Battle of the Insiders

“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush repeatedly said throughout the fall of 2002 to justify the invasion of Iraq. The phrase was so good at frightening the public to support “disarming” Saddam Hussein that it sounded as if it came from a professional wordsmith.

In fact, it did. It debuted in an “exclusive” September 8, 2002, front-page New York Times report about Saddam’s secret nukes, co-authored by reporter Judith Miller.

Three years later, we now know that Miller’s articles about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction were based on fabrications from “anonymous sources” connected to the networks of Iraqi defectors led by Ahmed Chalabi, the man that Bush’s neocons had tapped to lead Iraq after their war.

All of this should be kept in mind as Washington consumes itself with the scandal surrounding whether White House officials–including Bush’s political guru Karl Rove–knowingly exposed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in a plot to retaliate against her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson, an experienced diplomat specializing in African affairs, investigated administration claims that Iraq had arranged purchases of nuclear materials from Niger, found them to be false, and said so publicly.

The burgeoning scandal has given liberals an opportunity to attack their old nemesis, Rove. But in the process, they’ve been willing to throw First Amendment protections of the press and whistleblowers overboard.

Miller is certainly a willing tool of the neocon political machine that has fed her career for years. But liberals who are so happy to cheer on and justify her jailing should be careful about championing the cause of Miller’s inquisitor, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. As a liberal blogger reported a conversation with a former newspaper editor who had covered Fitzgerald: “If [Fitzgerald] he can’t make the case he started with, he’ll figure out what you did do and hit you with that. He’s relentless, and he doesn’t give a flying fuck about the press or the First Amendment. He’d throw us all in jail if it would help him make his case.”

Miller may be paying the price now. But genuine investigative journalists exposing corporate or government crime could pay the price later.

From what we know now, it appears that the White House thugs will likely escape indictment under a federal law that bars disclosure of the identities of covert government operatives. If that happens, liberals will certainly scream that “the fix is in.”

But that would be a good outcome. Why? Because the Intelligence Identities Protection Act isn’t aimed at White House fixers like Rove, but at dissident government officials and ex-CIA agents turned opponents of U.S. policy like Philip Agee or John Stockwell. Outing of CIA agents by people like Agee and Stockwell exposed the CIA’s nefarious activities in Latin America and Africa–and likely saved many innocent people’s lives.

Finally, what about the man who is the liberals’ hero in all of this–Joseph Wilson? No one has stopped to ask the question: Why did he wait until July 2003–four months after the invasion of Iraq, when the first stirrings of resistance to U.S. forces were taking root–to expose them? Wouldn’t it have been more courageous–and more effective–if Wilson had come forward before the war?

Wilson insists he remained silent for more than a year because he was bound to protect government secrecy. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that he is also a Washington insider who became an adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Like many others of his ilk, he criticized the Iraq adventure on tactical and practical grounds.

Had it not proven the disaster he feared it would become, he probably would be giving the Bush administration begrudging support for having achieved its ambitious plans. Even now, he writes in The Politics of Truth, “[t]o cut and run [from Iraq] at this chaotic point would guarantee greater instability in the region for the foreseeable future.”

This should be a reminder that a real challenge to the Bush regime won’t come from the likes of Fitzgerald, Wilson or the Democrats. It’s up to the antiwar movement to make the Bush thugs pay for the real scandal underlying all of this–an imperial war sold on lies.

LANCE SELFA writes for the Socialist Worker.