"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Monday, October 31, 2005

George W. Bush's Propaganda War Goes on Trial


They are two of the Bush administration's most trusted advisors: I. Lewis Libby and Karl Rove. Now, one has been indicted and the other may be soon. The affair promises to put the administration's Iraq policy on trial and will ask uncomfortable questions about just how much the danger from Iraq was exaggerated. The answer may also make things awkward for the New York Times.

The man is a well-trained mathematician with a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His friends in the Pentagon chose him to be the first head of state in a democratic Iraq. His single-minded persuasiveness was enough to convince even a hard-nosed New York Times reporter like Judith Miller that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. And he even managed to convince a crusty old curmudgeon like US Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraqis would welcome their American liberators with cheers and rose petals.

But the man is also a convicted bank defrauder. He never did quite manage to become head of Iraq, but climbed as high as prime minister. He fell from White House grace because when American troops reached Baghdad, there were no rose petals to be found.

Now, though, comes the show-stopper in this back-and-forth biography: This week, 60-year-old Ahmed Chalabi -- only briefly out of favor in the White House -- will return once more to Washington for a friendly reception as a guest of the United States of America. Chalabi -- known both as a dishonest rascal and as an assertive schemer -- is the only one the White House really trusts to create a realistic coalition of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis in Baghdad. And such a coalition is an absolute prerequisite to any thoughts of American withdrawal from the country.

The very fact that Washington's hopes are once again pinned on such a charlatan says a lot about just how desperate the situation in Iraq has become. In the middle of last week -- a week which quickly became one of the darkest of the 250 weeks US President George W. Bush has occupied the White House -- American deaths in Iraq reached the symbolic threshold of 2,000 victims.

Cheney's indicted advisor

And by the end of last week, it had become abundantly clear that the president and his team would likewise have to give up the hope of being able to escape responsibility for a war based on ultimately untenable arguments -- all of which have emerged as chimeras. On Friday, the pre-history of the Iraq war finally became the matter for a court of law; Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicted the vice president's closest advisor I. Lewis Libby. More than that, Fitzgerald made it clear that he may even go further -- to President Bush's chief advisor Karl Rove.

Rove, 54, Deputy White House Chief of Staff -- and the man who both friends and foes of the president refer to as Bush's Brain -- will in all likelihood soon be called before a court. Cheney's right hand man "Scooter" Libby, 55, comes first.

Their offenses may seem rather minimal: The two top White House advisors may be responsible for having revealed the identity of a CIA agent. Libby, at least, during investigations into the case, may have lied to investigators and misled a grand jury. In a word, perjury.

But there is one small factoid that provides the case with political explosiveness: The uncovering of the CIA agent, Valerie Plame, was a part -- even if a small one -- of the pre-Iraq War propaganda offensive. And by no means is it just the top advisors who are involved in the case.

Indeed, it was Cheney himself who in spring 2002 -- almost a year before the US military marched into Baghdad -- made the completely unsupported assertion that Saddam Hussein had restarted his nuclear program. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security advisor, took up the war chant with her catchy warning against Saddam's nuclear plans. "The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons," she said. "But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

The current trial will have to confront the fabrication of intelligence that lead to such overstatements and untruths.

Loose Lipped Libby

At its heart, though, will be a vendetta embarked on by an administration that wanted to put an irritating critic in his place. And it's a vendetta that makes all participants look bad. In his State of the Union address in 2003 Bush -- in looking to prove the existence of Saddam's nuclear weapons program -- asserted that the dictator had attempted to buy uranium in the form of yellow cake from Niger. The only problem? The rumor had long since been disproved. Six months later, former acting ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson wrote, in a piece for the New York Times, that he himself had investigated the paper trail that allegedly proved the yellow cake accusations and had found the documents to be forgeries.

The rejoinder was not long in coming. The conservative journalist Robert Novak, a Bush Administration supporter, warned his readers against taking Wilson seriously. His government-sponsored research trip to Niger, Novak wrote, was a low-level formality organized by his wife -- and CIA agent -- Valerie Plame.

More than the assertion that Wilson's mission was little more than a pleasure trip, it was the exposure of Plame as a CIA agent that turned heads. After all, under US law, it is a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to reveal the identity of a CIA agent. Immediately, the administration was accused of leaking Plame's identity as a way of getting back at Wilson. Wilson, himself not exactly well-endowed in the class department, enjoyed his sudden fame as a Bush victim and did what he could to keep the affair in the headlines.

Nobody, though, pursued Wilson more doggedly than Cheney's chief of staff Libby. Even before Wilson's article appeared, Libby leaked the background of the coming scandal to New York Times reporter Judith Miller -- a reporter who, thanks to reliance on information from Chalabi, had become convinced of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Indeed, after the Iraq War, the New York Times even felt the need to apologize for having gullibly swallowed the government line on Iraq and regurgitating it in the paper. Most of the articles the paper apologized for had been written by Judith Miller.

Libby, for his part, was likely only following marching orders given by his boss, Dick Cheney. The vice president, after all, had become the main Iraq hawk within the Bush administration. So much so that his old friend Brent Scowcroft -- who was President George H. W. Bush's security advisor during the 1991 Gulf War at the same time when Cheney himself was secretary of defense -- today considers Cheney "the real anomaly in the administration" and says, even after a 30 year friendship, he doesn't know Cheney anymore, as the weekly magazine the New Yorker reported.

The chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, has, like Scowcroft, also recently made headlines with critique of Cheney. He says that American foreign policy in the run up to the invasion of Iraq was "made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld." His point: the vital decision to go to war in Iraq was made outside the usual policy-making channels.

Vice President Dick Cheney was generally wary of the CIA. Libby thus made it a habit to read raw intelligence reports prior to their being processed by CIA experts; an analysis as to the reliability of the intelligence sources was often left out of the equation. The result was over-reliance on informants like Chalabi -- whose self-serving analyses of the situation in Iraq came to have a direct influence on American foreign policy.

Embellishing the evidence

Like Libby, Karl Rove too was part of the super-secret White House Iraq Group. Founded seven months before the invasion by Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card, the group's mission was to sell the Iraq invasion to the American public and to communicate the grave danger presented by the existence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. The circle, which also included now Secretary of State Rice and Bush's current National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, did its best to take what thin evidence there was for a Iraqi WMD program and embellish it as much as possible. Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald seems to have taken a special interest in the work of this propaganda unit.

Rove, accompanied by a small army of lawyers, has already spent weeks trying to avoid an indictment. And the Bush White House is panicked at the prospect of losing some of its closest colleagues -- an event that could completely paralyze Bush's second administration. "These will be very, very dark days for the White House," the Washington Post recently quoted Andrew Card as saying.

Bush's second term -- something of a disaster even without the scandal -- is threatening to turn into a quagmire of indignity and intrigue. Indeed, one is reminded of the second terms of Bill Clinton (Monica Lewinsky) and Ronald Reagan (Iran-Contra Affair) before him.

Clinton, though, even at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, could always rely on support from inner circle and from the party faithful. Bush, on the other hand, may have to do without some of his most experienced strategists -- and at a time when his public support is quickly eroding.

Some in his party have attacked him because of the immense budget deficit. Neo-conservatives are angry about what they see as a somewhat directionless Iraq policy. Religious fundamentalists, for their part, are unhappy about his nomination of his legal advisor Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. In the eyes of many Christian fundamentalists, Miers -- herself a born-again Christian -- hasn't done enough for religious life in the United States. Last Thursday, she was forced to withdraw her candidacy.

Not just the White House

And it is not just the White House whose employees have caught the attention of the law. Republican congressional leaders are likewise back-pedalling. Tom DeLay, until last month the influential majority leader in the House of Representatives, has only recently had to succumb to the disgrace of being fingerprinted by a Texas sheriff. He is suspected of money laundering. Bill Frist, his counterpart in the Senate, is likewise under suspicion. His alleged offence: profiting from insider trading in the Hospital Corporation of America -- a chain of hospitals founded in 1968 by his father and brother.

Not even Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald is able to present himself as a knight in shining armor. At the beginning of the investigation, the son of Irish immigrants seemed to be doing everything right. He quickly became known as a workaholic who would often send e-mails to his assistants as late as 2 a.m. His file cabinets soon filled with dirty laundry and leftovers of fast-food meals were piled everywhere in his office as even cleanliness took a back seat to his work.

In Chicago, where Fitzgerald has worked as a federal prosecutor since 2001, he has become known as a carbon copy of Eliot Ness, the man who famously brought down Al Capone. And his reputation as an untiring investigator has proven true in Washington as well. Not only has he confiscated e-mails and day planners from the White House, but he has even managed to get his hands on the telephone list of the presidential jet Air Force One.

Still, at a time when his current investigation wasn't going well, he didn't shy away from taking aim at freedom of the press. He managed to have those journalists detained to whom Valerie Plame's true identity as a CIA agent had been leaked. And these inscrupulous methods worked.

Government agents in the Times

New York Times reporter Judith Miller sat in jail for 85 days before she -- following consultations with Libby's lawyer -- was willing to identify Libby as her source. But when it became known exactly what her ensuing testimony revealed, her employer -- which had transformed Miller into a martyr of press freedom -- suddenly no longer appeared in such positive light.

Miller, as it turned out, emerged as a journalist who allowed herself to be manipulated by the government for its own good. Even New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller was forced to admit -- in an e-mail to Times staff -- that Miller had perhaps misinformed her superiors about the role she had played in the campaign against Plame's husband Wilson.

Since then, the reputation of the most important newspaper in the United States has been tarnished. Not only do its journalists have high-up sources within the government. Rather, the unseemly and trusting relationship between Miller and Libby makes one wonder if perhaps the government also had its agents within the New York Times -- and that at a time when America was becoming involved in a war that has revealed itself to be a deadly mistake.

Hans Hoyng and Georg Mascolo

The Italian Connection

Behind the CIA leak scandal lies a bizarre trail of forged documents, an embassy break-in and international deception that helped propel the United States to war in Iraq.

Seeds of Leak Scandal Sown in Italian Intelligence Agency

While American public attention focuses on special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leak, U.S. and Italian lawmakers are probing a series of bogus claims of Iraqi uranium purchases in Africa that were the opening chapters in a saga that resulted in the disclosure of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

In the past week, the respected, left-of-center Italian daily La Repubblica published a three-part series of investigative articles claiming that documents purporting to prove that Saddam Hussein was seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger had been forged by an Italian freelance spy and then were fed by the Italian intelligence agency to eager officials in Washington and London.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate Democratic leader, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., are asking for public hearings into the forgeries and their role in Bush administration claims that Hussein was developing nuclear weapons.

The Italian Parliament is scheduled to hold hearings about the La Repubblica allegations on Thursday, with intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari expected to come under heavy grilling.

The articles relied heavily on sources in the Italian spy agency, the Military Information and Security Service, known as SISMI. They provide a tantalizing account -- credible to some observers, baseless speculation to others -- of how President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were snookered by fabricated intelligence about Hussein's alleged nuclear program.

The allegations in La Repubblica's articles lead far into the murky depths of Italy's intelligence agencies, a realm of conspiracy claims and counterclaims. In Italy this netherworld is called dietrologia -- a word that loosely translates as the widespread belief that political, security and criminal forces are constantly engaged in secret plots and maneuvers, noted Henry Farrell, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University in Washington and a blogger on the Crooked Timber Web log, which has dissected the Italian angle to Plamegate.

"It's hard to say if (the La Repubblica information) is the truth, truth with some distortion, or misinformation from the officials who are leaking this," Farrell said. "But it certainly raises some very troubling questions."

Farrell noted that during the Cold War, the U.S. and Italian spy agencies cooperated closely on undercover work. Bush and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are close allies, and Berlusconi has strongly supported Bush's Iraq policy, stationing 3,000 Italian troops south of Baghdad.

SISMI has long been accused of involvement in rightist conspiracies, including work in collaboration with Propaganda Due, or P-2, a Masonic secret society, and the Armed Falange, a neo-fascist terrorist group.

SISMI "does not have an immaculate history at all," said Gianfranco Pasquino, a political science professor at the Bologna, Italy, campus of the School of Advanced and International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. "It has been purged and reorganized very often."

Pasquino called SISMI "friendly to the right wing and willing to offer its services for right-wing purposes."

According to La Repubblica, the forged documents were originally produced in 2000 by Rocco Martino, a former member of the Carabinieri paramilitary police who then became a freelance agent for both SISMI and French intelligence. SISMI combined these fakes with real documents from the 1980s showing Hussein's yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period -- in the process, conducting a break-in at the Niger Embassy in Rome to steal letterhead and seals.

Soon afterward, La Repubblica reported, Italian operatives passed news of their scoop to the CIA and the British intelligence agency, MI6. When the CIA expressed doubt about the veracity of the claims, SISMI began seeking to peddle it directly to the most pro-war faction of the Bush administration.

SISMI chief Pollari met in Rome with Michael Ledeen, an influential Washington neoconservative who has long been reputed to play a back-channel role between U.S. and Italian spy agencies. Pollari also met in Washington with Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, to discuss the new information, La Repubblica reported. On Thursday, a National Security Council spokesman confirmed that the Hadley-Pollari meeting had taken place but was only "a courtesy call" with no documents exchanged.

In early 2002, CIA officials sent Wilson, who had served as a diplomat in Africa, to Niger to investigate the matter. Wilson reported back to CIA headquarters that the claims were unfounded.

Meanwhile, however, MI6 recycled the information and, without disclosing the source, reported it to the White House -- which interpreted this British echo chamber as independent confirmation of the Italian claims.

The elaborate hoax finally succeeded. In late September 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited Iraq's alleged Niger dealings as proof of Hussein's nuclear ambitions. In his February 2003 State of the Union address, Bush declared that British intelligence had "learned" Saddam Hussein had been seeking to buy nuclear material in Africa. Throughout the period, Blair made similar claims.

British officials have insisted that they had other evidence in addition to the forged documents that confirmed Iraqi uranium purchases in Niger. The British have declined to show this evidence, however.

La Repubblica quoted a SISMI official as saying of this alleged corroborating evidence, "If it ever were brought forward it would be discovered, with red faces, that it was Italian intelligence collected by SISMI at the end of the 1980s and shared with our friend Hamilton McMillan" -- the top MI6 counter-terrorism official during that period.

After war was initiated in 2003 and invading U.S. troops found no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, Wilson began to tell reporters about his fact-finding trip and his report to Washington that the Niger uranium claims were bogus. Wilson's maneuvering came at a politically sensitive moment, as the administration's war rationale appeared to be crumbling. According to the indictment released Friday, it was during this period when Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, began to organize a counterattack against Wilson and Valerie Plame, leaking her identity as a CIA agent and suggesting that he may have been sent to Niger merely because of nepotism.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that the FBI has been investigating the forged uranium documents for two years but has not reached any conclusions about who fabricated them or how they were funneled to U.S. and British officials.

On Wednesday, Berlusconi's office "categorically" rejected La Repubblica's claims. "The facts that are narrated ... do not correspond to the truth," the prime minister's office said in a statement in which it reiterated denials that the government had any "direct or indirect involvement in the packaging and delivery of the 'false dossier on Niger's uranium.' "

But Farrell said that many Italians view the matter as yet another dark conspiracy.

"Italian politics is incredibly byzantine and incredibly nontransparent, especially on security issues," Farrell said. "There is a pervasive (public) belief of dietrologia carried out behind the scenes by powerful, shadowy figures, all more or less incomprehensible except to a few insiders in Rome.

"This case will be interpreted as more of the same."

Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, October 30, 2005
E-mail Robert Collier at rcollier@sfchronicle.com.


Expect Night of Long Knives

Earth to Bush: Ditch Cheney

How's that for a 'fresh start'?

The idea that George W. Bush is losing confidence in Dick Cheney is gaining traction, and Time magazine has the story:

"'The problem is that the president doesn't want to make changes,' says a White House adviser who is not looking for a West Wing job, 'but he's lost some of his confidence in the three people he listens to the most.' Those three are his vice president, Dick Cheney, whose top aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, has been charged with brazenly obstructing the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame; Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, who while not indicted has still emerged as a player in the scandal; and chief of staff Andrew Card."

The White House was distancing itself from Libby's boss even before the indictment came down: Cheney, reports Time, was out of the loop on the Miers nomination. Now that Patrick J. Fitzgerald has Libby nailed [.pdf] – and has revealed that Cheney confirmed to Libby that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA – we're looking at a night of the long knives in Washington. As in this Washington Post piece on the indictment and its context:

"On June 9, the CIA faxed classified accounts of Wilson's assignment 'to the personal attention of Libby and another person in the Office of the Vice President.' Two or three days later, [Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc] Grossman told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had been involved in planning Wilson's trip. An unidentified 'senior officer of the CIA' confirmed Plame's employment for Libby on June 11, and Cheney told Libby the next day which part of the agency employed her.

"For Libby, according to a senior official who worked with him at the time, 'I think this just hit a nerve.' By June, he said, 'the blind, deaf, and dumb had to be aware that something was wrong in Iraq.' Uranium was 'always a side issue,' but it was also 'the beginning of the unraveling of the big story … calling attention to a huge mistake he was part of. So it's no wonder he took this personally.'

"A senior intelligence officer who knew of Libby's inquiries about Wilson and Plame said in an interview yesterday, 'It didn't occur to anyone that the reason why was so that her name would go out to reporters.' That, the official said, is 'the lesson you learn from this.'"

The lesson the Bushies are learning is that the neocons – who have colonized Cheney's office more effectively and permanently than the Pilgrims did Plymouth Rock – are nothing but trouble, and it just isn't worth it to go to bat for them. It may, however, be a lesson learned far too late. Bush's presidency is sinking faster than New Zealand's Whakarewarewa Thermal Village: both sit precariously atop a locus of volcanic activity. At this point, there are, no doubt, many in the White House who wish they could hand Cheney the presidential Medal of Freedom and send him on his way.

The war Cheney and his neocon confreres wanted has turned out to be an albatross hung 'round Bush's neck, and it is dragging down the GOP as we approach the 2006 congressional elections. In California, for example, we're having an election this coming Tuesday, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's reform package of statewide initiatives is coming up for a vote. I had to sit there and listen, last night, to a brazenly biased "news analyst" on local television exultantly describe how Libby's indictment imperils the governor's chances of victory. Among the proposals up for a vote: an initiative that would hand over the job of setting congressional district boundaries to an impartial panel of judges, instead of assigning the job of redistricting to the incumbents. What is even more galling is that brazenly biased television analyst is right: the mess the neocons have created, in Washington and Iraq, has endangered California's chances of breaking the stranglehold of the public employees' unions on the state budget.

We're exporting "freedom" and "democracy" to Iraq – and imposing a tyranny of onerous taxation and empowerment of the State on ourselves. It's a paradox that is ringing the death knell of our republic. As we morph into a corrupt and brazenly aggressive Empire, led by megalomaniacs and felons who believe it is noble to lie, the president of the United States glories in the virtue of his loyalty – but what happens when loyalty to friends and supporters becomes disloyalty to one's country?

The outing of Plame dramatizes the alien agenda of the neocons, which, contrary to their pretensions, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with pushing their foreign policy agenda. As many on the Right suspected from the start, their views on the export of "democracy" throughout the Middle East have little to do with the pursuit of American interests – and now the Brent Scowcroft wing of the GOP is coming around to the same view of the neocons and Cheney, their patron and protector. As Scowcroft confides to The New Yorker:

"The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend – I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore. …

"I don't think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11."

The neoconservative foreign policy of exporting "democracy" at gunpoint is, for Scowcroft and his fellow Republican realists, a futile crusade and a dangerous folly. Behind the millenarian views expressed by President Bush in his last inaugural address is a misconception most conservatives ought to be quick to perceive, and Scowcroft sees it:

"I believe that you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history. This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case. I don't think anyone knows what burns inside others. Food, shelter, security. Have you read Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom? I don't agree with him, but some people don't really want to be free."

That has really been the whole problem for the supposedly pro-free-market Republicans, who say they want to get government off peoples' backs. Freedom to soar – or to starve – is not a challenge savored by modern Americans. The transformation of the American people from a breed bred on the creed of an ornery self-sufficiency into a mob of corporate and individual welfare queens has been a major obstacle to the modern GOP's success. Why would an ostensible conservative imagine it's any better in Iraq, where there never was a tradition of individual liberty to begin with?

Scowcroft's shot across the bow at the Cheneyites, coming as it did on the eve of Libby's disgrace, is a case of perfect timing, adding his voice to that of former Powell chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who recently lit into the neocons with unrestrained fury. Detailing his career inside the national security bureaucracy, Col. Wilkerson describes the hothouse atmosphere in which Libby's recklessness incubated and flourished:

"[What] I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."

This seeming incompetence, however, only masked the ruthless effectiveness of what Wilkerson calls "the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" in carrying out their own agenda: "The dysfunctionality," says Wilkerson, "camouflaged the efficiency of the secret decision-making process." Sure we didn't have enough troops to effectively pacify and occupy Iraq, nor did we have the body armor and other equipment necessary to ensure a minimum of American casualties, but none of that mattered – as long as the ideological vision of the neocons was realized and "democracy" was imposed on an unwilling and no longer even unitary Iraq.

It didn't matter what sort of price we had to pay: the occasion of the 2,000th American death in battle finds the neocons unmoved. After all, as Max Boot declared, complaining about the lack of casualties in the early stages of the Afghan campaign, what else are soldiers for? Or, as the less ghoulish but no less scary Madeleine Albright said to Colin Powell, "What's the point in having this superb military you are always talking about if we can't use it?" This same monstrous Albright declared that the Iraqi sanctions, which killed tens of thousands over the years, mostly children and the elderly, were "worth it." The end justifies the means – every murderous ideologue in history has run this bloody banner up the flagpole. It yet waves over the battlefields of Iraq.

Similarly, it didn't matter if a single CIA undercover operative had to be sacrificed in the name of the neocons' holy war against much of the Muslim world. At some point, Scooter Libby may be sitting in the penitentiary, writing his next novel – but it remains a fact that American troops are going to be in Iraq for the foreseeable future, no matter which of the two major parties is in power.

In the battle for the soul of America, the fighting is taking place in two separate but intimately related theaters. Even as Fitzgerald moves to prosecute the War Party on the home front, they're getting ready to extend the war into Syria – as Congressman Ron Paul is presciently warning. The neocons' plan to "liberate" the Middle East and unleash a considerably strengthened Greater Israel to claim sufficient elbow room – as proposed by key Cheney aide David Wurmser – is moving full speed ahead. That Mr. Wurmser was working for the government of Israel, and not the U.S. government, at the time he – and others now high in the Bush administration – signed on to the "Clean Break" plan, should tell us everything we need to know about the neocons' foreign policy agenda.

The whole point of the neoconservative vision for the American Right has been that they have been quite willing to accept Big Government at home in the service of an aggressive foreign policy, which – in the words of Bill Kristol, the neocons' little Lenin – aims at nothing less than "benevolent global hegemony." What is the fate of Valerie Plame-Wilson, and a few of her fellow CIA covert operatives, in the face of such a majestic goal? Surely they are expendable, in the neoconservative worldview: and no doubt Kristol and his confreres would be more than willing to "out" the entire CIA, if they could get away with it. Those guys over at Langley, after all, wouldn't drink the Kool-Aid [video]. They were still stuck in the "reality-based community" and hadn't gotten with the neocon program, in which facts are crafted to fit ideological preconceptions instead of the other way around. They hadn't entered the Bizarro World of those, like Libby, who believed that it was their duty to expose a CIA agent and her comrades to danger. After all, Plame-Wilson and her husband were on to their game of fabricating phony "evidence" of Iraqi WMD – and had to be "liquidated." Like the kulaks during Stalin's reign over the former Soviet Union, the CIA had to be eliminated for the Greater Good of Mankind.

If Stalin's heirs have yet to pay for their crimes, then our own neo-Leninist criminals are much closer to experiencing justice – thanks to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, our Lech Walesa, our cautious yet implacable liberator who, the more he denies his role, the more he affirms it. In response to a question about the implications of his indictment of Libby for the war, Fitzgerald said:

"This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.

"This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer's identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person – a person, Mr. Libby – lied or not.

"The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction. And I think anyone's who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that."

Yet the act of revealing the criminality of this cabal leads ineluctably to the conclusion that the methods, motives, and policies of a small but determined group within this administration were corrupt. The indictment [.pdf] calls the actions of Libby – and, by implication, his unnamed enablers and co-conspirators – a "corrupt endeavor." How long before the American people learn the lesson of the trial of Scooter Libby – that the policy of war was, in its conception and execution, a corrupt endeavor? In tracing the trail of criminality that led Libby and his cohorts to betray Plame, Fitzgerald must establish not only the means but the motive – and he cannot do that in a vacuum.

The chief neocon "talking point," as elucidated by David Brooks and Bill Safire on Meet the Press this past Sunday, is that Fitzgerald didn't indict for the "underlying crime" but only filed charges having to do with violations of law that occurred during the investigation itself. What they forgot to mention is that a new grand jury has been impaneled, with access to all past testimony, and Fitzgerald could go to them with new charges, as Karl Rove and his lawyer are all too aware – and Libby's lawyer, too, when he finds one. "It's not over," as Fitzgerald said at his press conference, even as he was adamant about not telegraphing his intentions to the public – and to potential defendants.

I understand Libby's main defense is going to be that he was far too busy being an important government official to remember what he said from one week to the next: it was a failure of memory, not of morality. Why he didn't simply revert to the standard answer given by cornered government officials ("I can't recall"), instead of making up entire conversations with Tim Russert and relating them to the grand jury, is a question that is bound to come up at the trial.

Speaking of the trial, can anybody believe the administration will let it come to that? The idea of putting the famously evasive Cheney on the stand, to be interrogated by the merciless Fitzgerald, doesn't even bear thinking about from the administration's point of view. The best they could hope for is that Cheney's heart would give out on the stand – before he had a chance to perjure himself. At worst, this collision of the reality-based universe, represented by Fitzgerald, and the fantasy world of the neocons, embodied by Cheney, could cause an unprecedented explosion of such cosmic force that the courtroom – and the country – would go up in a puff of smoke and a thunderclap.

It's in the interests of Republicans to get everything out in the open, and the sooner they realize that, the sooner they'll get rid of the cancer that is eating away at Bush's presidency. The neocons, you see, aren't just ordinary ideologues, like Communists, Fascists, or advocates of technocracy: they are more like the carriers of a debilitating and highly contagious disease. Once they infected the bloodstream of this administration, the only road to the restoration of its health was to flush them out, clean them out entirely, without hesitation or regret. Because once the infection spreads beyond a certain point, the plight of the patient becomes utterly hopeless, and it's only a matter of time before he expires.

There is still time for George W. Bush to take his medicine and clean the alien intrusion out of our system of government. Yet the turning point is fast approaching, and the moment of decision is nearly upon him: he can save Cheney, or he can save his party. He cannot save both.

We now know that Plame-Wilson's highly sensitive CIA work was confirmed to Libby by Cheney, and that after a discussion aboard Air Force Two, the vice president's consigliere went out and did a job on her and her husband. As I said before the indictment came out: "All roads lead directly to Dick Cheney," and, as we can see, the distancing of the White House from the Office of the Vice President has already begun. This split can only deepen as the days go by and Fitzgerald closes in on his quarry.

All Saturday Matt Drudge was running a big headline about how Bush wants a "fresh start." He can have one – if only he'll ditch Cheney. Then, as the Clintonistas would say, we can all "move on."


He's coming for Cheney.

Will Bush get smart, follow through on his pledge to cooperate with what he described as Fitzgerald's "very dignified" investigation – and throw the vice president overboard? And what, I wonder, is Karl Rove telling him to do? As I have been saying for two years: get out the chips-and-dip, start popping that popcorn, and pull up a chair. This is going to be more fun than even I had anticipated…

Justin Raimondo

Samuel Alito Jr.

Nicknamed "Scalito" for views resembling those of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito Jr. is a favorite son of the political right. Appointed in 1990 by George H.W. Bush to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Alito has earned a reputation for intellectual rigor and polite but frequent dissent in a court that has been historically liberal. His mettle, as well as a personable demeanor and ties to former Republican administrations, has long had observers buzzing about his potential rise to the high court. "Sam Alito is in my mind the strongest candidate on the list," says Pepperdine law Prof. Douglas Kmiec. "I know them all . . . but I think Sam is a standout because he's a judge's judge. He approaches cases with impartiality and open-mindedness.

A New Jersey native, the 55-year-old Alito received a bachelor's degree from Princeton and graduated from Yale Law School. He worked in the solicitor general's office during the Reagan administration and was a U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey when George H.W. Bush nominated him to the Third Circuit. His 15 years on the bench have been marked by strong conservatism on a case-by-case basis that avoids sweeping opinions on constitutionality.

In 1997, Alito authored the majority opinion upholding a city's right to stage a holiday display that included a Nativity scene and a menorah because the city also included secular symbols and a banner emphasizing the importance of diversity. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito was the sole dissenter on the Third Circuit, which struck a Pennsylvania law that required women seeking abortions to consult their husbands. He argued that many of the potential reasons for an abortion, such as "economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands' previously expressed opposition . . . may be obviated by discussion prior to abortion." The case went on to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's decision 6 to 3.

Alito's conservative stripes are equally evident in criminal law. Lawrence Lustberg, a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who has known Alito since 1981 and tried cases before him on the Third Circuit, describes him as "an activist conservatist judge" who is tough on crime and narrowly construes prisoners' and criminals' rights. "He's very prosecutorial from the bench. He has looked to be creative in his conservatism, which is, I think, as much a Rehnquist as a Scalia trait," Lustberg says.

Some observers say that Alito cannot be easily pigeon-holed. In Saxe v. State College Area School District, Alito, writing for the panel, argued that the school does not have the right to punish students for vulgar language or harassment when it doesn't disrupt the school day. "Sam struck that down as a violation of free speech," Kmiec says. "That's not a conservative outcome."

Off the bench, friends and colleagues describe Alito as quiet and self-effacing with a wry sense of humor. He is a voracious reader with a particular love for biographies and history. With his wife, Martha, he has a son in college and a daughter in high school. "He's mild mannered and generous and family oriented," Lustberg says. "I don't agree with him on many issues, but I have the utmost respect for him. No one can question his intelligence or integrity."

Posted 7/19/05
By Bret Schulte