13 September 2006

A Perfect Example of the Dishonesty and Limitation of the Wingnut Mentality

Get as a reviewer someone who has shown a complete iability to acknowledge reality -- a certified liar. Have the review focus on a single aspect of a book, the easier to do a hatchet job. You get a review that an honest editor would have rejected, instead you get this shameless review from the Wall Street Journal:

The End of the Affair

September 12, 2006; Page D7

The Valerie Plame affair is one of those mysteries that lose most of their interest as soon as you learn the solution.

For three years, investigators have hunted for the leaker who disclosed Ms. Plame's name to the Washington press corps. In "Hubris," their minutely detailed study of the affair, David Corn and Michael Isikoff reveal the answer: It was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage -- a fact known almost all along to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. With the leaker established, the rest of the mystery pretty quickly resolves itself.

Plame-case obsessives have fantasized about an elaborate conspiracy by Mr. Bush's neocon cabal to destroy or intimidate critics of the Iraq war. In early 2002, the CIA sent Ms. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy "yellowcake" uranium there. A year later, after the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Wilson first whispered off the record -- and then published on the op-ed page of the New York Times -- accusations that the Bush administration had deliberately misrepresented his work. To punish him (or so the theory went) the Bush administration betrayed his wife's status as an undercover CIA agent.

So much for that! Mr. Armitage, the man who spilled the beans on Ms. Plame, was himself one of the Iraq war's most ferocious internal critics -- and he despised the supposed neocon cabal as heartily as any left-wing blogger. As Messrs. Corn and Isikoff acknowledge: "The initial leaker was not a White House hawk trying to discredit or harm Joe Wilson and his wife." Mr. Armitage's motive? His notorious delight in gossip.

Messrs. Corn and Isikoff gamely insist that their big scoop does not obliterate the story they wish to tell of a sinister Bush administration effort to savage truth-telling whistleblowers. But it does, it does.

Their preferred villains -- vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby and presidential aide Karl Rove -- merely confirmed to other journalists what Mr. Armitage had already blabbed. Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove did not act in concert. They were seeking not to defame Mr. Wilson but to respond to a (as it ultimately proved) largely malicious and untruthful attack on the administration's case for war.

Mr. Wilson contended that his report debunked the Niger yellowcake story. The Senate Intelligence Committee established in 2004 that his report had in fact lent credence to it. In his op-ed article, Mr. Wilson claimed that his report circulated through the Bush administration. In fact, the CIA did not forward it. Mr. Wilson told reporters for the Washington Post that he had concluded that documents attesting to the yellowcake story were forged. Those documents did not come into U.S. possession until months after Mr. Wilson's mission.

To give Messrs. Corn and Isikoff their due: They may overhype their story, but they tell it well. Those baffled by the controversy's intricacies will find here a clear account of the major facts, presented in a far more impartial tone than one might have expected from, say, Mr. Corn's acidic columns in the Nation magazine.

Messrs. Corn and Isikoff even fair-mindedly offer details that point to a very different kind of conspiracy than the one investigated by Mr. Fitzgerald. Almost as soon as the scandal erupted, Mr. Armitage confessed his role to his boss and friend Colin Powell. State Department Counsel Bob Taft was also quickly informed. All three men agreed that Mr. Armitage should cooperate fully with Mr. Fitzgerald.

And there the candor stopped. Had Mr. Armitage stepped forward to tell the whole truth to the country and his president, the scandal would have fizzled out before it began. Instead he chose to lie low, because, as Messrs. Corn and Isikoff report: "Public disclosure could be harmful not only for Armitage but for Powell (who had encouraged his deputy's meeting with Novak)." (Robert Novak was the first journalist to publish Ms. Plame's name but not the first to whom Mr. Armitage revealed it: That distinction goes to Bob Woodward, to whom Mr. Armitage had talked almost three weeks before.)

Yet such fairness on the part of Messrs. Corn and Isikoff does not compensate for their weird and repeated failures of curiosity about the story's two lead characters: Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. As almost everybody now agrees, Mr. Wilson was a spectacularly inappropriate choice for the mission to Niger, a man at odds with the administration and anything but trustworthy. The question asked by Vice President Cheney back in 2003 remains a compelling one: Who picked this man? And why?

A 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee makes clear that Mr. Wilson was not telling the truth when he denied that his wife played any role in his selection. The committee found email evidence that she had advanced his name, as she had done for a previous mission in 1999. This one part of the story remains as murky as ever. What was it that set the affair in motion?

Was it ideology? Ms. Plame had donated $1,000 to the Gore campaign in 1999; neither Ms. Plame nor Mr. Wilson made any secret of their hostility to the foreign policy of the Bush administration.

Or was it commerce? Messrs. Corn and Isikoff accept at face value Mr. Wilson's protestations that he (and therefore Ms. Plame) derived no economic benefit from his envoyship. But Mr. Wilson earned his living as a consultant to U.S. companies seeking to do business in Africa. Such companies greatly value the appearance of high-level access. Undertaking an urgent national-security assignment (and doing so, as Mr. Wilson would later allow it to be thought, at the personal request of the vice president) might dramatically enhance Mr. Wilson's business prospects. Yet this obvious line of inquiry seems never even to occur to Messrs. Corn and Isikoff.

So "Hubris" will not quite serve as the last word. And yet, at the same time, too much has probably already been said about the whole affair: three years of wild accusations of conspiracy and vendetta, bizarre blogospheric speculations, and empty predictions of imminent indictments. All of that has been exposed, in "Hubris," as over-whipped Washington froth.

Messrs. Corn and Isikoff have now, perhaps reluctantly but certainly conclusively, returned the story to reality. Their work has prodded even the most mainstream of media to accept that this affair has at last worn itself out.

Here's the Washington Post of Aug. 31: "It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously."

The Plame case continues to exact a human cost from Scooter Libby, the one man indicted by Mr. Fitzgerald. The courts will decide the merits of that charge. Experts will analyze how much (if any) real harm was done when Mr. Armitage blew Ms. Plame's cover. As for the rest of us, we can consign the case and the couple at its center to the next edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Mr. Frum, a former speechwriter for President Bush, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

No need for a link -- this is the entire ugly piece.


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