Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Shocked I Tell You!

I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of an issue with Christopher Hitchens, who yesterday offered a devastating critique of David Corn and Michael Isikoff in Slate.

As most of us have long suspected, the man who told Novak about Valerie Plame was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department and, with his boss, an assiduous underminer of the president's war policy. (His and Powell's—and George Tenet's—fingerprints are all over Bob Woodward's "insider" accounts of post-9/11 policy planning, which helps clear up another nonmystery: Woodward's revelation several months ago that he had known all along about the Wilson-Plame connection and considered it to be no big deal.) The Isikoff-Corn book, which is amusingly titled Hubris, solves this impossible problem of its authors' original "theory" by restating it in a passive voice:

The disclosures about Armitage, gleaned from interviews with colleagues, friends and lawyers directly involved in the case, underscore one of the ironies of the Plame investigation: that the initial leak, seized on by administration critics as evidence of how far the White House was willing to go to smear an opponent, came from a man who had no apparent intention of harming anyone.

In the stylistic world where disclosures are gleaned and ironies underscored, the nullity of the prose obscures the fact that any irony here is only at the authors' expense. It was Corn in particular who asserted—in a July 16, 2003, blog post credited with starting the entire distraction—that:

The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.

After you have noted that the Niger uranium connection was in fact based on intelligence that has turned out to be sound, you may also note that this heated moral tone ("thuggish," "gang") is now quite absent from the story. It turns out that the person who put Valerie Plame's identity into circulation was a staunch foe of regime change in Iraq. Oh, that's all right, then. But you have to laugh at the way Corn now so neutrally describes his own initial delusion as one that was "seized on by administration critics."

Corn plays the famous film homage perfectly:

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

Via Glenn Reynolds, who observes that this reflects poorly on President Bush, “for his failure to fire Tenet -- and to roll some other heads at the CIA -- shortly after 9/11.”

Hard to argue with that.

The Editors at National Review are no more charitable than Hitchens, and conclude:

There’s a lot of blame to go around. First up is Armitage. There was absolutely nothing illegal about the original leak he committed, but he chose to remain silent while others — principally Rove and Libby — endured years of accusations in the press. (Armitage’s close friend Colin Powell also deserves a dishonorable mention for keeping quiet after learning of Armitage’s role.) The administration’s leftist adversaries in and out of government who have spent years shrieking “traitor” should be ashamed of themselves. Likewise the New York Times editorial board, which screamed for an investigation until it got bit it on the backside in the form of the media subpoenas. Fitzgerald should ask himself whether his wild goose chase has shown the judgment and discretion one expects from such an experienced prosecutor. Finally, the higher-ups at the Justice Department — Ashcroft and Comey in particular — bear great responsibility for buckling under political pressure when their own investigators knew there was nothing to the story.

Shocked, I tell you!

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