by Ted on October 9, 2003

Instapundit links to Mark Steyn on the Valerie Plame outing and says “Read the whole thing.” So, I read the whole thing, and I found one of the most intellectually dishonest pieces I’ve read since… since Monday or so.

It’s another “Isn’t the real issue…” piece. In this case, the “real issue” is why Wilson was sent to Niger.

Steyn says:

An agency known to be opposed to war in Iraq sent an employee’s spouse also known to be opposed to war in Iraq on a perfunctory joke mission.

Wilson went to Niger in February 2002. The war in Iraq was just a twinkle in the administration’s eye. The war in Afghanistan (which Wilson supported) had recently finished. Bush made his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, in which he named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil”. He had not approached Congress, the United Nations, or the American people for support of a war on Iraq. The push wouldn’t come for a few months.

I’ve been following this story pretty closely. If anyone could find a statement from Wilson opposing the war on Iraq prior to his trip to Niger in Feb. 2002, I daresay that I would have heard about it. I’ll be embarassed if I’m wrong, so please go ahead and embarass me.

Here’s some information that Steyn thinks the reader has no need to know when answering the confusing, confusing question “Why was Wilson sent to Niger?”:

* The only defense of Bush’s “16 words” is that Bush said Africa, not Niger, and he was relying on British intelligence. No one denies that Wilson was right– Niger didn’t sell yellowcake to Iraq. All of the complaints about him tend to ignore this fact. David Kay’s report backs this up.
* Wilson was a former diplomat in Niger.
* He worked in Africa from 1976 to 1988. Other African assignments include Togo, South Africa, Burundi, the Congo, and the State Department Bureau of African Affairs.
* From 1988 to 1991, he served in Baghdad as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy. During “Desert Shield” he was the acting Ambassador. He was the last official American to meet with Saddam Hussein before the launching of “Desert Storm.”
* He was responsible for the negotiations that resulted in the release of several hundred American hostages. He helped evacuate thousands of foreigners from Kuwait, negotiated the release of more than 120 American hostages and sheltered nearly 800 Americans in the embassy compound.
* For his role in these negotiations, George H.W. 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.”
* Wilson’s mission in Niger wasn’t a joke. The story resists a cute soundbite like “drinking sweet mint tea”, but he looked at the safeguards that surround Niger’s uranium industry and concluded that the alleged sale couldn’t have taken place. Start on page 14 and read.
* Wilson’s report wasn’t the only one from Niger. There was also the Ambassador’s report, and a report from “a four-star Marine Corps general.”

No, what’s relevant is Wilson’s hairstyle. It’s kind of long, you see.

Steyn’s piece is larded with Wilson-bashing, as is the style at the time. Great stuff, like “Wilson comes over like a total flake — not a sober striped-pants diplomat but a shaggy-maned ideologically driven kook whose hippie-lyric quotes make a lot more sense than his neocon-bashing diatribes for leftie dronefests like the Nation.” Steyn doesn’t point out the little-known loophole in the law that makes it legal to release the identity of undercover agents if they have a liberal spouse. I guess it speaks for itself.

When Clifford May said that everyone knew about Plame, he at least had the excuse of ignorance. Mark Steyn has no such excuse when he writes,” Even if you accept that it’s technically possible to leak something that’s widely known around town…” It wasn’t widely known around town. Her relatives didn’t know. He neighbors didn’t know. The CIA asked for a formal investigation, and Bush himself called it “a very serious matter”. It’s hard to giggle this off, but I’m impressed at the effort.

He slips in “and published in the guy’s Who’s Who entry” as if the name “Valerie Plame” is the secret. Smart people who play stupid are extremely irritating. One more time:

“There is a person named Valerie Plame”- not a secret
“There is a person named Valerie Plame who works for the CIA”- big honking secret.

Steyn pretends not to understand why the Administration would want to discredit Wilson by revealing the identity of his wife; he argues that this information actually enhances his credibility. It doesn’t matter whether you think it was a good idea: obviously it wasn’t, but it happened. Novak himself says that he got the information from two senior Administration officials.

Steyn criticizes the NY Times for a headline that says that he “What I Didn’t Find in Africa”, when Wilson only visited Niger. Then he says,

One alleged colleague says he’s worked with her for 30 years, which seems unlikely, as she’s only 40 and if the Company was that good at spotting early talent it would be in a lot better shape.

Steyn seems to be questioning the integrity of Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst, FOX News commentator, and registered Republican. No surprises there. But Johnson said “three decades”, not 30 years. 80s, 90s, 00s. No mystery.

Finally, Steyn says,

But her time as a NOC looks to have ended five years ago

Says who? If Steyn has access to the records of NOC CIA staff, someone should take it away immediately. If not, he’s just speculating.

Steyn does not improve his credibility when he says “the rogue State Department” is “acting like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the House of Saud”. He does not enhance his credibility by saying of Wilson, “Imagine Michael Moore and his ego after dropping 300lbs on the Atkins diet and you’re close enough.” He does not enhance his credibility when he lists the terrorists’ forces as “the Western media, the UN and the moth-eaten French pantomime mule of Messrs Chirac and de Villepin.”

Mark Steyn, everybody. This is what we’ve come to.



OB 10.09.03 at 7:12 pm

Well just for one thing (having not read the whole thing yet)

“But, despite the media’s efforts to oomph it up into Watergate — or ‘Intimigate’ — it doesn’t make any sense as a conventional political scandal.”

that’s a joke! After years and years of ‘Travelgate’ and ‘Whitewater’ and ‘Haircutgate’ and all the other bogus scandals of that other presidency, and the startling *lack* of interest in various shady spots in W’s career, the idea that the media are suddenly being tough on pore ole Frat and ‘oomphing up’ something is…



JohnC 10.09.03 at 7:54 pm

It’s the middle ages again. What was the Monty Python bit about logic and proof of a witch?

Ah yes. If Wilson weighs the same as a rat, then he is one.

It’s a fair cop.


Chun the Unavoidable 10.09.03 at 9:09 pm

I’ve been reading a lot today about this “instapundit.” Can someone tell me who it is, and why he or she is deserving of such attention?

The few times I’ve followed a link I haven’t seen the type of hard-hitting commentary and objective analysis I’ve come to expect from Crooked Timber and Little Green Beste. Rather, I’ve seen a couple of sentences with some private joke and a link to something of little interest.


David 10.09.03 at 9:15 pm

“Smart people who play stupid are extremely irritating.”

So true, so true.


JohnC 10.09.03 at 9:32 pm

Chun, the only reason anybody pays attention to him is the disconcerting fact that he is the #1 blog in eyeballs and links.

Millions of flies can’t be wrong.


howard 10.09.03 at 9:46 pm

Chun, prof instanitwit is a purveyor of mindless drivel to the already converted. Pay him no heed.

Excellent take-down of Steyn, another purveyor of mindless drivel.


Zizka 10.09.03 at 10:10 pm

To me, the Plame case is a litmus test of how far “rational conservatives”, libertarians, independents, and moderates will go in order to avoid supporting an evil Democrat. (The hard right, I’m convinced, will support Bush no matter what.)

But I’m not at all confident that they’ll turn — and a lot of the media has already signed on to Bush’s spin points. The Plame story could just disappear.

To me, even by conservative standards Bush has done a number of things which should make moderates and conservatives give up on him. But obviously my left-liberal opinion counts for nothing here, and all I can do is sit and watch.


Barry 10.10.03 at 1:50 am

Chun, the best description of instapundit is ‘Rush Limbaugh of the blogosphere’. He’s got a big audience, he’s very good at pumping out right-wing BS. He was also an early starter, and helped out a bunch of people who were just getting started.

His big technique is to link to a story and add a comment or two about how it proves whatever he wants proven. If/when challenged on the story, his standard response was to say that he hadn’t read it.

I used to think that this was at least clever of him, until I realized that he’s a law professor, and that he was just doing the blog equivalent of putting a friendly witness on the stand and leading the witness through some perjured testimony.


Ben 10.10.03 at 9:32 am

Is this the same Mark Steyn who argued that security in Iraq was not a problem and it was all some big hype?

He’s a prat. Conrad Black’s pet poodle, the “quality paper” equivalent of the foaming mouth tabloid hacks who inconsistently rail against the world.


Ted Barlow 10.10.03 at 3:28 pm

He’s also the same Mark Steyn who wrote that reports of intense heat in Iraq were just anti-war propoganda. A few weeks later, between two and five soldiers were dead from the heat.


dipnut 10.11.03 at 1:10 am

…the idea that the media are…being tough on pore ole Frat and ‘oomphing up’ something is…ludicrous.

…the Plame story could just disappear…

Check out next week’s issue of Time.

And Ted, check this out.


Tom Maguire 10.11.03 at 1:51 am

From TIME, helpfully linked above,, which is generally unsympathetic to the Bush side on this story:

The answer is that Plame is just the latest casualty in a low-grade war that has raged for more than a year between the CIA and the White House about the nature and use of intelligence. It has been a constant, under-the-radar struggle between the ideological hard-liners of the Bush team against career intelligence experts at the cia—a fight over the validity of the evidence that the U.S. and its allies gathered about Saddam and his nuclear ambitions.

Hmm. So in addition to appearing to the world to be a well qualified former ambassador, Wilson had close ties to the see-no-evil CIA that had been at odds with the White House for over a year (well over a year, to hear the neocons tell it – they think the CIA has been wrong on Iraq for a decade).

And the position here is that Wilson’s CIA connection is utterly irrelevant to the story, and says nothing at all about his motivation, or his commitment to finding evidence supporting the Cheney side of the story?

Mr. Steyn does a bad job of compressing this point into the phrase “anti-war” but it takes very little imagination to know that he meant “anti-neocons”; the neocons had been openly targetting Iraq since 1998.

And since Mr. Barlow has been following this story pretty closely, he is no doubt aware that the description of his report provided by Wilson to the NY Times was at odds with the (verbal) report he gave the CIA. What he told the CIA included hints and feelers from an Iraqi trade mission trying to purchase, so he guessed, uranium. Which is why the CIA felt his report was inconclusive.

So let’s see – the Ambassador is hooked into the CIA side of the neocon-CIA tussle, and is publicly misrepresenting his report to the CIA. To say the White House acted in revenge confuses the words “revenge” and “rebut”.


Nick 10.11.03 at 2:27 am

Please tell me that that comment wasn’t posted by the real Tom Maguire.


Tom Maguire 10.11.03 at 4:13 am

Well, it may have been a bit snarkier than normal – I am grappling with various cold midicnes, and may have mixed myself a Rushbo special – but that was me.


Tom Maguire 10.11.03 at 4:14 am

In your world, “midicnes” is spelled “medicines”.


moptop 10.14.03 at 2:30 am

This is what passes as a fisking on the left? Mark Steyn doesn’t agree with your point of view, you point it out repeatedly, that discredits Steyn?

Wilson has made it quite clear that he has the goal of discrediting the Bush administration. He did not become a Democrat only after the trip to Niger, and in fact Bush did refer to Africa, not Niger, and the Brits stand by their story. To elide over this fact is just one more symptom of the pathetic depths the left has sunk to. Put words in the administration’s mouth, claim that they are what the administration “really meant”, even though you can find no actual words to support them, “imminent threat” comes to mind as the most famous example of this dishonest technique, then call them liars for saying what you say they said, pretending that their actual words do not matter.


Mike T 10.14.03 at 4:26 pm

Put words in the administration’s mouth, claim that they are what the administration “really meant”, even though you can find no actual words to support them, “imminent threat” comes to mind as the most famous example of this dishonest technique, then call them liars for saying what you say they said, pretending that their actual words do not matter.

Replace “imminent threat” with “Al Gore invented the internet” and you’ve got a pretty good rundown of election 2000.


fred 10.16.03 at 3:23 am

Moptop is bang on. You lefties have a lot to offer but your current inability to control your tendency to lie like Joe Stalin is hurting you. Bush did not say or suggest or imply or hint there was an imminent threat. There are reasonable and just grounds to criticise Bush and the war. Pick one, but please stop making asses of yourselves.

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