Jonah, sometimes dreams really do come true

by Ted on October 2, 2003


WHAT’S MISSING? [Jonah Goldberg]

Oh, I know: Character assasination. If something similar to this Joe Wilson flap (and I still believe it deserves only flap status) occured during the Clinton years, we’d be hearing a barrage of attacks on Wilson’s motives — not just from barking dogs like Conason, but from the White House too.


The White House encouraged Republicans to portray the former diplomat at the center of the case, Joseph C. Wilson IV, as a partisan Democrat with an agenda and the Democratic Party as scandalmongering. At the same time, the administration and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill worked to ensure that no Republicans in Congress break ranks and call for an independent inquiry outside the direct control of the Justice Department.

“It’s slime and defend,” said one Republican aide on Capitol Hill, describing the White House’s effort to raise questions about Mr. Wilson’s motivations and its simultaneous effort to shore up support in the Republican ranks.

“Slime and defend.” Boy, it sets your patriotic heartstrings a-quivering to hear that, doesn’t it? I guess this guy kind of looks like an elephant if you squint hard enough.

Andrew Northrup weighs in:

For all other Americans out there, please take a picture of this, because this is how your government, executive and legislative, responds when confronted with information that top officials have acted criminally against the interests of the country: they do nothing. And then, months later, when a shitstorm erupts, they try to shoot the messenger. Party uber alles. This is who is running the War on Whatever. Again, pay really close attention here, voting public, because there’s going to be a test on this in 13 months.

What do Wilson’s motivations have to do with the charges that his wife was exposed by a senior administration official? Over at Daniel Drezner’s blog, I posted this in the comments:

Here’s why Wilson is irrelevant: If he was selling poisoned milk to schoolkids, or if he was rescuing cats from trees, none of that changes the essential charge that a member of the White House staff outed a covert agent. That’s against the law. There’s no “the agent’s spouse was a extremist” clause.

Having said that…

Wilson’s unpaid trip to Niger was in February 2002. It predates any of his controversial statements. It even predates any serious debate about war in Iraq. Wilson donated money to political campaigns over the years. 71% went to Democrats, which would indicate that he’s a Democrat. 29% went to Republicans, which would seem to indicate that he’s not an extremist.

Why was Wilson sent to Niger? Here are some potential reasons:

He had been a State Department officer in Niger in the mid-1970s. He was ambassador to Gabon in the early 1990s. And in 1997 and 1998, he was the senior director for Africa at the National Security Council and in that capacity spent a lot of time dealing with the Niger government. Wilson was also the last acting US ambassador in Iraq before the Gulf War, a military action he supported.

For his work in Iraq, he was sincerely praised by George H.W. Bush. Bush wrote to him, “Your courageous leadership during this period of great danger for American interests and American citizens has my admiration and respect. I salute, too, your skillful conduct of our tense dealings with the government of Iraq….The courage and tenacity you have exhibited throughout this ordeal prove that you are the right person for the job.”

Seriously, give me your best shot in the comments. I’ll be away for a lot of the day, so I won’t even argue back. But I’ve yet to hear someone put the two together in a convincing way.



Keith M Ellis 10.02.03 at 5:30 pm

Wilson wasn’t a bad choice for this. The CIA was pretty sure they already knew the answer to the question, he was just mostly tidying things up and, probably, performing a bit of busy work generated by the White House. Okay, but that doesn’t mean we all wouldn’t be better off if the CIA had sent a real agent to Africa instead. It takes a little bit of mental effort to realize that the “this was really important, so why did the CIA send someone of commensurate expertise?” argument is persuasive only in the context that we’re now arguing about this and so it’s a much bigger deal to us than it was to anyone in Feb. 2002. The White House is counting on people not making that small mental effort and thus they have what they can sell as a minor scandal (which taints in some obtuse way the victim of their scandal) with which to divert the public’s attention.

I don’t think this will work. I don’t think it _is_ working. But muddying the waters is a tried-and-true spin-doctoring technique.

I should say that it is clearly working with regard to the right-wing commentariat. And perhaps it’s too early to judge whether this will in turn influence the public’s perception. But I think it won’t because, after all, there’s a criminal investigation going on regarding the outing of an undercover spy. _That_ part the public doesn’t have too much difficulty understanding. And the administration isn’t contesting this, because they can’t.


JP 10.02.03 at 5:35 pm

If I were a radical conservative myself, I’d say: Wilson’s extremism is relevant, because it makes destroying his ability to interfere with White House policy a crucial priority for the good of the country. Those who have the ability and the inclination to undermine American military action in the Middle East are the worst enemies our country has. Therefore, Wilson must be destroyed at any cost for the good of the country, even if that cost includes putting the lives of our undercover agents at risk. The end justifies the means, and so the administration, if it did commit this scandal, did the right thing. (Corollary: Maintaining the CIA’s ability to gather intelligence on WMDs around the world is less effective in protecting us than is taking the fight to Muslims on their own soil and killing them.)

This is the only logically coherent position I can come up with that could justify sliming Wilson. Of course, it’s horribly, horribly wrong. And it’s much too amoral and extremist to be be accepted by the American public. But the hard-core, true believers in the neocon movement undoubtedly agree with that logic and that’s what’s driving them to discredit Wilson (while only hinting, in public, at the precise reasons why they think Wilson’s credibility is relevant).

Also, some of the administration’s other supporters are just flat-out partisan hacks who are just out to distract everyone from their president’s corruption.


Norbizness 10.02.03 at 5:41 pm

GodDAMN, that son of a bitch (Goldberg) is dumb. The Corner: where bad talking points go to die a well-deserved death.


dsquared 10.02.03 at 5:42 pm

I thought this was so obvious I didn’t have to say it, but now I am. I’m damned if I’m going to do a front page post at CT on it though, so if someone more diligent than me wants to explain to the public, go for your life.

They’re working the refs. If this is a “political” story, then there is a sort of obligation for people who believe in the “journalistic ethics” they teach you in journalism schools to cover it in a he-said-she-said, “nonpartisan” way, giving equal time to both sides.

If it’s just a news story, then the newspapers will by default cover the facts and just report them rather than actively seeking out spin for both sides.

Therefore it is vitally important for the Bush boys to establish that the story is being driven by “partisan Democrats” in order to ensure that it gets buried under the landslide of pabulum which is all US political coverage not written by Paul Krugman.

IMO, “journalistic ethics” has damn-all to do with journalism or with ethics, and is responsible for most of what’s wrong with the media today.


Trickster Paean 10.02.03 at 5:42 pm

Just one bone to pick with you, Keith, but the CIA *did* send someone of commensurate expertise. Wilson had extensive knowledge and experience with the Nigerian government during the years in which the uranium deals would have taken place. He was the ambassador to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe, and he helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council under Clinton. The CIA sent an experienced diplomat to find out whether it was possible, and his findings were, “No, it was not possible.” That anyone might find the “this was really important, so why didn’t the CIA send someone of commensurate expertise?” argument persuasive indicates that they have less than a full grasp of Wilson’s experience as a diplomat.

And from other things that have come out, Wilson was not the only person the CIA sent to Niger, he’s just the only person to come forward, as he was not working under any cover.


Keith M Ellis 10.02.03 at 6:26 pm

Trickster, I was playing the devil’s advocate a bit there. I’ve been all over the blogosphere quoting Marshall’s interview with Wilson to assert that Wilson was right for the job and did a good one, at that. But my point was that now, with hindsight, wouldn’t it have been better for the CIA to have sent a real agent who could do some real intelligence work rather than sending a guy over to talk to a bunch of people he knows (and also people he has access to)? This was not a full-throttle intelligence operation, it was more of an informal fact-finding mission by someone well-qualified to go on an informal fact-finding mission. The White House hopes to sell a spin that this was clearly an important matter that the CIA should have gone full-bore on, and instead they sent Wilson. I think that they’ll convince a lot of people of this view, simply because the importance of deeply investigating the yellowcake charge seems a lot greater today than it did in 2002. No matter that in 2002 it was a small piece of highly suspicios and independently debunked intelligence. _Now_ it’s what everyone’s talking about. In that context, it’s not so hard for the administration to seem credible when they say, “Gee, why did the CIA run that investigation so incompetently?”


Zizka 10.02.03 at 6:30 pm

I think that a high proportion of the journalists (among who aren’t conscious politicos like Safire and Will) think of themselves as jobholders and entertainers rather than in any sense professionals. As jobhoilders they do what they’re told. As entertainers they try to guess what works with the audience.

But the “audience” basically is their bosses too; it’s just that by talking in terms of “what the public wants”, the owners can get right wing smears without explicitly commanding them. Just throw right-wingers up there until one gets a following. (For example, a show linking the Bushes and the Saudis would certainly get a following — there’s lots of dirt — but we’re not going to see it).


torqemada 10.02.03 at 9:00 pm

Fighting paper tigers eh?


Thomas 10.02.03 at 9:17 pm

Let’s see. British intelligence informs our government that it believes that Iraq has attempted to purchase uranium from Africa. The CIA’s team on the case–including one V. Wilson–found the charge not credible. The VP’s office urged the CIA to do further investigation. Who did they choose? Did they choose a nonpartisan expert unassociated with the initial finding? Or did they choose the partisan non-expert spouse of one of the members of the team which made the original finding? We know the answers to those questions. We know why the CIA chose who they chose. Why some people find the questions themselves incomprehensible is the real mystery.


Lemuel Pitkin 10.02.03 at 9:29 pm

Eh? Valerie Plame was “part of the team which made the original finding” on the Niger uranium deal? Where’d you get that from?

Honestly, it’s getting hard to tell the real hacks from the parodies…


Thomas 10.02.03 at 10:34 pm

Lemuel–Where did that come from? Press reports.


Ted Barlow 10.02.03 at 10:48 pm


I’ve been following this story pretty closely, and I haven’t heard any press reports which say that Valerie Plame Wilson was part of the CIA team that found the charge not credible. That would be a big story, I would think.

Would you mind pointing out which press reports you’re referring to? Even better, if they’re available on the internet, could you post a link to them?


Keith M Ellis 10.02.03 at 10:58 pm

He’s confused about the fact that Plame was involved (but apparently did not personally appear) with some consultations with the NSC, I believe, on WMD stuff. (And this is how I think the White House knew of her connection to the CIA.) He thinks that means she was involved in the evaluation of the yellowcake claim. That’s my guess, anyway.

However, given what Plame did, I don’t think it’s unlikely that she _was_ involved in the initial Niger yellowcake evaluation. But I sure haven’t seen any reporting to that effect, and I’ve been following this obsessively.


JRoth 10.03.03 at 4:07 am

Yes, smarter monkeys, please. Or literate ones, anyway. I’ve seen exactly the news reports lemuel (willfully?) misread, and they state that the WMD reports were vetted by a CIA group with which Plame sometimes works – but not on this particular matter.

Anyway, it’s an idiotic talking point, because Wilson was right and we all know it. I mean, Saddam had no uranium, right? David Kay just had to go tell Congress, “Remember when I darkly intimated that all the WMD doubters would be sorry come September? Well, it’s October now, and, um, could I have some money? Never mind what for.”

The fantasy that Wilson was somehow ill-qualified or a shill for his wife’s agenda is irrelevant. It’s like fans of a losing team insulting the player who beat their team – He’s not that good, he’s a bum. Yeah, well, maybe, but he’s a bum that beat your asses.


Lemuel Pitkin 10.03.03 at 5:36 pm

the news reports lemuel (willfully?) misread

whoa, don’t blame me dude, I was the incredulous guy….


Thomas 10.06.03 at 3:10 pm

Ted, you say ” I haven’t heard any press reports which say that Valerie Plame Wilson was part of the CIA team that found the charge not credible. That would be a big story, I would think.”

How big of a story? Big enough to leak it?

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