AFTER A 22-MONTH investigation into the compromising of CIA operative Valerie Plame, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald handed down a five-count indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff,
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Even before that lengthy investigation reached its conclusion, critics of the Bush administration had begun to articulate the new conventional wisdom on its outcome: The Bush administration lied about Iraq before the invasion and has been lying ever since.
Frank Rich, in a column that ran on October 16, 2005, in the New York Times, wrote under the headline, "It's Bush-Cheney, Not Rove-Libby."
Now, as always, what matters most in this case is not whether Mr. Rove and Lewis Libby engaged in a petty conspiracy to seek revenge on a whistle-blower, Joseph Wilson, by unmasking his wife, Valerie, a covert C.I.A. officer. What makes Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy that was not at all petty: the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq. That conspiracy was instigated by Mr. Rove's boss, George W. Bush, and Mr. Libby's boss, Dick Cheney.
The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel made a similar argument in an appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews last week. In response to a question about the Fitzgerald investigation, she said: "These are serious matters of national security, of misleading the country into the gravest crime one could commit, an unnecessary war."
These efforts to frame the investigation so as to inflict maximum damage on the White House appear to be working. By last Friday morning, David Gergen, who often serves as chief spokesman for the conventional wisdom, was calling the upcoming court battle the "trial of the war in Iraq." This, he says, will "keep the administration on the defensive" for months and will make it very difficult to govern. Congressional Democrats used the occasion to call for hearings into the alleged misuse of intelligence.
In the literal sense, attempts to link the case for war in Iraq to the Fitzgerald investigation are illogical. If a White House official lied to a grand jury in 2004, as Fitzgerald contends, that fact has little bearing on the case made for war in Iraq in 2002.
Fitzgerald was asked directly about the connection between the indictment and the Iraq war during his press conference Friday.
Question: A lot of Americans, people who are opposed to the war, critics of the administration, have looked to your investigation with hope in some ways and might see this indictment as a vindication of their argument that the administration took the country to war on false premises.
Does this indictment do that?
Fitzgerald: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.
This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer's identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person--a person, Mr. Libby--lied or not.
The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.
And I think anyone who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.
Fitzgerald is, of course, right. And in any case the attempt to link the two issues seems counterproductive. Where they do overlap--Joseph Wilson's claim that he had "debunked" Bush administration assertions about an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger--they point to an embarrassment for the war critics and reporters who invested so much in his self-aggrandizing fantasies: Wilson lied.
It may seem strange that war opponents would seek to relitigate the case for war in Iraq on such a flimsy foundation as these now-discredited claims. But the antiwar agitators are not nearly as dumb as their slogans make them sound. They appear to understand that a scandal-hungry news media, the ongoing difficulties in Iraq, and a weary American public provide an environment hospitable to even their most outrageous claims.