All the President's Men – The Sequel Is Here
Plamgate may not lead to President Bush's downfall
but he has lost his aura of invincibility
by Leon Hadar
the leadership of a conservative Republican president, the US was
drawn into a costly military quagmire in a strategic region of Asia.
The president was facing growing domestic political opposition to
his management of the controversial war and some of his aides decided
to launch an aggressive campaign aimed at antiwar critics.
elements of this effort, including the targeting of those on the
president's "enemy list" which violated the law came to
light. The president's aides were worried about the disastrous political
ramifications for the administration and were engaged in cover-up
the media, congress and the legal system responded and took action
against the perpetrators of this illegal cover-up. The result was
that the president and his entire administration were overwhelmed
by a major national scandal that threatened not only the president's
political standing at home, but also his ability to deal with the
country's foreign challenges. It's the Watergate scandal we are
discussing now. It ended up forcing President Richard Nixon out
of office and led to the conviction of several of his top political
aides, some of whom had to serve time in jail.
we sometimes forget is that the crisis that engulfed Nixon and his
aides had less to do with the attempt by secret White House operatives
(the "plumbers") to break into the offices of the Democratic
party in the Watergate building in Washington, DC, and was more
an outcome of the effort by the White House to cover up its involvement
in the break-in and in other illegal activities.
we should also not forget that although the Watergate scandal revolved
around legal issues – including important constitutional dilemmas
(for example, whether the president should be forced to turn in
the tapes of conversations he had recorded) – and that judges, prosecutors
and lawyers played central roles in the drama, Plamgate (pardon
me, I mean Watergate) was first and foremost a political scandal.
it's impossible to understand how that "cancer on the presidency"
had spread in the early 1970s without recalling its political context
and, in particular, the division in the United States over the Vietnam
War. That American military quagmire in Southeast Asia ignited powerful
opposition against Nixon's policies and his aides had taken action
to intimidate and silence the war critics.
fact, the same crew of Watergate "plumbers" also broke
into the offices of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the former
Defense Department official who had leaked the Pentagon Papers (the
secret official history of US involvement in Vietnam) to The
New York Times.
wanted to find information that would help them discredit Joseph
Wilson – oops, sorry – Daniel Ellsberg.
the political drama that engulfed Washington this week against the
backdrop of another military quagmire in another strategic part
of Asia – the uncovering of a political and media campaign to discredit
war opponents and an effort to cover it up; the indictment of a
White House aide who had participated in that conspiracy; a US president
that is fighting for his political life; a US capital that is holding
its collective breath and waiting for more heads to fall – I was
reminded of Karl Marx's famous maxim that "History repeats
itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."
while the Plamgate scandal – that centers on the "outing"
by White House officials of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative
Valerie (Plame) Wilson – is beginning to look more and more like
a rerun of Watergate, it certainly doesn't have the making of a
farce, but of another tragedy.
is probably not going to bring down the Bush presidency, but it
could bring to a sad end the careers of several top government officials
and send some of them to jail. And it could certainly affect public
and Congressional attitudes towards the Iraq War. Last Friday, the
first victim in the drama was indicted by a Federal jury in Washington.
I. Lewis Libby aka "Scooter," Vice-President Richard Cheney's
chief of staff, was charged with lying to investigators and misleading
the grand jury that is investigating the leaking to the press of
the CIA's officer's name.
was one of the White House's "Vulcans" that have been
the driving force behind President Bush's post-9/11 foreign policy,
including the invasion of Iraq. He has been described as "Cheney's
Cheney," the most powerful aide to the most powerful vice-president
in American history. Libby, a neoconservative ideologue and a protégé
of former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz, was also an adviser
to President Bush and one of the members of the "White House
secretive entity helped manage the political and public relations
campaign to win Congressional and public support for an attack on
Iraq, including by suggesting that Saddam Hussein was buying significant
quantities of uranium from Africa to help develop nuclear weapons
(President Bush made that argument in a state-of-the-union address
on the eve of the war). When former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, following
a trip he made to Africa, told reporters that he could not verify
that Niger sold uranium to Iraq and accused the White House of misleading
the American public and Congress, Libby apparently led a behind-the-scene
campaign to discredit Wilson, telling reporters that Wilson's wife
worked for the CIA and was responsible for sending him to Niger.
denied his involvement in the conspiracy against Wilson during an
FBI investigation, but the special prosecutor insisted that "Scooter"
lied about that. Legal analysts are debating whether Libby will
be sentenced to jail, but political analysts agree that his indictment
is just the first chapter in a scandal whose main focus would be
political; the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq
and the political and public relations battle it launched to win
support for ousting Saddam Hussein.
the indictment of Libby took place in the same week that the death
toll of Americans in Iraq passed 2,000 dramatizes the challenges
that President Bush and the "war party" in his administration
will have to confront in the coming weeks and months.
trial of Libby will take place against the backdrop of the growing
mess and rising American casualties in Iraq, with top White House
officials, including Vice-president Cheney, being called to testify
as witnesses. The trial, coupled with reports by a more aggressive
press and Congress, will help uncover some of the methods of deception
that were used by the administration before the Iraq War to persuade
a skeptical American and international public that Saddam Hussein
had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and links to Al-Qaeda.
one of the main questions that will be posed by journalists and
lawmakers: "Who were the President's men that conducted the
disinformation campaign on Iraq, and what did President Bush and
Vice-president Cheney know or did not know about that?"
of this will take place at a time when President Bush is continuing
to sink in the opinion polls, which suggest that his approval ratings
are now in the low 40s. The White House remains under enormous strain
after botching the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers and
the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina.
Bush's political strategist Karl Rove was not indicted last Friday,
Bush's most influential adviser ("Bush's Brain") remains
under investigation for his role in a conspiracy to "out"
Valerie Wilson, and it is quite possible that he will also be indicted
and forced to resign. Moreover, with the 2006 mid-term election
getting closer, Bush has even been attacked by members of his own
Republican party and some of his conservative allies, while some
leading Republican figures have been involved in various corruption
a way, President Bush has lost the aura of invincibility that he
seemed to have acquired as the winning post-9/11 "War President"
whom lawmakers and journalists refrained from attacking for fear
they would be punished by a mighty White House and a supportive
Nixon at the height of Watergate, Bush is now perceived as a weak
and ineffective president. This explains why so many critics of
President Bush and his Iraq policy, such as former national security
adviser Brent Scowcroft, are coming out from their holes where they
have been hiding for so long. The "fear factor" has gone
and the long (political) knives are being sharpened.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.