Saturday, October 22, 2005

Of Irony and Endings

Trying to tie together a few threads before plunging into the more serious work of Christian soteriology, I'm taking my 7th inning stretch early and walking away from the hometown team in the World Series to consider the Sunday morning state of play of "Plamegate." It's getting interesting.

I think Steve Gilliard is right, that Fitzgerald has more than John Dean gives him credit for. My initial support for that position was a simple one: U.S. Attorneys do not jail reporters lightly. Fitzgerald would not do so if he didn't have a serious case. And then there's the fact the White House is so worried.

In fact, that's what prompted me to post these thoughts: the memory of the "Senior White House Official" who said: "We have let the earth-movers roll in over this one." Which, at the time, seemed reasonable. But two years later those earth movers have not only been removed from the scene, they've been replaced by a very determined man with a very big shovel:

It's a nightmare prospect that Republicans have trouble fathoming: legal problems that could drive some of the president's most powerful aides from office.

A special prosecutor and grand jury are closing in on a deadline to decide whether to lodge criminal complaints against presidential adviser Karl Rove and White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the outing of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson.

If it comes to pass, administration officials and GOP consultants expect President Bush to turn to a few individuals to fill any void in his inner circle.

Among the candidates are go-to Republicans whom Bush trusts, including Ed Gillespie, Ken Mehlman and Karen Hughes; former lawmakers Rob Portman and Vin Weber; and those who could be promoted from within, such as Dan Bartlett, Joshua Bolten and Joe Hagin.

It's also possible the president could reach out to others in his Cabinet, among them Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Republicans steadfastly cling to the belief that there will be no indictments, the issue will blow over and the speculation will amount to nothing more than idle chatter.

"I don't think anybody's leaving," said Charles Black, a veteran GOP strategist and close Bush ally.

But one White House official, noting that Bush's senior staff is tired of the long hours and increasing pressure, has told colleagues it might be best if everyone closest to the president resign and clear the way for new blood and fresh perspectives.
And Josh Marshall notes that it is now clear "Scooter" Libby was obsessed with Joe Wilson, even as it's just as clear the "resignation" of Mr. Libby might be what some in the White House have in mind.

And that's not even the worst part, apparently. The worst part may be: all the chickens are coming home to roost:

The legal and political stakes are of the highest order, but the investigation into the disclosure of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity is also just one skirmish in the continuing battle over the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.

That fight has preoccupied the White House for more than three years, repeatedly threatening President Bush's credibility and political standing, and has now once again put the spotlight on Vice President Dick Cheney, who assumed a critical role in assembling and analyzing the evidence about Iraq's weapons programs.
This is, of course, the revenge of irony. Dick Cheney, so determined to have his way, and so determined to keep secret everything he did, is now presumptively at the center of a criminal investigation. Ask Bill Clinton how much those things can reveal. Clearly there are legal consequences here; but there are also political ones:

"The way in which the leak investigation is being pursued is becoming a symbol of who was right and who was wrong about the war," said Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. "The possibility of Libby being indicted, and the whole Cheney angle, is all about proving in some sense that they were wrong and therefore that those who opposed the war and never thought the intelligence was right have been proven correct."

The passions surrounding the investigation and the question of why the administration got it wrong about Iraq's weapons programs, other analysts agree, reflect the troubled course of the war and the divisions over whether it was necessary or a diversion from the effort to combat Islamic extremism.

The administration has acknowledged the failures of pre-war intelligence, though its supporters have pointed out that many Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, and the intelligence services of other countries were also convinced that Saddam Hussein had caches of banned weapons. But the White House's insistence that there were many other compelling reasons for deposing Saddam Hussein have only inflamed critics of the war.

"There's a daisy chain that stems from the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found," said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations
We seem suddenly to be dealing in symbols that no longer serve this administration, but instead defeat its every ambition. The symbols of terror, fear, and power that served George W. Bush so ably, started crumbling, and then were swept away. A single woman who refused to be afraid taught us political courage. A hurricane showed us all what overwhelming power could do, and brought fear and terror home to the entire country. In response to it, George W. Bush became little more than Little Boy Blue, too sleepy even to blow his horn. When he did awake, he found his protective bubble had been stripped away, first by a woman who had already suffered her greatest loss and was not afraid; then by a press reminded of its humanity in the face of governmental inhumanity, and finally (trouble comes in threes) by a special prosecutor determined to see justice done, something this Administration clearly fears as if it were the Mafia.

As Josh Marshall notes at the end of his latest post on the matter, there are many more issues to take note of here. But the notion that this will fizle out with no indictments, or only a few minor players becoming defendants in court, seems very unlikely.

I don't think the Fat Lady is even warming up in the wings yet. In fact, we may just be getting to Act III, of a four or five Act tragedy. The Judy Miller story, for example, has many more interesting subplots to reveal before it is through. Why was she allowed so much leeway? Did she have a security clearance, or not? Even the NYT public editor wants to know. Answers to some of these questions may shed as much light on how business in this democratic republic is actually done as Katrina has already let in.

We've just started turning over the rock. We aren't yet through looking at the number of things crawling around under there. Katrina. Plamegate. Cindy Sheehan. Several plotlines have yet to converge on the climax.

It ain't over, 'til it's over. And the greatest irony is, the law'n'order guys who refused to play by the rules, are about to find out that law'n'order applies to them, too.

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