Iraq, the War on Terror, & American Politics

A Wall Street Journal editorial today says this:

Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation took nearly two years, sent a reporter to jail, cost millions of dollars, and preoccupied some of the White House’s senior officials. The fruit it has now borne is the five-count indictment of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff–not for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to Robert Novak, which started this entire “scandal,” but for contradictions between his testimony and the testimony of two or three reporters about what he told them, when he told them, and what words he used…
…[Fitgerald] noted that a criminal investigation into a “national security matter” of this sort hinged on “very fine distinctions,” and that any attempt to obscure exactly who told what to whom and when was a serious matter.
Let us stipulate that impeding a criminal investigation is indeed a serious matter; no one should feel he can lie to a grand jury or to federal investigators. But there is a question to be asked about the end to which the accused allegedly lied. The indictment itself contains no motive. And Mr. Libby is not alleged to have been the source for Robert Novak’s July 14, 2003 column, in which Valerie Plame’s employment with the CIA was revealed…
If this is a conspiracy to silence Administration critics, it was more daft than deft. The indictment itself contains no evidence of a conspiracy, and Mr. Libby has not been accused of trying to cover up some high crime or misdemeanor by the Bush Administration. The indictment amounts to an allegation that one official lied about what he knew about an underlying “crime” that wasn’t committed…
On this much we can agree with Mr. Fitzgerald: These are “very fine distinctions” indeed, especially as they pertain to discussions that occurred two years ago, and whose importance only became clear well after the fact, when investigators came knocking. In a statement yesterday, Mr. Libby’s counsel zeroed in on this point when he said, “We are quite distressed the Special Counsel has now sought to pursue alleged inconsistencies in Mr. Libby’s recollection and those of others’ and to charge such inconsistencies as false statements.”…
On the answers to these questions hang a possible 30-year jail term and $1.25 million in fines for a Bush Administration official who was merely attempting to expose the truth about Mr. Wilson, a critic of the Administration who was lying to the press about the nature of his involvement in the Niger mission and about the nature of the intelligence that it produced. In other words, Mr. Libby was defending Administration policy against political attack, not committing a crime.
Mr. Fitzgerald has been dogged in pursuing his investigation, and he gave every appearance of being a reasonable and tough prosecutor in laying out the charges yesterday. But he has thrust himself into what was, at bottom, a policy dispute between an elected Administration and critics of the President’s approach to the war on terror, who included parts of the permanent bureaucracy of the State Department and CIA. Unless Mr. Fitzgerald can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Libby was lying, and doing so for some nefarious purpose, this indictment looks like a case of criminalizing politics.

For a review of the chain of events in this whole episode, read The White House, the CIA, and the Wilsons: The chain of events that gave rise to a grand jury investigation. For more on Joe Wilson, read The Incredibles: The only debate about Joseph Wilson’s credibility is the one taking place at the Washington Post and the New York Times.
This is part of a bigger and more important issue. Power Line has this to say: “The administration long ago gave up making the factual case to support the centrality of Iraq in the war on terroristm” and refers us to another Hayes article entitled A Spooked White House: The damage that has already been done by the CIA leak investigation, which notes:

There are other documents from Iraq that would help the American public understand the nature of the former Iraqi regime and why a serious war on terror required its removal. Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) documents currently stored in a warehouse in Doha, Qatar, as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s document exploitation project are a case in point. Many of these documents, listed in a database known as HARMONY, have rather provocative titles:

Money Transfers from Iraq to Afghanistan
Secret Meeting with Taliban Group Member and Iraqi Government (Nov. 2000)
Iraqi Effort to Cooperate with Saudi Opposition Groups and Individuals
Order from Saddam to present $25,000 to Palestinian Suicide Bombers’ Families
IIS Reports from Embassy in Paris: Plan to Influence French Stance in UN Security Council
IIS Report on How French Campaigns are Financed
Improvised Explosive Devices Plan
Ricin research and improvement

There are thousands of similar documents. Many have already been authenticated and most are unclassified. That’s worth repeating: Most are unclassified.
Of course, nothing is more important than winning on the ground in Iraq. Demonstrating that we are killing terrorists and making steady progress on the political front will do much to blunt the criticism of the war. But if the White House refuses to challenge its critics, and refuses to explain in detail why Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, and refuses to discuss the flawed intelligence on Iraqi WMD, and refuses to use its tremendous power to remind Americans that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, a threat, then it risks losing the support of those Americans who continue to believe that the Iraq war, despite all of its many costs in blood and money, was worth it.

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