If Lincoln was right to suggest that the dead hallow the earth, then America and Iraq grow more sacred by the day. Take Tuesday, March 6, when Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Scooter Libby, was pronounced guilty of lying and obstructing. Media related another story that day, but in such a way you would've thought it happened in a different universe. It was about how suicide bombers murdered at least 100 Shiites and injured more than 250 during a holy pilgrimage in Iraq.
Sad to say, the connection between Libby and the freak show soon to enter Year Five in Iraq still seems lost on major media. Read the editorial on Libby in the March 8 News-Sentinel to see what I mean. You'd never know that Libby's lies had anything to do with the unraveling of the Middle East.
Yet Hundreds of thousands have died because of such lies, including thousands of Americans. I doubt those deaths will make either Iraq or America more sacred, but each life lost or mangled is worth remembering when gauging the significance of… call it Plamegate, in keeping with a four-year tradition of invoking Valerie Plame, the CIA employee exposed to the world by her own government.
Other names could as easily be invoked. Richard Armitage, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Joseph Wilson, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak, Tim Russert, Bob Woodward. The circle grows with each name thrown on the fire, including Dick Cheney and George W. Bush--who once said he'd fire anyone who'd helped expose Plame to the public.
But as I wrote in 2005, “It's not the living you should remember most when mulling Plamegate, for the scandal is really about war and the reasons so many are dying in Iraq. Not dignified deaths by and large…”
I won't repeat the litany of the ways people die in Iraq. They've become all too familiar, haven't they? And we're harder human beings for it, not so easily stirred. Some look at the Walter Reed veterans hospital scandal and stifle a yawn, maybe while adding another yellow sticker to their SUV. In such ways do we support the troops.
Horrible things happen in war, we say, and nod sagely, as if exonerating someone. Yet there's no exoneration for needless war, and this one didn't have to be. The commonsense goal of keeping horror from devouring our treasury, our children, our hearts and minds, is what makes preventing war an honorable thing to try. It's why Jesus said, “Blessed is the peacemaker.”
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove did not try to prevent war. Neither did most journalists and broadcasters and members of congress. To one degree or another most of them beat the drums for invading Iraq, starting in 2002, and they beat those drums loud and often, until many in a manipulated public began to celebrate the approaching war. Violins, waving flags, trumpet blasts and more attended the most ordinary stories leading up to war.
No one beat the drums more loudly than Bush, and no one worked more diligently to keep the fires of war burning than Cheney. At bottom that's what Plamegate is about. It's about leaders whipping up a frenzy, while trying to hide damning evidence that the reasons given for war were suspect. And it's about how thousands of the living came to be numbered among the dead.
To some, the controversy comes down to 16 words in Bush' 2003 State of the Union address.
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Those are the words Joseph Wilson sought to debunk in his July 6, 2003 New York Times Op-ed piece, What I Didn't Find in Africa, which raised the ire of Cheney, for Wilson suggested many other government claims should be investigated too.
Condoleezza Rice, who'd made a career of cleaning up after Bush-isms, took a novel approach to the controversy. Appearing before the cameras, she focused on those 16 words. In doing so, she kept the spotlight off lots of other words—many in the same speech. That's why reading that 2003 speech is so entertaining and maddening. Bush laid down the case for war as if carefully laying a fire. Citing dubious sources, he asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, including…
“Biological weapons materials sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax; enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin; enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands… upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them, despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions… several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors… an advanced nuclear weapons development program… a design for a nuclear weapon and… five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb… he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production….”
As if striking a match, he deftly pushed Saddam's name up against al-Qaeda and the horrors of 9/11: “Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own. Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”
Quite a few mouthfuls there to try and reduce to 16 little words, but somehow Rice and company pulled it off and, in doing so, manipulated America's complicit media. Fox News broadcast numerous reports bolstering the case for those 16 words, and many media went along, ignoring mountains of words that long since had burst into “Shock and Awe.”
Four years later, we know much of the case for war was wrong. Voices from our own government have reported how Saddam feared and despised al-Qaeda, the true purposes of those aluminum tubes and mobile labs. We know what Hans Blix and others tried telling us before Bush pulled the plug on weapons inspections—that the promised mounds of anthrax and other WMDs just weren't turning up in Iraq. We know now that much of the bad intelligence for war came from a man named Curveball, whom we bribed, a man named Chalibi, who conned us, and a man named al-Libi, whom we tortured into telling lies.
And we know the yellowcake uranium scare, even if partially true, was based largely on forged documents, and that Iraq was years away from gaining nukes. These are the sorts of truths Wilson tried to expose to the world and that Cheney, Libby and others tried to hide, using Plame as a pawn in their game. The sad truth is, they lied and people died. Maybe even someone you know from these hallowed hills.