Bennett Roth of the Chronicle‘s underwhelming D.C. bureau seems hardly unable to contain himself over the Libby indictments:
The criminal charges against the vice president’s chief of staff are rooted in the controversy over the Bush administration’s initial justification for invading Iraq.
With the U.S. military casualty rate in Iraq reaching the 2,000 mark this week and no weapons of mass destruction yet uncovered, the indictments against Lewis “Scooter” Libby could add fuel to the national debate about the wisdom of going to war.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said Friday the indictments were “not about the propriety of the war.” Nonetheless, the dispute over whether Saddam Hussein had stockpiled dangerous weapons sparked the legal case.
Patrick Fitzgerald says his case is “not about the propriety of the war,” nonetheless a Chronicle reporter knows better!
Arrogance and hubris are hardly exclusive to the pols (of both parties) in Washington, it would seem.
Robert Kagan provided a useful corrective in advance of the indictments, in a Washington Post op-ed several days ago:
The Judith Miller-Valerie Plame-Scooter Libby imbroglio is being reduced to a simple narrative about the origins of the Iraq war. Miller, the story goes, was an anti-Saddam Hussein, weapons-of-mass-destruction-hunting zealot and was either an eager participant or an unwitting dupe in a campaign by Bush administration officials and Iraqi exiles to justify the invasion. The New York Times now characterizes the affair as “just one skirmish in the continuing battle over the Bush administration’s justification for the war in Iraq.” Miller may be “best known for her role in a series of Times articles in 2002 and 2003 that strongly suggested Saddam Hussein already had or was acquiring an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.” According to the Times’s critique, she credulously reported information passed on by “a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ‘regime change’ in Iraq,” which was then “eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq.” Many critics outside the Times suggest that Miller’s eagerness to publish the Bush administration’s line was the primary reason Americans went to war. The Times itself is edging closer to this version of events.
There is a big problem with this simple narrative. It is that the Times, along with The Post and other news organizations, ran many alarming stories about Iraq’s weapons programs before the election of George W. Bush. A quick search through the Times archives before 2001 produces such headlines as “Iraq Has Network of Outside Help on Arms, Experts Say”(November 1998), “U.S. Says Iraq Aided Production of Chemical Weapons in Sudan”(August 1998), “Iraq Suspected of Secret Germ War Effort” (February 2000), “Signs of Iraqi Arms Buildup Bedevil U.S. Administration” (February 2000), “Flight Tests Show Iraq Has Resumed a Missile Program” (July 2000). (A somewhat shorter list can be compiled from The Post’s archives, including a September 1998 headline: “Iraqi Work Toward A-Bomb Reported.”) The Times stories were written by Barbara Crossette, Tim Weiner and Steven Lee Myers; Miller shared a byline on one.
Many such stories appeared before and after the Clinton administration bombed Iraq for four days in late 1998 in what it insisted was an effort to degrade Iraqi weapons programs. The Times was not alone, of course. On Jan. 29, 2001, The Post editorialized that “of all the booby traps left behind by the Clinton administration, none is more dangerous — or more urgent — than the situation in Iraq. Over the last year, Mr. Clinton and his team quietly avoided dealing with, or calling attention to, the almost complete unraveling of a decade’s efforts to isolate the regime of Saddam Hussein and prevent it from rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction. That leaves President Bush to confront a dismaying panorama in the Persian Gulf,” including “intelligence photos that show the reconstruction of factories long suspected of producing chemical and biological weapons.”
This was the consensus before Bush took office, before Scooter Libby assumed his post and before Judith Miller did most of the reporting for which she is now, uniquely, criticized. It was based on reporting by a large of number of journalists who in turn based their stories on the judgments of international intelligence analysts, Clinton officials and weapons inspectors. As we wage what the Times now calls “the continuing battle over the Bush administration’s justification for the war in Iraq,” we will have to grapple with the stubborn fact that the underlying rationale for the war was already in place when this administration arrived.
Of course, the Bush Administration built its case on multiple factors (WMDs being the rationale favored by Colin Powell and Tony Blair), although those factors are beyond the scope of this post, which is simply to point out that Bennett Roth’s revisionist narrative is overly simplistic (and likely ideologically tinged) analysis posing as news coverage.
Kagan’s op-ed is worth reading in its entirety.