commentators claim the event of the moment is going to demoralize the insurgency and hasten the path to peace and security in Iraq. But such statements are more wishes than analysis. And so far no corner has been truly turned concerning security and the insurgency in Iraq.
Look at these two portions from articles that appeared Sunday in the nation's leading newspapers. The Washington Post noted,
"Finishing the draft constitution on time is seen by U.S. officials and many Iraqis as vital to countering Iraq's insurgents, whose attacks have eroded public confidence in the U.S.-backed government."
However, a front-page article in The New York Times reported:
"Despite months of assurances that their forces were on the wane, the guerrillas and terrorists battling the American-backed enterprise here appear to be growing more violent, more resilient and more sophisticated than ever.
A string of recent attacks, including the execution of moderate Sunni leaders and the kidnapping of foreign diplomats, has brought home for many Iraqis that the democratic process that has been unfolding since the Americans restored Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004 has failed to isolate the insurgents and, indeed, has become the target itself....
American commanders say the number of attacks against American and Iraqi forces has held steady over the last year, averaging about 65 a day.
But the Americans concede the growing sophistication of insurgent attacks and the insurgents' ability to replenish their ranks as fast as they are killed.
We are capturing or killing a lot of insurgents, said a senior Army intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make his assessments public. But they're being replaced quicker than we can interdict their operations. There is always another insurgent ready to step up and take charge."
So what's the evidence that the drafting of the constitution has any impact on the insurgency? It's certainly true that it would better for the Iraqis if they manage to form a government that is democratic, that works, and that is able to establish (eventually) effective security forces. Perhaps if that is accomplished--in say, five or more years--the Iraqi government will be in a position to put down the insurgency (if the insurgency does not peter out). But none of the interim steps appear to have made a difference in terms of the development, growth and strength of the insurgency.
A constitution is supposed to be written by August 15. If the Iraqis manage to meet that deadline, there will be many cheers from the White House and from the war's champions on Capitol Hill and within the commentariat. But my hunch is that if this occurs, August 15 will be just another day for the getting-stronger insurgents.