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September 11, 2006

Plamegate is over (I hope)

It turns out that the original leaker in the Valerie Plame case was not Karl Rove or another Administration heavy or hawk, but rather the relatively independent and distinguished diplomat Richard Armitage. It is still possible that Rove, Scooter Libby, and others tried to use secret information about Plame to impugn Joe Wilson. However I have been arguing since at least July 2005 that the whole Plame story is a snare and a distraction for the anti-war side.

The critical questions have always been obvious and public. Was the invasion ever legitimate? Was it ever wise? Was the US plan adequate? What is to be done now? Democrats and other potential critics of the Administration failed to persuade the public to see those questions their way in 2004 and 2005. If the public is outraged now, it's too late.

The opponents failed, I think, because they could not articulate an alternative policy for Iraq that was clear and persuasive. Having failed to win in the court of public opinion, some critics of the Administration were eager to prevail in a literal court--on criminal charges that might exemplify or symbolize the Administration's bad behavior. But ...

1. That approach would never address the crucial public issues: especially, What is to be done?
2. If someone had been indicted and convicted, it's not clear how the public would have responded. People might have concluded that Federal politics is not worth paying attention to, because it's an obscure battle between elites and lawyers. Or they might have assumed that liberal judges had once again victimized Republicans who were trying to be tough on America's enemies. Or they might have decided that they were hopelessly confused, because something complicated had happened, involving people with obscure roles and names like "Scooter." Or people might have concluded that the Bush Administration was generally dishonest about the War. But that should have been obvious already.
3. A prosecution in the Plame case would criminalize the disclosure of information. Although some leaks are criminal, and many are unethical, our strong presumption should be that information belongs in the public domain and speech is protected by the First Amendment. I was always uncomfortable with the precedent that might be set if Administration officials were prosecuted for leaks.
4. Resting hopes on the Plame case meant assuming that Joe Wilson was reliable and that Karl Rove and/or Scooter Libby had broken the law. It is always a bad idea to place bets on individuals based on their ideologies. Wilson sounds like an impressive diplomat with the correct views about foreign policy. He comes from a general milieu that makes me comfortable--I'd have a latte with him at Starbucks if he wanted to. In contrast, I loathe some of the Administration's principals. And yet Karl Rove may have done nothing illegal in respect to Valerie Plame, and Joe Wilson may have lied. People with good ideologies often act badly, and vice-versa.
5. Above all, the rule of law depends on making criminal cases out of specific, intentional violations of statutes--not behavior or policymaking that is generally harmful to the country or the world. We must address bad policy through public debates and elections, and leave courts to deal with actual lawbreaking. To confuse the two is dangerous, even when the people in the dock happen to be odious.

September 11, 2006 7:28 AM | category: Iraq and democratic theory | Comments


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