Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

EDITORIAL>> The noose tightens at White House

Four months ago, few people outside the Beltway had heard of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

But he was well known to the media because he and Karl Rove were the administration’s dependable conduits. All those stories favorable to the president or deleterious to his critics that cited “White House sources” or one of the other favored figleafs for inside tipsters were apt to have originated with Libby or Rove.

Libby was the surrogate agent for arguably the most powerful man in the world, the vice president. Cheney was the principal architect of Bush’s aggressive foreign policy and specifically of the war in Iraq. While Bush the presidential campaigner was vowing in 2000 that he, unlike Bill Clinton, would never engage in “nation building,” Cheney and a group of fellow ideologues in the New American Century were plotting the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the imposition of a more friendly regime.

Today, Scooter Libby stands indicted for obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to the FBI to throw them off the trail of what former President George H. W. Bush once called a treasonous plot against the country, the outing of a secret American agent. Rove, President Bush’s top adviser, was not indicted Friday, but a special prosecutor confirms that he is still under investigation and that another grand jury will take up the case against him in the same plot.

The incident that started this dismaying course of events once seemed merely curious, almost trifling: Someone in the Bush administration leaked the identity of a secret CIA operative in the nether world of weapons of mass destruction.

The operative happened to be the wife of a diplomat from former Republican administrations who had written a critical article about the administration’s dishonest campaign to justify the invasion of Iraq. He had been sent by the administration to look into one report of Iraqi finagling to get nuclear weapons and found it to be untrue. Bush ignored his findings and used the lie anyway to make the case for war. The administration seemed to be paying back a disloyal friend when it identified the agent to several reporters.

But trifling might better describe sexual play in a White House break room. Libby’s indictment and whatever the prosecutor ultimately makes of Rove’s more careful cunning are daggers aimed at the heart of the government. Cheney’s capital in Washington is exhausted. Part of the case against Libby is that he lied to protect Cheney, who told him that the diplomat’s wife was a CIA agent. President Bush has no capital left to squander. Rove’s indictment would effectively spell the end of the Bush administration, although he would have three long years of spiritless rule ahead.

The case of Joseph and Valerie Wilson, the former diplomat and his exposed wife, is surrogate for the Iraqi war, which a former military figure has called the greatest strategic blunder in American history. The strange case of the Wilsons and their White House enemies provides the context for the campaign of deceptions to persuade the U. S. Congress and the American people of the need to go to war. That two aides just took it upon themselves to carry out such dangerous policies is a scenario that few Americans will buy, whatever the outcome of the case.

We fear parlous times lie ahead for the country, and it will be handicapped by leaders who lack the moral and political capital to act decisively in the country’s interests either abroad or at home. It is a good time for prayer.