Take a look at

October 3, 2003 12:55 pm

Take a look at the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal today.

I’d summarize their argument as follows … Fine, maybe this leak did occur. But let’s not let these small points obscure the big point: the war between the White House and the CIA. Once the public sees that battle for what it is, they’ll side with President Bush.

In part, I agree: the war between the White House and the CIA is the big story. It’s the feud from which this law-breaking springs.

But pushing this story out to this larger policy battle isn’t going make things any better for them, only worse. Because they’ve already lost that battle. They just don’t realize it yet.

There’s a cartoon from years ago — I think from the New Yorker, but perhaps from somewhere else — in which there’s a guy sitting at his desk and he’s just had his head sliced off. Only the slice came so fast and clean that his head is still sitting there on the stump of his neck. He’s thinking everything’s fine. He’ll only find out there’s a problem the first time he tries to move.

That’s where these folks are right now.

What were the two specific big questions that this fight was over? The state of the Iraqi WMD programs and the potential fall-out from toppling and occupying an Arab state. The particular issue of Valerie Plame grew out of a tussle over how advanced the Iraqi nuclear program was.

So where’s the nuclear program?

It’s really almost as simple as that.

You see, the White House’s side of that argument has completely collapsed.

And as for the other part — what it would be like to occupy and rebuild Iraq — the White House’s vision is in a similar state, a vast arctic glacier with great stands of ice sloughing off into the sea.

Critics of the White House need to avoid the temptation of seeing the career folks at State and CIA as always and unfailingly in the right. They’ve certainly got their shortcomings. But on just about every big question that’s been at issue over the last year, when the facts have come in, its been a debacle for the White House. Actually, the career types should thank their lucky stars for this White House since it’s only the latter’s unflinching ridiculousness that has made them look, by comparison, like geniuses.

In any case, getting into this bigger war won’t help because it will only show that they pulled these sorts of shenanigans against their own intelligence agency because of the latter’s inability to prove a White House hypothesis that turned out to be completely wrong. So rather than crime without context you have crime in the service of ideological zeal and self-deception.

One of the failings of ideologues is their inability to see that everyone else isn’t necessarily an ideologue like them. So when the analysts at Langley didn’t find evidence to support the White House’s brainstorms, the folks at the White House assumed that the analysts were just Saddam-hugging ideologues rather than trained professionals — albeit with their own very real biases and assumptions — who were in most cases acting on their own inability to find any evidence to substantiate what the White House was so desperate to prove.

Breaking the law is one thing. But delving deeper is liable to show that the administration took the public’s support for a war on terror, pocketed it, and then went to war against its own intelligence agencies and, in some cases, reality.

Masthead Masthead
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