CommunityFDL Main Blog

Libby’s Memory Defense Highlights His Failures on National Security

libby-and-wells.jpg

You've no doubt heard that Scooter Libby will be arguing he was so busy with very important events during 2003 and 2004 that he just plum forgot that Dick Cheney–and not Tim Russert–told him of Valerie Plame's identity. He's even preparing a PowerPoint presentation to show you which very important events he was busy with on which day.

Let me be clear. Scooter Libby is not arguing he was busy with very important things and therefore he didn't have time to obsess over Joe Wilson. He has admitted to discussing how to respond to Wilson repeatedly, as in this passage from the grand jury testimony where he describes discussing the Wilson column multiple times a day activity:

Q. And was [the article] a discussion of — that was — was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis?

A. Yes sir.

Q. And it was discussed on multiple occasions each day in fact?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And during this time did the Vice-President indicate that he was upset that this article was out there which falsely in his view attacked his own credibility? 

By his own admission, the Vice President's Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser, and the President's Assistant spent time during a week full of very important things discussing an op-ed a private citizen had written for the New York Times. As a taxpayer, I read this and begin to sympathize with supervisors who  discipline employees for spending too much time surfing the net, rather than doing their job. Only in this case, the guy distracted from doing his job is one of the top security officials tasked with keeping this country safe. And the things he was supposed to be doing–instead of plotting a response to a private citizen–turn out to include a large number of very important things at which this Administration has failed miserably. Take a look at the list of very important events Libby will present in his PowerPoint: 

  • Threatened attacks on America and American interests by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups
  • Enhancing the US defenses for homeland security
  • Nuclear proliferation by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan and efforts by the US to stop his activities
  • The development of nuclear weapons by North Korea
  • Iran's development of nuclear weapons, its arrest and potential harboring of Al Qaeda members, and its involvement in Iraq
  • The proper size and role of the Iraqi military and security forces in the months following the fall of Saddam Hussein and the proper composition of the governing entity in Iraq
  • The Israeli-Palestinian relationship, including the emergence of Mahumoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as an alternative to Yasser Arafat and the threat Hamas posed to peace and security
  • A tense diplomatic crisis arising during the first half of July 2003 from the arrest of Turkish soldiers by US forces
  • The unrest in Liberia in June and July 2003, culminating in the fall of Charles Taylor in early 2003; the danger to the US Embassy and its occupants in Monrovia; and the United States' role in protecting civilians caught in the strife

Let's see. The Turkish soldiers were released on July 8, 2003. And Liberia remains tense–but peaceful, as its former dictator prepares to face a UN War Crimes tribunal. I'd call those successes. But the rest of these very important things Scooter Libby was supposed to be working on while he was having multiple discussions a day to orchestrate a Wilson smear? Let's look more closely.

Threatened attacks on America and American interests by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups

My first question about Libby's focus on fighting terrorism is why Libby was spending so much time fighting this guy , when this guy is still at large?

On top of that, we have this update from those who have to pick up after Libby's mess.

Intel director John Negroponte gave Congress a sobering assessment last week of the continued threats from groups like Al Qaeda and Hizbullah. But even gloomier comments came from Henry Crumpton, the outgoing State Department terror coordinator. An ex-CIA operative, Crumpton told NEWSWEEK that a worldwide surge in Islamic radicalism has worsened recently, increasing the number of potential terrorists and setting back U.S. efforts in the terror war. "Certainly, we haven't made any progress," said Crumpton. "In fact, we've lost ground."

While we can't blame the ongoing decline on Libby–who has been out of his job for a year and a half–we sure don't seem to have eliminated the threat. 

Enhancing the US defenses for homeland security

Things are even worse with our homeland security. Only last week did the US House pass a bill doing some of the obvious things to keep our nation safe–like inspecting shipping containers and addressing the communications needs of first responders. Those seem like no-brainers to me–but I guess our executive branch has been too busy planning campaigns against its private citizens to enact even these obvious reforms.

Nuclear proliferation by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan and efforts by the US to stop his activities

Libby will almost certainly describe this as one of the issues that distracted him when he was testifying in fall 2003 and spring 2004. AQ Khan's role in selling nukes to, among others, Iran was revealed in fall 2003, just as Libby was gearing up to allegedly lie the first time, and Khan was "arrested" in February 2004, a month before Libby allegedly lied a second time. Of course the "arrest" was just a pardon and house arrest. Since that time, the US has never been able to speak with Khan directly. And most of Khan's associates have since been let go. And Pakistan–which by all accounts was intimately involved in Khan's proliferation network–has been upgrading it's own program. 

The biggest irony, of course, is that Scooter Libby was so distracted with his plan to respond to Wilson that he didn't even notice that the wife about whom he was spreading leaks was one of the key Americans trying to stop this kind of proliferation. Plame can no longer combat proliferation, and the efforts of Scooter and his buddies appear to have been too ineffective to do so. 

The development of nuclear weapons by North Korea

One of Pakistan's best customers, of course, was North Korea. And as we now know, Libby's efforts to prevent North Korea from going nuclear failed. While North Korea's recent test was largely a dud, the Administration's failure to sustain 6-party talks (or better, to engage in honest bilateral talks) has simply given North Korea more time to develop its program. Chief among our problems throughout this period was the involvement of Dick Cheney's handpicked "envoy," John Bolton, who has scuttled attempts at diplomacy at every step of the way, behaving so undiplomatically that he got banned from talks. In this case, then, OVP sinned as much by commission as omission and distraction. Given the way OVP's involvement in North Korea seemed a constant setback to progress with North Korea, you might imagine that Libby's distraction with Wilson would have helped us prevent North Korea from going nuclear. But whether through omission or commission, Libby's efforts failed. 

Iran's development of nuclear weapons, its arrest and potential harboring of Al Qaeda members, and its involvement in Iraq

To a degree, this is an absurd proposition on its face. One of the chief liaisons between Iran and Iraq, in the early days, was none other than Ahmed Chalabi, whose intelligence chief was passing our secrets to Iran. So it's not like the guys pushing Chalabi to be the central power broker in Iraq were really working against Iranian influence.

But if we were to take Libby's claims at their face value–that he was busy trying to get Iran to hand over Al Qaeda leaders it had in captivity and to end its nuclear program–then we can only judge his efforts to be a complete failure. As Flynt Leverett has explained, the Bush Administration squandered the best opportunity to negotiate these issues during precisely the period when Libby was hatching his plot against Joe Wilson.

On the nuclear issue, the administration refused to consider direct negotiations with Tehran for nearly four years after the revelations of Iran’s efforts to develop a uranium enrichment capability. In the spring of 2003, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent, via Swiss diplomatic channels, a proposal for negotiations aimed at resolving all outstanding bilateral differences between Tehran and Washington, including the nuclear issue. The proposal was described as having been endorsed by all the major power centers in Iran, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The administration’s response was to complain to the Swiss Foreign Ministry that the Swiss ambassador in Tehran had exceeded his brief by passing such a paper. It is worth noting that the Iranian message came to Washington shortly after the conclusion of major combat operations in Iraq and well before the emergence of the insurgency there—in other words, the Iranian offer was extended at a time when U.S. standing in the region appeared to be at its height. It is also worth recalling that, when the Iranian offer was made, the Islamic Republic was not spinning centrifuges or enriching uranium and the reformist Mohammad Khatami was still president. [my emphasis]

Not only was BushCo going after Joe Wilson, I guess, but they were going after the Swiss at the same time. Perhaps that explains Libby's confusion and forgetfulness.

The proper size and role of the Iraqi military and security forces in the months following the fall of Saddam Hussein and the proper composition of the governing entity in Iraq

Wow. How can I treat this fairly? I'll just let George Bush assess how well Iraq is going.

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people — and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. 

I guess Bush doesn't judge the results of Libby's very important work that highly. I'll chalk that up to one more failure during the period Libby was busy obsessing about Joe Wilson.

The Israeli-Palestinian relationship, including the emergence of Mahumoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as an alternative to Yasser Arafat and the threat Hamas posed to peace and security

By the reference to Abbas, I presume Libby's team is referring to Abbas' ill-fated service as Prime Minister from March 2003 until fall 2003. You know–the one that ended when Abbas resigned (among other reasons) because he didn't get enough support from Israel and the US.

The fundamental problem, the statement said, was "Israel's unwillingness to implement its road map commitments and to undertake any constructive measures."

He also said the United States and the international community "did not exert sufficient influence on Israel to implement its commitments in the road map to push the peace process forward or to end its military escalation."

Can I just call that another Libby failure and leave it at that?

Libby may think the exercise of describing all the very important things he was working on may get him off  perjury and obstruction charges. But as a taxpayer, I can't say I'm all that sympathetic. Libby worked for me and you, overseeing all these very important things. And instead of giving them his full attention, he was busy plotting up a smear of a private citizen. Perhaps if he hadn't been so obsessed with Joe Wilson, he might have succeeded with more than two of these important security issues.

Previous post

Gay Nigerian Mormons

Next post

Parsing Libby

emptywheel

emptywheel

167 Comments