Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Big Picture

As I’ve noted in previous posts, the Karl Rove / Valerie Plame story is just the tip of the iceberg. Historically, the outing of Ms. Plame is in the same context as the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate in June 1972: it’s the little incident that starts the dominoes falling. It’s the butterfly effect. The same is true, by the way, of the Downing Street Memo, but they tie together.

Most of the coverage on this story has been about trivia; was Valerie Plame Wilson really a “covert” agent? Did Karl Rove call Bob Novak or was it the other way around? Did he break the law? What color jumpsuit will he wear? Yada yada. They’re fascinating stories and worthy of late-night Leno and Letterman, but they’re just pixels in the big picture, which is the fact that it is now pretty startingly clear that the Bush administration wanted to go to war with Iraq even before 9/11 and it did everything it possibly could, including cooking the books and leaning on allies, to go to war.

In doing so, they went at it with all the tools and tactics they used in their politicial campaign, including dirty tricks, aka “rat-fucking.” This is Karl Rove’s speciality. He’s been at it since he was a teenager, and if you want a good profile on this, read this from the May 12, 2003 The New Yorker by Nicholas Lehmann. It’s called “The Controller” and it pretty well sums up the person and the methodology of Mr. Rove, and you should read that to understand his role in the big picture.

First, read this backgrounder in the Washington Post by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen.

It is now clear: There has been an element of pretense to the White House strategy of dealing with the Plame case since the earliest days of the saga. Revelations emerging slowly at first, and in a rapid cascade over the past several days, have made plain that many important pieces of the puzzle were not so mysterious to Rove and others inside the Bush administration. White House officials were aware of Plame and her husband’s potentially damaging charge that Bush was “twisting” intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear ambitions well before the episode evolved into Washington’s latest scandal.


Wilson set out to discredit the charge, working largely through back channels at first to debunk it. He called friends inside the government and the media, and told the New York Times’s Nicholas D. Kristof of his findings in Niger. Kristof aired them publicly for the first time in his May 6, 2003, column but did not name Wilson. This caught the attention of officials inside Cheney’s office, as well as others involved in war planning, according to people who had talked with them.

The White House, hailing the lightning-quick toppling of Hussein, suddenly found itself on the defensive at home over its WMD claims. It was not just Wilson, but Democrats, reporters and a few former officials who were publicly wondering if Bush had led the nation to war based on flimsy, if not outright false, intelligence.

And that’s when Karl Rove sprang into action, the rat-fucking began, and we’re seeing it played out on TV and in the blogosphere: the big picture is being obscured by trivia and the Klingon battle methods of political revenge and retribution that is the Mark of Rove.

As always, Frank Rich brings us back to the real story in today’s New York Times.

This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit – the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes – is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That’s why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair.

Not only that, it is about the mindset of the people we have elected to run this country. These are the same people who shook their jowls and harrumphed over the immorality of Bill Clinton and brought our government to a standstill while they titillated us with the tales of blue dresses and errant cigars. Yet they shrug off the possibility that the White House breached security to exact political revenge, all to defend an act of war. If this is what they see as restoring honor to the Oval Office, we have far more to worry about than the horrors of war.