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Beg Pardon

Conservatives fall over themselves to defend the fall guy.

No sooner had the verdict in the trial of Scooter Libby been announced than the cry went up from the neocons: “Pardon him!” In a National Review editorial that made little reference to the parade of witnesses contradicting Libby’s assertion that he had learned of Valerie Plame’s covert status from Tim Russert, the whining reaches such a high pitch that only the 12 or so remaining neocons will be convinced by it.

According to NR, only “partisans” were interested in finding out who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity—such as Fitzgerald, whose interest in partisan politics is absolutely nil. Ah, but in translating neocon-ese into simple English, it is necessary to don our special glasses and see the world through neocon eyes: what “partisan” means, in this context, is something altogether different than merely Republicans and Democrats. The party at issue here is the War Party. Anyone opposed to their agenda is “partisan” by definition.

Libby’s troubles weren’t the result of his lies: no, it was all the fault of “a scandal-hungry media,” the CIA, and “political cowardice”—this last referring to the Bush administration. Apparently the Justice Department, including John Ashcroft, was in on the anti-neocon conspiracy: it was they, after all, who “caved” to the demand for an independent investigation of Libby’s antics. According to NR, the vast conspiracy to get Scooter apparently reached from the far left wing of the Democratic Party to the highest echelons of the Bush administration itself—this in the same editorial that characterizes former ambassador Joe Wilson, Ms. Plame’s husband, as “paranoid.”

What is distinctly odd for an ostensibly conservative publication is the disdain with which the editors treat the security and career of someone who served her country for 20 years. Plame’s status as a covert agent—reportedly involved in tracking weapons of mass destruction—is described in terms that are openly disdainful: she was “supposedly vulnerable,” and the editors state unequivocally that she “wasn’t ‘covert.’” How do they know this?

Former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow told the grand jury that he strongly warned Novak against publishing Plame’s name and said that she had not had not been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to a piece by Walter Pincus and Jim Vanderhei in the Washington Post, “he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.” An article by Murray Waas in The American Prospect cites two government officials who told the FBI that Novak was “asked specifically not to publish the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. … The two officials told investigators they warned Novak that by naming Plame he might potentially jeopardize her ability to engage in covert work, stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize sensitive overseas sources.”

National Review raises the Richard Armitage red herring, averring, “the true insanity of the situation was withheld from the public until years later, when we learned that, long before the Justice Department had appointed Fitzgerald, it knew who had leaked to Novak. Early in the investigation, deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage informed investigators that he had told Novak about Mrs. Wilson. … But like the savvy bur-eaucratic infighter that he is, Armitage kept quiet publicly, allowing the vice president’s office to take the heat for something he had done.”

This business about Armitage being Novak’s source is irrelevant since, unlike Scooter, Armitage didn’t commit perjury and wasn’t part of a concerted effort to discredit Wilson. Armitage, in short, did not break the law, therefore he was not prosecuted.

“Reasonable people,” NR says, “can conclude that it was only Scooter Libby’s imperfect memory—not willful deception—that gave rise to the charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice.” How “reasonable” could these people be if they still deny that Scooter lied after no less than nine witnesses, including Dick Cheney’s own public spokeswoman and a former White House spokesman, testified that Scooter had discussed Plame’s CIA job prior to his conversation with Russert? We are supposed to believe Scooter’s version over the nine because, no doubt, they’re all part of the vast conspiracy to bring down Scooter, Cheney, and the War Party.

If the editors of NR had their way, there would have been “no referral, no special counsel, no indictments, and no trial.” It doesn’t matter to them that U.S. national security was compromised. What matters is that the neocons’ insularity was breached. In the end, the editors blame President Bush for his “failure to unify his own administration” —which, translated into plain language, means his failure to purge the government of any and all critics of his war policies. Never mind truth, we need “unity” above all. A more succinct summary of the neocon creed could hardly be conceived.

NR hauls out Bill Bennett, of all people, to defend his fellow neocon, and what we get is the same tiresome mantra about “the criminalization of politics.” But what kind of “politics” is it that targets a covert CIA agent and treats American national security as expendable? In an odd convergence of views, fans of Philip Agee, the CIA agent turned radical leftist—whose revelations resulted in the death of several covert agents—and the “Free Scooter” crowd sing pretty much the same tune.

Bennett also repeats the tired talking point that the underlying crime was “never charged.” But as Fitzgerald pointed out in his initial press conference, Libby wasn’t charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act precisely because of the smokescreen he—and Cheney—created around their activities: “What we have when someone charges obstruction of justice, the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He’s trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked the view.”

The feds didn’t get Al Capone for ordering murders or engaging in extortion—of which everyone knew he was guilty—but tripped him up on charges of tax evasion. In Libby’s case, a different sort of mafia was caught red-handed and was disposed of by filing lesser charges—an efficient, effective, and perfectly legitimate way to deal with the sort of political gangsterism represented by Libby.

In the most outrageous defense of Libby to date, Bennett declared that “if your spouse’s position is of such a classified nature that disclosure of her position would put her job in jeopardy, then don’t write a political op-ed in the New York Times.” In other words: if they dare to contradict the neocon party line, CIA personnel and other government employees operating covertly must live in constant fear of exposure, not by their foreign enemies, but by their own superiors in government. Let this serve as a warning to any CIA employee who dares dissent from the view that Iran is on the verge of developing nukes and is somehow responsible for the failure of our efforts to stabilize Iraq. Your career and your family may be at risk.

To read this in the pages of a publication that once smeared several writers and editors of this magazine as “unpatriotic conservatives” is ironic indeed. What kind of a patriot justifies outing a CIA agent in the name of the agenda of a secretive clique that employed illegal means to advance its agenda within the government? Theirs is a patriotism that owes its allegiance, not to the country, but only to themselves. 

Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com and author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.



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