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Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Libby Indictment

Patrick Fitzgerald made an extremely refreshing appearance yesterday in his press conference. It reminded me a bit of Archibald Cox's press conference in October 1973, when he explained why he had to receive the actual Nixon tapes to continue his role as Watergate special prosecutor. Within a day or two he had been fired by Robert Bork, after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus had refused Richard Nixon's order, delivered through Al Haig, to fire him, leaving Bork, then Solicitor General, in charge. (In his famous confirmation hearings, Bork told the Senate that he expected Cox to be replaced by a new Special Prosecutor, even though on the night that he fired Cox, Press Secretary Ron Ziegler announced that the Special Prosecutor's office had been abolished and the Watergate investigation had been returned to the Justice Department.) Both Cox then, and Fitzgerald know, calmly and carefully went through exactly what they were doing and why, with particular attention to explaining the requirements of the legal system within which they had spent their lives, and which remains, apparently, the last reliable safeguard we have among the Anglo-American institutions that it has taken almost nine centuries to build up. For nearly a whole hour we watched a dedicated, capable public servant who felt no need to either posture or spin because he totally believed in what he was doing. It was an unusual and somewhat uplifting experience.

Many will be disappointed at Fitzgerald's handling of the case, because his only indictment relates to Libby's allegedly false statements before the Grand Jury. He declined to bring charges either for revealing the name of a covert CIA operative, or for leaking classified information. The former charge would have raised some very tricky evidentiary problems, since Libby and "Official A" at the White House, whom the New York Times identifies this morning as Karl Rove, seem to have avoided using Valerie Plame Wilson's actual name, and Judith Miller's famous notebook entry misspelled it. (The indictment managed to stay away from the question of whether Miller was telling the truth when she said she couldn't remember how the name got there.) As for the latter charge, my earlier post questioned whether it merited an indictment, and I was delighted to see that Patrick Fitzgerald agreed with me, and for exactly the same reason. The Act forbidding the transfer of classified information to unauthorized persons, as Fitzgerald pointed out, does not have the reach of Britain's Official Secrets Act. To find a defendant guilty, the government cannot rely simply upon the Secret stamp on the document, but must prove that the release did actual damage to the national security of the United States. That was the issue in 1973 in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, and he might easily have been acquitted of giving away the Pentagon Papers, had the judge not had to drop the case altogether when it developed that the Nixon Administration had burglarized Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and offered the judge himself the directorship of the FBI. (Once again it occurs to me that younger readers may have trouble taking in these facts--but they are true all the same.) In making this point, Fitzgerald actually struck a blow for the freedom of the press.

What does emerge from the facts in the indictment, however, is that the problem of Joseph Wilson's disclosure that he had been sent to Niger to find out whether there was any basis to the yellowcake rumor, that he had found that there was not, and that the Administration had blown off his conclusions, had engaged the highest levels of the Administration, including an unnamed Undersecretary of State, then-press secretary Ari Fleischer (whose resignation allowed his successor Scott McClellan to tell the press that he was sure Libby and Rove were not involved in the leak), two other members of the Vice President's staff, "official A" (see above), and the Vice President himself. (I originally speculated that the Undersecretary of State was John Bolton, but today's Times says it was Marc Grossman.) Their problem was to discredit Wilson. What has received so little attention is how lame their main argument--that Wilson's wife had something to do with sending him to Niger--was. Niger, a landlocked country in the middle of West Africa, is not a place that one would go on a boondoggle, and Wilson was well-qualified for the trip, unless one believes that the purpose of the trip should have been to back up the false allegation rather than to find out the truth. But Valerie Plame Wilson's status was the first thing they had discovered about Wilson, and after he went public, they decided to use it. And Libby's behavior with Miller suggests that he knew very well he was flirting with the law.

The issue of the Administration's use of various means to try to control dissent from within the government is not confined to this case. Certainly it is a matter for public concern, and the appropriate venue is a Congressional investigation. It seems quite impossible, however, that either house would pass a resolution authorizing one at the present time. This leaves the burden up to the press, which has not been up to it up until now. Certainly the White House press corps now has to decide whether they are going to continue to accept Scott McClellan's refusal to answer questions about the roles of Rove and Libby, now that they are a matter of public record. (Undoubtedly he will have to repeat his stock no-comment five or ten times next Monday or Tuesday, but after that they will probably give up.) In short, this is a political matter that requires a political response--and unfortunately, the next election is still a whole year away.

The Administration has lost ground on at least two fronts during the last month. It had to lift its suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act with respect to Katrina relief projects, ensuring, at least in theory, that the hurricane will not cut wages in the Mississippi Delta still further. And because conservative groups forced the White House to withdraw Harriet Miers, liberals will finally, it seems, have the backbone to fight an extreme conservative nominee with no holds barred. (The official excuse of the White House--that they would not release the documents the Senate committee was going to ask for--was absurd. They had refused to release White House documents on John Roberts, who sailed right through.) But at the same time, Katrina is becoming the excuse for extraordinary cuts in programs ranging from student loans to medicaid--confirming my earlier posting that the Republicans will continue to treat any crisis as an excuse for pushing their own agenda. The appointment of an extreme conservative could easily lead to a filibuster and the revival of the "nuclear option." The crisis in American politics will continue for a long time, and I urge my readers to devote plenty of time to their most beloved works of art, history and literature, the beauty of the outdoors, and their closest relationships, to sustain themselves until events allow us finally to move in a new and better direction.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Al Queda's Strategy--and Ours

Two weeks ago, US intelligence released an intercepted letter from al-Zawahiri, an Al Queda leader, to al-Zarqawi, the recognized leader of Al Queda forces in Iraq. Today I am going to discuss its major features, because it seems to me to give a remarkably good idea of what Al-Queda wants, in Iraq and elsewhere, of their own thinking about how to get there, and of American strengths and weaknesses in the fight against their influence.

The letter is actually a quite sophisticated discussion of objectives, strategies, and tactics, which did not get nearly as much attention it deserved. To begin with—after a great many flowery salutation and religious allusions—it states Al Queda’s goal.

“It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world, specifically in the Levant, Egypt, and the neighboring states of the Peninsula and Iraq; however, the center would be in the Levant and Egypt. . . . the battles that are going on in the far-flung regions of the Islamic world, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Bosnia, they are just the groundwork and the vanguard for the major battles which have begun in the heart of the Islamic world.”

While a very big goal, this is a far cry from President Bush’s appreciation in a recent speech—that Al-Queda wants a fundamentalist state stretching from Pakistan to Spain. The exaggeration of our enemies’ goals has been common since the twentieth century, and most Americans have always thought that Hitler wanted to conquer the world, which is actually far more than he expected to see Germany do even in the course of his lifetime. He wanted to rule Europe and to create an empire of Aryans to Germany’s east, leaving more grandiose projects for the future. Here the goal is also regional. More importantly, Al-Zawahiri specifically identifies Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Bosnia as peripheral fronts, less important than Iraq and the struggles to come.

The letter then notes the favor that Allah has shown to Al-Zarqawi, by allowing him to begin a Jihad “in the heart of the Islamic world.” The man most responsible for this development, alas, is President Bush, who decided to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein, whom Jihadis did not threaten, in Iraq. Al-Zawahiri prefers to give the credit to Almighty God, but his analysis becomes increasingly more sophisticated as he surveys the development of the situation in Iraq and gives some cautionary advice.

“ . . . .we are extremely concerned, as are the mujahedeen and all sincere Muslims, about your Jihad and your heroic acts until you reach its intended goal.
You know well that purity of faith and the correct way of living are not connected necessarily to success in the field unless you take into consideration the reasons and practices which events are guided by. For the grandson of the Prophet Imam al Hussein bin Ali }, the Leader of the Faithful Abdallah Bin al-Zubair }, Abdul Rahman Bin al-Ashath ~, and other great people, did not achieve their sought-after goal.”

According to Thucydides, Nicias in 415 warned the Athenians that very little is ever gained simply by wishing for it. Here al-Zawahiri goes a step further, arguing that purity of mind and heart will not guarantee success. (A similar caution to an American President might refer to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon). Spreading democracy, for us, plays the same moral role in this conflict as spreading fundamentalist Islam does for Al Queda, but they have recognized that their excellent motives do not guarantee success. (Not knowing much about this history of the Muslim world, I cannot identify the unsuccessful Jihadis to whom he refers.)

Having recognized the need for a strategy, a sequence of steps, the author then lays one out.

“So we must think for a long time about our next steps and how we want to attain it, and it is my humble opinion that the Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals:

“The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.

“The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.

“There is no doubt that this amirate will enter into a fierce struggle with the foreign infidel forces, and those supporting them among the local forces, to put it in a state of constant preoccupation with defending itself, to make it impossible for it to establish a stable state which could proclaim a caliphate, and to keep the Jihadist groups in a constant state of war, until these forces find a chance to annihilate them.

“The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.

“The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.

What emerges here, it seems to me, is an interesting, and not altogether alarming, picture of what comes next. The author is confident that the United States will in fact withdraw from Iraq fairly quickly—but that is only going to allow the Islamist insurgency to take power in the Sunni areas, after which they will face a prolonged local struggle. Only after that has been successful can the movement expand its reach into “neighboring” secular countries, which presumably refers to Jordan and Syria. (I have no idea whether al Zawahiri would refer to Saudi Arabia as “secular.”)

Now these observations have enormous relevance to the United States as well. In the spring of 2003, after the invasion of Iraq and during the beginnings of the insurgency, several commentators made analogies with the British experience in the 1920s. The British, they argued, discovered that when they thrust themselves into the center of Iraqi politics, the Iraqis (of whom there were only about two million then, less than one-tenth of the population today) would focus upon killing Brits; but when they pulled back, the Iraqis would begin killing each other. This is obviously what Zawahiri thinks in this case, and he even acknowledges that an American withdrawal would be a very real blow to his efforts to mobilize the Arab people. Zawahiri, like Lenin, knows he is speaking for a minority of Jihadis, and his success will depend upon securing broader support.

“In the absence of this popular support, the Islamic mujahed movement would be crushed in the shadows, far from the masses who are distracted or fearful, and the struggle between the Jihadist elite and the arrogant authorities would be confined to prison dungeons far from the public and the light of day. . . .

“The Muslim masses-for many reasons, and this is not the place to discuss it-do not rally except against an outside occupying enemy, especially if the enemy is firstly Jewish, and secondly American.

“This, in my limited opinion, is the reason for the popular support that the mujahedeen enjoy in Iraq, by the grace of God.

“As for the sectarian and chauvinistic factor, it is secondary in importance to outside aggression, and is much weaker than it. In my opinion-which is limited and which is what I see far from the scene-the awakening of the Sunni people in Iraq against the Shia would not have had such strength and toughness were it not for the treason of the Shia and their collusion with the Americans, and their agreement with them to permit the Americans to occupy Iraq in exchange for the Shia assuming power.”

In the spring of 1961, General de Gaulle warned President Kennedy that the West could preserve some influence in Southeast Asia—but only if it did not introduce military forces. The United States learned the truth of this principle in the Middle East the hard way during the 1990s, after the establishment of a base in Saudi Arabia provoked a series of terrorist attacks. Incredibly, even now, neocons defend the invasion of Iraq as a means of establishing an alternative base for our forces that has allowed us to withdraw from Saudi Arabia—even though it has obvious that thousands of new recruits have flocked into Iraq to fight the Americans.

The lesson for us, here, seems clear: the sooner we leave Iraq the better. Our departure will provoke a violent struggle among Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’ites, but it will be their struggle, and our putative allies, the Kurds and (possibly, though far from certainly), the Shi’ites, will no longer be tainted by reliance upon ourselves. But the longer we stay to try to subdue central Iraq, the worse things are likely to get.
This is not a fantasy of al-Zawahiri’s part, or mine. It is confirmed by a story in today’s Sunday Telegraph, a conservative London paper, reporting the results of a poll of all Iraq arranged by the British forces. Here are its findings:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;
• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

For the full story, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/10/23/wirq23.xml&sSheet=/portal/2005/10/23/ixportaltop.html .

Zawahiri, like a good Leninist, then moves to his key point: the need for effective political work—essentially, the creation of a kind of Popular Front—to secure his political objectives.

“Second: This is the most vital part. This authority, or the Sharia amirate that is necessary, requires fieldwork starting now, alongside the combat and war. It would be a political endeavor in which the mujahedeen would be a nucleus around which would gather the tribes and their elders, and the people in positions, and scientists, and merchants, and people of opinion, and all the distinguished ones who were not sullied by appeasing the occupation and those who defended Islam.

“We don't want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone. They did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the amirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile. Even the students themselves had a stronger affiliation to their tribes and their villages than their affiliation to the Islamic amirate or the Taliban movement or the responsible party in charge of each one of them in his place. Each of them retreated to his village and his tribe, where his affiliation was stronger!!

“The comparison between the fall of Kabul and the resistance of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Al Qaim and their fearless sisters shows a clear distinction, by God's grace and His kindness. It is the matter towards which we must strive, that we must support and strengthen.”

We need the people’s support, he says, and their loyalties, like those of the Afghan people, are to their tribes, villages and families, not to the international Jihadi movement. We must take advantage of these loyalties—exactly what, apparently, the Kurdish and Shi’ite leaders are doing in other parts of Iraq. One cannot escape the feeling that both Al Queda and the United States are trying to impose alien visions on a very traditional society—a western-style democracy in our case, a medieval theocracy in theirs. The winner will probably be the side that adapts to local reality first, and best, with the proviso that the American occupation is probably a crippling disability, in the long run, for us.

In the last part of his letter, al-Zawahiri raises the issue that got the most press—his opposition to the beheading of Shi’ite enemies, which he regards, to use an American term, as poor information warfare. Again this shows his recognition of the internecine struggles to come within Iraq. It is not, in my opinion, nearly as important, however, as his overall strategic vision.

Clearly this letter has good news and bad news for the United States and anyone else who does not want to see Islamic radicalism triumph in the Middle East. The bad news relates to American policies over the last three years. As Michael Scheuer, formerly of the CIA, has argued repeatedly, the decision to overthrow Saddam and occupy Iraq was, for Osama Bin Laden, the Christmas present he would not have even dared asked for, had he believed in Christmas. It removed one of the stronger secular states in the region, validated his claim that the United States wanted to dominate the oil and people of the Middle East, and opened up a new front in his struggle to expel the West from the region, a front in which most of the advantages lie with him. Incredibly, during the last week the Bush Administration has been threatening to try to bring down the Ba’athist regime in Syria as well—a step that would create more chaos and more opportunity for radicals. The Sunday Times reports that some in Washington do fear the consequences of such a step. Let us hope so.

But the good news is that Jihad is only one, and far from the strongest, political force in the region. Other religious, tribal, ethnic and familial loyalties are stronger, and may easily remain so. The region seems destined for a period of prolonged internal conflict, much of it violent, which will almost certainly have wildly differing results in different states. Such a situation, while tragic for the people of the region—who failed to create many lasting political achievements during the twentieth century—is one that the West can live with. We find ourselves, however, in a paradoxical (though hardly unprecedented) position. The harder we try to shape developments exactly according to our lights, the worse the outcome will probably turn out to be. We desperately need leadership willing to realize that fact, and none, as yet, is in sight.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Plamegate and American Journalism

Today the New York Times has published an enormous piece on the Judith Miller story, as seen from the paper’s vantage point, and a long piece by Miller herself explaining what she did. Together they are the most appalling commentary that I have ever seen about the state of American journalism—all the more so since the Times editors, much less their reporter, don’t seem to have any understanding of what they have done to their profession.

They are not, to be sure, solely responsible. For many decades, and perhaps for a century, two contradictory impulses have been at war among those who cover the government. The first, which stands for the function of a free press, is to expose the truth about what our government is doing; the second is to take advantage of relationships with high officials to print “inside stories” which may or may not reflect anything more than what that official wants us all to believe. But in the last thirty years the second has increasingly eclipsed the first. Since I am going to be focusing, and very critically, on Ms. Miller, let me begin with two other examples of this trend: the career of Bob Woodward, and the role of Michael Isikoff in the Lewinsky scandal.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein became national figures in 1972-3 by exposing the secrets of the Nixon Administration—secrets willingly leaked to them by lower-level figures in the Nixon campaign, and confirmed, as we know, by Mark Felt. They treated the higher officials of the Nixon Administration as officials should be treated—as adversaries. “Governments,” the late I. F. Stone liked to remark, “are run by liars,” and while that may be a slight exaggeration, the demands of governing almost always tempt those in charge to stretch, or deny, the truth. That, as Woodward and Bernstein eventually helped to prove, was what the Nixon Administration was doing.

Carl Bernstein left daily journalism not long after Watergate, and Bob Woodward’s career gradually took a very different turn. Instead of the intrepid investigator cultivating low-level sources to expose the higher-ups—like Drew Pearson, whose diaries from the years 1946-59 should be required reading for every aspiring journalist—he became the confidante of the powerful. As one after another of his best-sellers appeared, official Washington learned that if they told their stories to Bob Woodward, he would print them—as you told them. Since few wanted their side of the story left out, he got unprecedented access. But since his method favored those who would spend the most time with him and tell the most convincing stories, it will not be for many decades, when documents are opened up, that we can evaluate how much real information his books really provided.

Michael Isikoff became prominent covering the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. As he explained in his own book, he was brought into the conspiracy to trap the President into lying about that relationships under oath and forcing Monica Lewinsky to tell the truth about it before the story broke—a conspiracy involving Linda Tripp, Lucian Goldberg, and lawyers connected to, and in, Ken Starr’s office. This was, as he wrote, an attempt to bring down the President of the United States—but rather than report on it, he decided, in effect, to collaborate in it, because, I would guess, his sources were part of it.

And today, Judith Miller has provided an extensive account (although hardly a complete one) of her relationship with her source Scooter Libby, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff, and one of the key figures in the Administration in general and the decision to go to war in Iraq in particular. Although she does not go into the earlier part of the story at length, it seems clear that Libby fed her a steam of data on Saddam Hussein’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, leading her to write several stories endorsing the Administration’s estimate of the situation during the run-up to the war. (Had the Times held its fire and decided to rely more on sources like Hans Blix and Mohammed El-Baradei, who just won the Nobel Peace Prize, it might have painted quite a different picture.) And thus, in the spring of 2003, as American teams began to conclude that Saddam had not in fact had any weapons, both Libby and the Administration on the one hand, and Judith Miller and her editors on the other, faced a crisis. Libby obviously believed that he could count on Miller to continue to present his side of the story, because it had become her side of the story too. And thus, in a series of conversations, he told her to discount the significance of Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger and claimed, in particular, that his boss the Vice President hadn’t known anything about it. And, in increasing desperation after Wilson began to leak the story himself, he decided to leak the information that Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative working on weapons.

Miller’s account of her conversations with Libby is remarkable for its ingenuousness. Even now that we know the Administration skewed the available intelligence (as Colin Powell has admitted), that it has put journalists on the payroll to support its policies and paid for phony television news reports, that we know Mr. Libby’s neoconservative allies at the Pentagon created a special office to generate its own intelligence about Iraq, and that the Administration refuses ever to acknowledge any negative information about itself, she doesn't speculate that Libby was trying to spin her, but simply quotes him to the effect that “miscommunication” between the White House and the CIA was responsible for the President’s reference to the uranium from Niger in a public speech. And then, after Novak’s column had revealed Valerie Plame’s identity and a firestorm resulted, it never, apparently, occurred to her to ask whether Libby had been trying to turn her into a co-conspirator in a criminal enterprise, the unmasking of a covert CIA operative.

Miller provides some evidence, by the way, that Libby knew he was flirting with illegality during his meetings with Miller, and not just with respect to Valerie Plame. On July 8, two days after Mr. Wilson went public in his op-ed, they had a two-hour breakfast meeting during which he claimed intelligence reports from 1999 and 2002 had indicated the uranium story was true. But it was also at that meeting that he asked her to refer to him as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official,” suggesting that he didn’t want to use the latter identity while making claims based, presumably, on classified information. Her account of Patrick Fitzgerald’s questioning of her shows that he was very interested in the role of classified information in the whole process.

From that day to this, Miller and the Times have hid behind the need for reporters to protect confidential sources. But what actually is behind that need? Reporters need to protect sources, of course, to be able to publish information the public needs to know. I do not see, however, how they can justify it based upon a need to receive disinformation from government sources, and the courts have actually ruled on numerous occasions that the privilege cannot be asserted to conceal evidence of a criminal enterprise. What possible purpose could be served by protecting a misleading source? Wouldn’t we all, indeed, be much better off if confidential sources knew they would be embarrassed before the world if they intentionally furnished inaccurate or misleading information? In today’s longer Times story, editor Bill Keller admits a little embarrassment on this point. “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistleblower case,” he says—surely a candidate for the understatement of the year, since it was actually a case of an attempt to discredit a whistleblower. Fortunately for the country, our legal system is relentless, and Patrick Fitzgerald, to judge from his actions, has not been fooled. He has seen the whole story for what it was—an attempt by the Administration to discredit a critic by suggesting that he was motivated by nepotism (a rather absurd accusation in any case), even at the cost of breaking the law by broadcasting to the world that his wife, whose name would surely not be difficult to establish, had worked as a CIA covert operative.

That, however, is not all. Ms. Miller has also provided us with an interesting tale of communications between Libby, Libby’s attorney, her attorney and herself over the last two years. To begin with, the Times story seems to indicate, although without actually saying so, that Mr. Libby was one of several White House staffers who around December 2003 signed waivers of confidentiality encouraging reporters to testify. (The story says he was one of those “asked” to do so; it doesn’t say definitely that he did.) But Ms. Miller didn’t accept this as permission to talk. Meanwhile, Floyd Abrams, Ms. Miller’s lawyer (whom the Times had retained for her), was meeting with Mr. Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate. Abrams reported the results of those conversations to the Times senior management. Tate, he said, encouraged Miller to testify, but added that Libby had already testified that he had never identified Valerie Plame or referred to her as an undercover operative. According to Abrams, when he refused to tell Tate what Miller would say if she testified, or to assure him that she would exonerate Libby. When Abrams refused to do so, Abrams says, Tate replied, “Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.” Tate violently denies this. One cannot help noting the parallel between this attempt to make sure the witness would follow the script and the Bush Administration’s whole approach to “news events” like town meetings or conversations with soldiers in Iraq, in which every step is taken to insure that the President only hears exactly what he wants to hear.

Both Ms. Miller and the Administration faced something of a crisis in the last couple of months, apparently, because some thought that Patrick Fitzgerald might empanel a new grand jury when the current one had to adjourn this month, and she might be in jail for another 18 months. While still in jail she received a letter from Mr. Libby encouraging her to testify. “Your reporting, and you, are missed,” he said. “The public report of every other reporter’s testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame’s name or identity with me,” Mr. Libby added. Miller’s notes make clear that Mr. Libby told her, roughly, who Wilson’s wife was and where she worked. And the letter concluded, equivocally, “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them.” She declined to speculate, when Mr. Fitzgerald asked her before the Grand Jury what this might mean, as to whether Mr. Libby was asking if she wanted to be the only reporter showing different colors.

Ms. Miller’s story today shows pride in something else—that she persuaded Mr. Fitzgerald, or so she says, not to ask her about any source except Mr. Libby. Any other Administration official who tried to use her to discredit Joseph Wilson and/or reveal Valerie Plame’s identity is safe from her. But we now come to the climax of the story—the name “Valerie Flame” Here it is necessary to reproduce, for non-commercial use only, exactly what Ms. Miller said in today’s Times.

“I testified in Washington twice - most recently last Wednesday after finding a notebook in my office at The Times that contained my first interview with Mr. Libby. Mr. Fitzgerald told the grand jury that I was testifying as a witness and not as a subject or target of his inquiry.

“This account is based on what I remember of my meetings with Mr. Fitzgerald and my testimony before the grand jury. I testified for almost four hours, much of that time taken by Mr. Fitzgerald asking me to decipher and explain my notes of my interviews with Mr. Libby, which I had provided to him.

“I was not permitted to take notes of what I told the grand jury, and my interview notes on Mr. Libby are sketchy in places. It is also difficult, more than two years later, to parse the meaning and context of phrases, of underlining and of parentheses. On one page of my interview notes, for example, I wrote the name ‘Valerie Flame.’ Yet, as I told Mr. Fitzgerald, I simply could not recall where that came from, when I wrote it or why the name was misspelled.”

As a historian who makes his living interpreting documents, it seems to me reasonable to assume, absent any other explanation which only Ms. Miller could provide, that if the name “Valerie Flame” appears on a page of her notes of a conversation with Mr. Libby, then Mr. Libby gave it to her. This is, obviously, the smoking gun with respect to the question of whether Mr. Libby revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative; but she, a reporter, is refusing to fire it, taking refuge in a memory lapse.

Exactly what should be done about this is a difficult question, it seems to me, for Ms. Miller’s bosses. It reminds me a bit of President Truman’s relief of General MacArthur in April 1951. Truman took that step only after MacArthur committed several acts of public insubordination revealing that he did not know, or did not care, what his Commander-in-Chief’s policies were. But he might also have relieved him four or five months earlier, when the General, ordering a headlong advance of his forces to the Yalu River, discounted the evidence of Chinese intervention and allowed his troops to be surrounded, forcing them into a catastrophic retreat down the peninsula and throwing away everything that had up until that moment been gained. He might have been fired, in short, for simple military incompetence.

Confronted with her own notes of the critical conversation in the biggest story she has ever had, Judith Miller claims that she doesn’t remember how the key name got there. That seems to me to cast considerable doubt on her abilities as a reporter. It is not my place to suggest that she be fired, but she seems to need either a long rest or a new assignment, maybe to the sports desk or the police desk, where she can relearn the principles of her craft involving the recording and handling of basic facts. Meanwhile, she is apparently negotiating a book deal. Early reports said she had already secured a half-million dollar advance, but today’s paper says no agreement has been reached.

Certainly this whole case does present some difficult features. The courts have generally taken the position that merely revealing information stamped secret or top secret is not a crime unless the government can show that the release actually damaged national security. The law on revealing CIA identities assumes that such revelations do damage it, and that is not an unreasonable assumption. But whether Scooter Libby deserves to be punished merely for discussing classified intelligence estimates with a reporter is, to me, not at all obvious.

But meanwhile, the Times seems to have forgotten not only the purpose of protecting confidential sources, but also the reason we have a free press at all. And that was eloquently stated for the ages by Hugo Black, great man and great justice that he was, in his very last opinion of a distinguished career in the summer of 1971.

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

That opinion, of course, was written to stop the government from preventing the publication of the Pentagon Papers. One of the plaintiffs in the case, as noted by Justice Black, was the New York Times.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

More Information Warfare and Harriet Miers

To some of us the Harriet Miers controversy is somewhat puzzling; conservatives do not seem to know when they have been lucky. While it is possible that Ms. Miers, who must have faced a good deal of hard-core sexism in her career as a lawyer, might turn out to be something of a closet moderate, I do not find it very likely. One or two of my friends suspect the right wing outrage is all simulated to try to ease her passage through the Senate, but that seems unlikely. Instead, to use a phrase from another era, however, the Right seems to be tired of being "screwed on the rumble seat," and wants an avowed religious conservative to be anointed by appointment to the Court. I might point out to them that the President promised judges like Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and Harriet Miers strikes me as about as close to Clarence Thomas as anyone could be: a non whitemale from a conservative part of the country who has risen by meeting the needs of the white conservative establishment. (Roberts, meanwhile, seems to have a good deal in common with Scalia.) This is not, however, my primary concern today.

Instead, I want to focus on the coded and not-so-coded language the Administration is using to tell the religious right that Miers is just what the doctor ordered--and the ways in which certain favorite Presidential words are used to mean the opposite of what they say. The President's mantra is that he wants strict constructionists who will not legislate from the bench. In all the controversy about Dr. James Dobson's remarks about his conversation with Karl Rove, no one seems to have noticed that Dobson gave the code away. Here are excerpts from what he said on his radio program, in a conversation with a colleague.

The Reverend James Dobson discussed his conversation with Karl Rove about Harriet Miers on his radio show a few days ago. During the conversation he let more of the cat out of the bag than he perhaps intended regarding the code that is being used between the White House and its supporters. Initially, he said:

"Well, my reasons for supporting her were twofold, John. First, because Karl Rove had shared with me her judicial philosophy, which was consistent with the promises that President Bush had made when he was campaigning. Now he told the voters last year that he would select people to be on the Court who would interpret the law rather than create it and judges who would not make social policy from the bench. Most of all, the president promised to appoint people who would uphold the Constitution and not use their powers to advance their own political agenda. Now, Mr.. Rove assured me in that telephone conversation that Harriet Miers fit that description and that the president knew her well enough to say so with complete confidence."

Nothing too new there. But some time later, he dropped the other shoe.

"We did not discuss Roe v. Wade in any context or any other pending issue that will be considered by the Court. I did not ask that question. You know, to be honest, I would have loved to have known how Harriet Miers views Roe v. Wade. But even if Karl had known the answer to that, and I'm certain that he didn't because the president himself said he didn't know, Karl would not have told me that. That's the most incendiary information that's out there and it was never part of our discussion.

"One thing is clear. We know emphatically that Justices Souter and Kennedy and Breyer and Ginsburg and Stevens have made up their mind about Roe v. Wade by politicizing their decrees on that issue and others. They have usurped the right of the people to govern themselves and they imposed a radical agenda on this country."

Now it is important to note, in this connection, that Souter, Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg and Stevens were not on the bench when Roe v. Wade was initially decided. All they have done is to uphold it. But to Reverend Dobson, that alone qualifies as "imposing a radical agenda on this country," "usurping the right of the people to govern themselves," and, in effect, "making social policy from the bench"--exactly what President Bush has claimed his judges would not do.

In other words, Rev. Dobson seems to believe that when the President says he won't appoint judges who will legislate from the bench, he is saying he will appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. Observing 30-year old precedents is not part of the President's vision of strict constructionism.

Apparently, however, Dobson's signal wasn't clear enough. Yesterday the New York Times featured an op-ed by Matthew Scully, who apparently worked with Miers in the White House for four years. This, he says, is part of the role she played.

"It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X "our most urgent domestic priority," and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction."

This encomium will impress those who find the President's speeches to be models of factual accuracy and logical consistency, but others of us will wonder, for example, why Harriet Miers didn't point out to the President that he was continuing to argue that Saddam Hussein "refused to disarm" long after he had cooperated with UN weapons inspectors (one of whom just won a Nobel Prize) and long after we had discovered that he disarmed years ago, to mention just one example.

A few paragraphs later, Mr. Scully got down to the nitty gritty.

"It may be, in fact, that a details person is just what the Supreme Court needs right now. If anyone can be counted on to pause in deliberations over abortion cases, for example, and politely draw attention to small details like the authority of Congress and of state legislatures, or the interests of the child waiting to be born, it will be the court's newest member. As a justice, however, she will command the kind of respect that has nothing to do with being conservative, or liberal, or anything else but a person of wisdom and rectitude."

The second sentence definitely declares that Harriet Miers will be as conservative on abortion (or more so) than anyone now on the court--in other words, that she will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Surely it would not be out of place for curious Senators to call Mr. Scully, as well as Mr. Dobson, to ask him how he drew this conclusion?

The nominee, Scully says, is "of enormous legal ability and ferocious integrity, and in the bargain a gracious Christian woman only more qualified for her new role because she would never have sought it for herself." That, too, is code. There are, of course, many forms of Christianity, and many of them do not embrace the Administration or its policies; but in the vernacular of the current White House and its supporters, to emphasize that Ms. Miers is a "person of faith" and a "Christian woman" almost certainly is another way of saying that she both hold the President in the highest esteem (as other colleagues have already confirmed) and that she holds correct views on the major social questions of the day. The web site of her Church confirms its belief that those who accept Jesus Christ will be saved, and no others shall go to heaven. I would never have believed thirty or forty years ago that such beliefs would become a qualification for a seat on the Supreme Court. But so it is.

Afterword (October 17) : This from John Fund's Wall Street Journal column today, describing an October 3 conference call between religous conservative leaders (James Dobson among them) and two Texas judges who are friends of Miers: (reproduced for non-commerical use):

"Mr. Dobson says he spoke with Mr. Rove on Sunday, Oct. 2, the day before President Bush publicly announced the nomination. Mr. Rove assured Mr. Dobson that Ms. Miers was an evangelical Christian and a strict constructionist, and said that Justice Hecht, a longtime friend of Ms. Miers who had helped her join an evangelical church in 1979, could provide background on her. Later that day, a personal friend of Mr. Dobson's in Texas called him and suggested he speak with Judge Kinkeade, who has been a friend of Ms. Miers's for decades.

"Mr. Dobson says he was surprised the next day to learn that Justice Hecht and Judge Kinkeade were joining the Arlington Group call. He was asked to introduce the two of them, which he considered awkward given that he had never spoken with Justice Hecht and only once to Judge Kinkeade. According to the notes of the call, Mr. Dobson introduced them by saying, "Karl Rove suggested that we talk with these gentlemen because they can confirm specific reasons why Harriet Miers might be a better candidate than some of us think."

"What followed, according to the notes, was a free-wheeling discussion about many topics, including same-sex marriage. Justice Hecht said he had never discussed that issue with Ms. Miers. Then an unidentified voice asked the two men, 'Based on your personal knowledge of her, if she had the opportunity, do you believe she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?'

"'Absolutely,' said Judge Kinkeade.

"'I agree with that,' said Justice Hecht. 'I concur.'"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Whither the Democrats?

Two themes, as I look back, have dominated my year of posts: the great coming crisis in American and world affairs, and the nature of the Republican ascendancy. We would not have gotten to where we are, unfortunately, had not the Democrats also left their old traditions behind and cut themselves off from much of the American people. And believing as I do that a true patriot is always harder on his own country than any other, it seems time to say something about the unfortunate turns taken by the American left over the last forty years, turns that have left it a minority in every branch of the Federal government--albeit a minority--and which even now make it difficult, it seems, to take advantage of the Republicans' increasing disarray.

The Democratic Party became a majority party--and from time to time, an overwhelming majority party (as in 1936, 1940, 1944, 1958, and 1964)--thanks to its response to the Depression and the Second World War. Its biggest single constituency was probably organized labor, but the Depression had hit the middle class very hard too, and the postwar benefits implemented by the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations, including the GI Bill, low mortgages, and genuinely progressive taxes helped the vast majority of Americans a great deal. Meanwhile, the bulk of white southerners (although not all) remained loyal. They, however, defected en masse in reaction to the civil rights movement, first in the Deep South, where Goldwater carried five states in 1964, and then all over the region, where Humphrey was shut out, except for a narrow victory in Texas, in 1968. The old Confederacy has become more and more Republican ever since. It is sad but true: 140 years after the end of the civil war, race may still be the single most powerful issue in American politics.

Next in importance, however, it seems to me, is the party's loss of interest in economic issues. The children of middle-class Depression Democrats never knew poverty or economic insecurity. They became interested in poverty in the 1960s but seem to have lost interest in it as they became responsible adults and parents. Corporate America, with the help especially of the Reagan and second Bush Administrations, has been making a sustained and successful attack on organized labor since the late 1950s, but meanwhile, the elite of the Democratic Party and most of its activists have become more interested in social issues than economic ones. Evidence of this arrived this week in the current issue of the Journal Academic Questions, a center-right quarterly, the organ of the National Association of Scholars, which has actually been moving rightward in the ten years during which I have subscribed. It features a survey of the opinions of professors at elite institutions by three political scientists, designed to show liberal predominance. It does, but there are interesting shades of difference among the liberals. Thus, of all professors surveyed, 67% "strongly agreed" on a woman's right to abortion, 44% that homosexuality was just as acceptable as heterosexuality, and 48% that the government should protect the environment even at the cost of higher prices and fewer jobs; but only 25% "strongly agreed" that the government should guarantee employment, and only 38% that it should reduce the income gap. (When one adds those who "somewhat agree", the total goes over 65% for all of these questions, but the deeper commitment to social issues remains clear.) Students at universities are learning a lot more about struggles for women's and gay rights than they are about the labor movement or the New Deal, and it shows. A friend of mine at work on an article on WPA murals in our own state encountered a reference librarian who had no idea what the Works Progress Administration was, and who was astonished that the government had ever attempted such a thing. And as Thomas Frank pointed out in What's the Matter With Kansas, less well-off white Americans have seen less and less reason to vote Democratic over the last three decades.

The new Democratic orientation has made the party very strong among certain groups, including minorities and single women. (The partisan divide between single and married women is one of the most striking data points in breakdowns of voting in recent elections.) But no Presidential candidate has recently dared to brave Republican accusations of “class warfare” by arguing that the rich are too rich, period, and that our economy needs a higher floor. A close friend of mine, a social conservative, would like to see a candidate propose a 100% marginal income tax rate above a certain annual level—somewhere between $1 and $5 million. I find it hard to believe that such a move would not be popular, but when I raised this two years ago with a prominent Washington journalist and lifelong Democrat, he replied that the American people would never buy it because they dream of making that much themselves. Once again we come up against a sad lesson of history: it was only the Second World War, which took the lives of almost 300,000 young Americans, that enabled the government to get marginal tax rates up to 90%. Perhaps, in this sense, economic and social equality really has to be bought with blood—and one can legitimately ask whether it is worth the price. Of course, it is the fear of having to mobilize economic resources, undoubtedly, which is constraining the Bush Administration from asking for a draft and much larger armed forces to carry out its incredibly ambitious foreign policy.

Something, in any case, is needed to make economic issues resonate across the whole lower 75% of our society. A few weeks ago, listening to C-SPAN radio, I heard a panel discussion of prominent African-American commentators, including NPR’s Tarvis Smiley, about the effects of Hurricane Katrina. One after another, they expressed the hope that Katrina would provide some “traction” on the issues of “race, class, and poverty.” That strategy, alas, is politically bankrupt. However much race may have to do with poverty, to associate poverty with non-white Americans has proven electorally disastrous again and again. The only successful social programs in the United States, such as Social Security, Medicare, and the GI Bill, have been designed to apply and appeal to everyone—not just the poor, whom many better-off Americans will always resent. Recent stories about the increasing reluctance of corporations to pay the rising costs of their employees’ health care suggest that health insurance might become such an issue within ten years. But here, again, Democrats may be worried by the fate of the Clinton health care plan, and there seems to be no political support for something more radical such as a single-payer system, even though it is desperately needed to cut down the gigantic administrative costs of the present system.

And lastly, the Democrats are similarly cowed about foreign policy, terrified of appearing insufficiently warlike. To me, whose views about government and foreign policy were reshaped by the Vietnam War, this has been one of our greatest generational tragedies. That war made millions of Boomers skeptics, but the McGovern and Carter campaigns have convinced Democratic politicians that opposition to American interventions is politically disastrous. Iraq may be going very badly indeed, but no major Democratic figure has openly challenged the premises of the intervention, focusing instead on its poor execution. To paraphrase Clemenceau, anti-interventionism is too important to leave to Pat Buchanan. The United States desperately needs leadership that can be realistic about the extent of our influence in the Islamic world, the real issues in the war against Islamic radicalism, and the real range of possible outcomes (of which a peaceful, fully democratic Middle East is not one.) They are not getting it.

Despite all this, the odds against yet another Republican victory in 2008 seem to be growing, and Democratic prospects will soar if they retake at least one house of Congress next year. If the nation and the Republican Party are in total disarray by 2008, the Democratic candidate, like FDR in 1932, will probably be inclined to play it safe during the campaign. One hopes, however, that a Democratic President and Congress might emulate FDR after coming into office. That will be the time to be bolder and to move the country in new directions. But unless we are in the midst of another economic catastrophe—something else that can’t be ruled out—corporate influence will still be enormous.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Information Warfare--footnote

While I am essentially taking the week off, today's New York Times includes a story about the Tom Delay controversy that illustrates the other terrible weakness of contemporary journalism. It can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/weekinreview/02kornblut.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5094&en=eba153bd93c71571&hp&ex=1128312000&partner=homepage .

Something about Tom Delay undoubtedly belonged in the Week in Review, where this appears. Thirty or forty years ago, I suspect, the story would have begun with a detailed description of what he has been indicted for, with perhaps some mention of earlier ethics accusations against him as well. But this one contents itself with the briefest mention of what he has been indicted for--reproduced below--and doesn't mention that the conspiracy of which he accused was one of the more successful political coups d'etat in American history. The money he raised and, according to the indictment, illegaly distributed secured control of the Texas legislature, which then, in an unprecedented move, unidid a redistricting plan that was only a year or two old in favor of one that added four new Republican Congressmen last year, cementing the leader's majority and opening the way to new cash-for-legislation arrangments. None of that, though, appears in the story.

The story is, instead, simply a survey of the forces that have been unified against Tom Delay for the last few years, a mixture of Democratic organizations and professional watchdog groups. The failure to go into Delay's alleged misdeeds tends to steer the reader away from what strikes me as a relatively natural conclusion; if indeed he has aroused the ire of neutrals as well as Democrats, doesn't that increase the likelihood that he deserved it? But the story, of course, doesn't raise that possibility, merely forcing the watchdog groups to defend themselves on the grounds that they go after anyone in power--actually a pretty good strategy, in my opinoin.

The worst omission in the story, however, comes in a paragraph about Delay's prosecutor Ronnie Earle, to wit:

"Whether the roaring anti-DeLay machine deserves even partial credit - or blame - for his tumble last week is up for debate. Mr. DeLay has painted the veteran Democratic prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle, as a partisan fanatic, while Mr. Earle's defenders claim he is an evenhanded seeker of justice. The grand jury Mr. Earle convened brought a count of conspiracy against Mr. DeLay alleging that he funneled illegal corporate contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature in 2002."

Whether Earle is partisan or evenhanded can be documented by looking at his record, which, as many news stories have reported, shows that he has indicted far more Demcratic officials than Republican ones. That's what we call in my profession (some of us still do, anyway) a fact, and it's my understanding that reporters used to stress those as well. Now, however, reporters have become shills--even-handed shills, since they insist on having quotes from both sides, but shills nonetheless--shills who do less than nothing to help Americans figure out what is really happening in their world, much less take the political process seriously. No one involved in this Times story found it appropriate to mention this data. It does seem that other media, led by the internet, will have to take over that role, as I suppose that I, in my own small way, am trying to do. Some months ago a comment pointed out a factual error I had made in a discussion of the history of the filibuster rule. I fixed it within one minute. I encourage other readers to do the same. Establishing the truth is a collaborative effort.

And while we're on the subject. . .two weeks ago I believe I kept at least one thought to myself--that it might have occurred to Karl Rove, among others, that if New Orleans were evacuated and destroyed, much of its population, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, might scatter, and Louisiana might become a reliably Republican state. Well, it seems that thought has occurred to our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso R. Jackson, who told hurricane victims in Houston that New Orleans would not reach its pre-Katrina population of "500,000 people for a long time," and "it's not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." The Washington Times reported it.