The normally formidable Bush spin machine, which has perfected Orwellian doublespeak to an art form, has obviously been rattled by the Lewis Libby indictment and the whole Valerie Plame affair. The administration’s uncharacteristic and lame response has taken a well-worn page from a public relations playbook: try to change the subject. It has pursued this strategy by speeding up the selection and announcement of the Supreme Court nominee of the month. But this mere diversion might actually signal that the White House has done something wrong. Furthermore, trying to change the subject shows weakness that could embolden critics. That’s the kind of response one would expect from a weak-kneed Clinton administration. Remember the U.S. cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 on the day that Monica Lewinsky was testifying before the grand jury? The Bush administration would never want to be caught dead imitating the Clinton administration’s “small thinking.”
No, we expect more from the Bush administration. We expect the same grandiosity and flamboyance shown during the debacle in Iraq. In December 2004, in the midst of the chaos of the post-invasion occupation of Iraq, the president awarded the Medal of Freedomone of the nation’s two top civilian awardsto Gen. Tommy Franks, intelligence director George Tenet, and U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer. Although General Franks got his army to Baghdad with due haste, he threw out his predecessor’s contingency plan for an occupation of Iraq and didn’t do much planning of his own for that eventuality. George Tenet looked the other way while Bush administration politicos turned murky intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction into the hysterical propaganda that Saddam Hussein was about ready to obtain a nuclear weapon. Finally, Paul Bremer, the administration’s pick to run occupied Iraq, made the horrendous blunders of demobilizing the Iraqi army and purging Baathist party members down to the mid-level of the Iraqi bureaucracy. These actions eliminated expertise that might have been useful in dampening the chaos of post-war Iraq and created enemies that already had the skills and now had the motive to fight U.S. forces.
The awards ceremony where those medals were presented resembled those held in the old Soviet Union, where senior officials took turns pinning medals on each other’s chests while Soviet forces in the field were taking a drubbing from a bunch of ragtag Afghan guerrillas. Giving medals to Franks, Tenet, and Bremer was the ultimate chutzpah in the face of an impending disaster in Iraq. The administration faces a comparable calamity in the Plame affair.
So why not be brash, play offense instead of defense, and give Libby, Rove and Cheney medals? So what if Libby probably compromised a U.S. intelligence operative’s secret identity, may have gotten U.S. friends overseas killed, undermined the willingness of future friends to provide information to the United States, and lied to cover it all up? And what if Libby’s pal, Karl Rove, probably did the same thing? And isn’t it hard to imagine that Vice President Cheney was not directing the effort to discredit Wilson’s findings by outing his wife? Cheney is known to have sharp elbows, led the charge into Iraq, was unduly interested in Plame’s place of employment, and, coincidentally, discussed the Plame affair with Libby on two occasions shortly before Libby’s disclosures to reporters that Plame worked for the CIA.
But c’mon, all of these guys are good Republicans, and therefore their patriotism must be beyond reproach. They may have committed a few “excesses” but they were done in the noble and heroic cause of hastily toppling a dictator. Of course, this dictator was only dreaming about restarting his moribund weapons programs in the distant future and was supporting terrorists who never really focused their attacks on the United States.
Thus, don’t be shocked if this administrationwhich specializes in make-believethinks that medals for Libby, Rove, and Cheney may be a smart “in-your-face” strategy to get out of this Plame thicket once-and-for-all. I’ll bet Saddam Hussein has a few medals he could now spare.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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