COLUMBUS — There was a time when Joseph Wilson’s obituary could have read something like this: Ambassador Wilson was the last American diplomat to have met with Saddam Hussein before the first Gulf War.
Much has changed since Wilson was welcomed home by President George Herbert Walker Bush, who gushed over him as a “true American hero.” These days his obit might read:
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson will be best remembered as the husband of Valerie Plame, the first American secret agent to be outed by her own government as an act of political revenge.
Or so he says.
Wilson was in Columbus this week as a guest speaker at the annual convention of the Ohio Newspaper Association. He’s burning up the celebrity speaker circuit, parlaying his newfound notoriety as an opportunity to share his views on the war, his wife, and George H.W. Bush’s son.
Since it has been a bit since we last visited the Valerie Plame outing, the Lewis “Scooter” Libby indictment, the Judith Miller jailing, the Dick Cheney and Karl Rove plottings, a recap is in order:
Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a secret CIA operative whose identity was disclosed in a Robert Novak column and later written about by Matt Cooper of Time magazine. Judy Miller of The New York Times also poked around on the story, but never wrote about it. For that, she went to jail.
Why was Plame outed? Ostensibly as a political vendetta after her husband wrote a 1,500-word article in The Times debunking the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.
This notion that Saddam Hussein was in the market for “yellowcake” was the linchpin in the president’s argument that we had to invade Iraq.
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” Bush told Congress and the American people in his 2003 State of the Union speech.
Sixteen words that were either a lie or a mistake depending upon whom you talk to.
If the assertion behind those words had been true, the threat would have been clear: A madman like Hussein could not be permitted to have fissionable material that could end up in a bomb. If the Brits had it right, then the administration mantra that “we cannot afford to wait for the smoking gun to arrive in the form of a mushroom cloud” would have been valid.
Problem is, the Brits were full of “crap,” according to Wilson, who told the assembled newspaper execs that the CIA had advised the Senate months earlier that the British intel report was not to be believed, that the documents upon which it was based were bogus, that their source was a known screw-up.
But Bush went with it anyway. Was he badly advised, or did he not want to hear? The answer to that determines whether his words were lies or a tragic error.
CIA Director George Tenet took the fall for his boss, ended up with a medal and a retirement, and more than 2,200 American soldiers have earned a trip home in a box.
Vice President Dick Cheney was furious at Wilson, so he sicced his aide, Scooter Libby on him, Wilson asserts. Libby’s been indicted on multiple counts, including lying to the FBI.
Why were the neo-cons in the Bush administration so hot to invade Iraq? Wilson was asked.
We can take a clue from the most recent State of the Union speech, he said, where the president invited “responsible criticism” so long as it wasn’t about oil, Israel or domestic intelligence-gathering techniques.
The story has morphed since the early days of the war, of course. It’s no longer about saving America from weapons of mass destruction; it’s about bringing “God’s gift of freedom to the Iraqi people.” Except that’s not why you go to war, Wilson argues.
You go to war to defend the country. You don’t spread democracy “at the point of a gun.”
And you don’t out your own spies to get even with ex-diplomats who try to spoil your party, either.
Not unless you want to turn their husbands into celebrity speakers –persuasive, well-informed speakers who faced down Saddam Hussein and, consequently, aren’t very likely to be intimidated by the likes of a guy nicknamed Scooter.
Copyright, 2006, Jeffrey C. Bruce. All rights reserved.