by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Oct. 3, 2003
LIES AND ERRORS, NOT SPYGATE, ARE THE REAL BUSH SCANDAL
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I hate to sound like a Republican, but I do think the current feeding frenzy over the outing of a CIA operative by the Bush administration is overblown.
It's not that I don't think what happened isn't important. It's just that the opportunity to really put President Bush's feet to the fire over the fraudulent case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq is being diluted by the news media's need to have a simple story line.
It's too much work to explain all the different ways we have been lied to by the Bush administration. It's much easier to hype a scandal.
But if the ongoing "Spy-gate" scandal has any utility, it will be to offer to Americans yet another example of the vindictiveness of the Bush administration and how it always puts politics ahead of policy.
Anyone who has been paying attention for the past three years knows this has been the core philosophy of this bunch. So it wasn't a surprise that the Bush administration retaliated against Joseph S. Wilson, a career foreign service officer and ambassador, for writing an op-ed piece in July for The New York Times in which he stated that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Wilson traveled to Niger in February 2002 at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency after Vice President Dick Cheney asked the CIA to check into charges that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium "yellow cake" ore for making nuclear weapons. Wilson went to Niger and found nothing to back up that claim and that the "evidence" was a bunch of crudely forged documents purporting to show Iraq bought tons of uranium ore.
Even though Wilson's report was apparently one of three intelligence reports that knocked down the Niger-Iraq tale, President Bush used the false information in the 2003 State of the Union address as part of his case for a unilateral, preemptive U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Wilson wasn't the first person who pointed out that the Bush administration lied its way to war. His op-ed piece in the Times was merely the culmination of the debunking that showed up in the corporate press only when the post-war chaos in Iraq finally made it politically safe to point out all the lies.
But Wilson's standing was enough to get him taken seriously, and the reaction to his op-ed apparently was enough to get the Bush administration to strike back at Wilson by leaking out the information that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.
According to The Washington Post, the White House shopped the information to six different journalists, all of whom refused to run with the story. Only conservative columnist Robert Novak, a reliable water-carrier for the Bush administration, decided to use it in one of his columns.
It took almost three months for this to turn into a scandal. But the scandal isn't that the Bush administration decided to go after the wife of one of its critics. It's that the person it went after was in charge of running an intelligence network that was tracking any person or nation seeking to pass along nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to terrorists.
Think about it. The Bush administration harped on the whole "weapons of mass destruction" theme for months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. It was President Bush's central justification for the invasion, and by extension, the whole "war on terror." Yet his administration was so bent on seeking revenge against one of its critics, it decided to publicly compromise an intelligence operation aimed at the very thing it claimed it was going to war for.
This is not so much treason as it is stupidity with a generous dollop of hubris on the side. These guys think they are so powerful that they can do things like this and get away with it.
I don't think that this scandal alone will be enough to take down President Bush. It's going to be the cumulative effect of the lies, the dirty tricks and the dissembling by the White House that will do it.
When you look at the bigger scandals related to Iraq that are waiting in the wings, such as the amount of money flowing to President Bush and Vice-President Cheney's political and business cronies in the handing out of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq, the politically motivated outing of a CIA agent is not going to matter much.
Add to that the failure of chief U.S. weapons hunter David Kay and his 1,400-member team that scoured Iraq for four months and found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration has been trying to suppress Kay's report, but enough key details have slipped out to reinforce Wilson's contention that the underlying intelligence that the Iraq invasion was predicated upon was faulty at best and outright lies at worst.
The Wilson case is a sideshow to the real scandal that needs to be investigated - that President Bush lied and hundreds of U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in an illegal and immoral war cooked up by an administration that doesn't care what it has to do in propping up a deceitful and incompetent president.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).