Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Across the Pond

The now-infamous BBC story that the Iraq intelligence dossier had been 'sexed up' was published in late May. The story was one of hundreds published in the UK investigating the honesty of the case that was laid out for war against Iraq, but particularly important because this one triggered a chain of events leading to the public exposure of the story's main source, Dr David Kelly on July 9 and Dr Kelly's suicide on July 17. Although Dr Kelly's death, notwithstanding the inevitable tin-foil hat speculations, was almost certainly a suicide and there is no evidence a crime was comitted, a full inquiry into his death was promptly undertaken. The UK Secretary of Defence has already testifed before this inquiry, and tomorrow (already today in the UK) PM Blair will be questioned. The case has generated a blizzard of coverage in the UK and internationally.

On July 14, Robert Novak published a column which revealed the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA covert operative working on weapons proliferation issues. Novak was clear about where he had obtained his information: "Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report." The senior administration officials revealing that information committed a felony by exposing a CIA agent. Who specifically committed that crime is unknown - Joseph Wilson, the husband of Valerie Plame Wilson, has stated that he believes one was Karl Rove, but has given no reason why he suspects Rove in particular. The White House has repeatedly refused to deny that senior officials were involved.

It is unclear at this time whether any investigation at all is going on. There apparently is an internal inquiry within the CIA, which may choose to ask for a further inquiry by the FBI. Congressional Democrats have asked for hearings, but have no power to launch a meaningful inquiry without Republican support, which hasn't appeared. The US media has been invisible on the Plame story - a Google search brings up more hits for English media than the major American sources. This is part of a broader pattern - with the exception of the famous 16 words, there has been little questioning by American journalists of the administration's case for war.

The stark contrast between the Plame and Kelly stories is one example of a broader reality - the entire system of Presidential accountability in this country is barely breathing. In the three years of this administration, neither the House nor Senate has held a single tough inquiry into any aspect of the Executive, nor are they likely to do so while they continue under Republican control. More than any President of the modern era, George Bush has not only partisan majorities in both houses, but disciplined majorities who will not undertake or permit any exercise of their oversight responsibilities that might embarass him. The media is largely supine. The Independent Counsel law has lapsed, and any inquiry carried out under the aegis of John Ashcroft will not be allowed to go too far.

Any checks on misconduct in this White House have to come from within, and it's clear that those amount to little or nothing. We've already seen that Shinseki, who told the White House truth it didn't want to hear about the manpower requirements for occupying Iraq, was promptly shown the door, while officials who handed on helpful misinformation about yellowcake and aluminum tubes were rewarded. The White House demanded that congressional staff take polygraph tests when a document shown to Congress leaked, and threatened to use the Patriot Act to investigate the leak of embarassing information about cutbacks to the Sky Marshal program, but it only yawns at leaks from its own people, and the Congress and media yawn with it.

One of the many ways to distinguish a Bush "conservative" from a real conservative is that the former find this situation pleasant. Bush supporters welcome anything that helps their leader avoid the consequences of his actions. They repeat the stories, although most of them surely know better, that the tax cuts have little or nothing to do with soaring deficits, and that striking at Saddam Hussein means striking at al Qaeda. Bush conservatives believe that, with their allies now in power, checks on the executive are unnecessary and mere obstructions.

If the full story of this administration ever comes out, we will probably discover that it is among the most corrupt in the nation's history. If you find that statement offensive and think it just slander or partisan posturing, then, whatever else you may believe, you are not a conservative. Real conservatives know that power corrupts. Real conservatives understand that government must be held in check because without accountability corruption will arise, whether the government is led by George Bush or George Washington.