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Sep 30, 2003 | 06:00 GMT

5 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Monday, Sept. 29, 2003

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
The war is intensifying and the administration is clearly on the defensive. The war we are talking is not in Baghdad, but Washington — and it's clearly getting out of hand. The battleground is the same one that has plagued the administration since the end of conventional warfare in Iraq — weapons of mass destruction (WMD). At issue is whether someone at the White House deliberately exposed an undercover CIA agent specializing in WMD — Valerie Plame. She is the wife of Joseph Wilson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Gabon. Wilson had been called to review intelligence relating to Iraq's acquisition of WMD materials. His report did not please the administration. Somewhere along the way, Plame's cover was blown. Exposing a CIA operative is a serious issue. Apart from destroying Plame's effectiveness in the field and endangering her life, it could also destroy counter-WMD operations that she was involved in. There are legal implications for the one who exposed her, particularly if that person holds a federal position and a security clearance. This isn't trivial. Wilson claims the White House leaked the information in order to discredit him and take revenge. How the information would discredit Wilson isn't clear, but it is certainly taking revenge on his wife, whose covert career is at an end. More explicitly, Wilson is charging that Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor, is responsible for the leak. If that is true, Rove's career would end as suddenly as Plame's — and whether that's all that would happen to him depends on his luck. It would also be devastating for the administration. Apart from all the other fallout, the authors of the Patriot Act would now be faced with a massive breach of security in the White House itself. No one is close to proving anything at this point, of course, and Karl Rove might be the victim of unwarranted accusations. From the Democrats' point of view, the uncertainty makes this moment all the sweeter. The same folks who hated the special prosecutor under Clinton now demand a special prosecutor for this case — fair enough, since the people who loved Clinton's special prosecutor are now adamantly opposed to the idea for Bush. It all evens out. What doesn't even out is this. The United States is engaged in a global war so far from over it's more like a cave than a tunnel — forget, for now, seeing a light at the end of it. Bipartisanship has completely collapsed and we have moved from grudging consensus to calls for prosecutors to investigate felonies. The situation is now completely out of hand. U.S. elections have been held during wars, but it is difficult to remember a wartime election this rough and destructive. The elections of 1968 and 1972 were not this far gone a year away from election day. We would guess that we'd have to go back to 1864 to see something like this. The problem is this. The administration has held to the WMD line for so long that it has become a separate dogma that can be neither defended nor abandoned. Regardless of whether Rove blew the agent's cover, adhering to a disproved claim in the hopes that no one will notice is not only a bad idea — it isn't working. At some point the White House must come to grips with the fact that its WMD strategy just isn't flying. There was a reason for invading Iraq. It wasn't WMD. Get on with the war. On the other side, Washington has become so used to government-by-scandal that even wartime necessities can't stop it. Trying to destroy Bill Clinton or Robert Bork or any of the innumerable public figures savaged during peacetime is one thing. It is quite another to do so during war. It seems to us that if Karl Rove is guilty, then he should be hung from a tree. His action is unforgivable. But — and this is the crucial point — discrediting a sitting president during war is very risky. Even Pearl Harbor wasn't investigated until the war was under control. In other words (we would apologize for editorializing, but we aren't journalists, so no apology needed) — this is a wonderful time for both sides to cut it out. The White House should admit what we all know — they screwed up on the WMD issue, or lied. It's one or the other, and the Bush administration is not getting out of this without paying a price. The Democrats should bear in mind that the United States is at war and that there is a difference between winning the White House and destroying it. There is a war on, dammit. The only winner in all of this is Osama bin Laden. It's beginning to look like his analysis of the United States was shrewder than it might originally have appeared. The United States is self-destructive. Just give it a little push, and Washington will tear itself apart.

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