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WHAT WE THINK
Leak scandal indictments could take down the president's men
Is this Bush's Watergate?

October 28, 2005 | Page 3

THE BUSH administration may suffer a political blow this week that will leave it wishing for the good old days of 40 percent approval ratings. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to hand down indictments in his grand jury investigation into the CIA leak scandal at the White House.

The focus of the inquiry is on some of the most powerful people in the country--including Karl Rove, the high-profile political adviser credited with getting Bush into White House, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the less well-known right-hand man to Dick Cheney. And looming behind them is Cheney himself--the puppet-master of the Bush White House.

Rove and Libby are suspected of leaking the name of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, to Washington reporters, as an orchestrated act of vengeance against Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had exposed one of the Bush administration's prime lies--the fabricated claim that Saddam Hussein's regime had tried to buy nuclear materials from the African country of Niger. According to a breaking story in the New York Times as Socialist Worker went to press, Cheney apparently started the ball rolling by revealing Plame's identity to Libby.

The scandal has shown--yet again--the extent of the administration's determination to get its war on Iraq, and its ruthlessness in trying to silence all opposition, both outside and inside the Washington mainstream.

The media are sure to continue analyzing every tidbit to emerge before Fitzgerald announces his conclusions, and then the indictments themselves, judging them against their own guesses. If the charges fall short of what's expected--especially if Rove isn't indicted--the Republicans could even claim vindication.

That's why it's important to keep an eye on the bigger question. Leaks to the media take place every day in Washington, and even Bush opponents who hope to see Karl Rove led away from the White House in leg irons admit that Fitzgerald's indictments will be about iffy violations of a highly technical law.

But this scandal is about more than a technicality. It's a stand-in for the real scandal--how and why the U.S. government could launch a barbaric war on Iraq based on lies. As Alexander Cockburn put it on the CounterPunch Web site, "[I]n that odd way that scandals acquire critical mass by dint of larger social and political discontent, the Plame scandal is severely wounding the Bush regime."

If the invasion of Iraq had gone as the arrogant hawks expected, none of this would be happening. Joseph Wilson's uncovering of one lie in the case for war would be a historical footnote.

But the occupation of Iraq has continued to unravel--more quickly with every passing week. Any day, the 2,000th U.S. soldier will die for Bush's lies--and with the vast majority of the Iraqi population opposed to occupation, the war has no end in sight.

The Plame scandal is about deciding--in part--who will pay a political price for this disaster, in what measure, and how far up the ladder the blame will go.

That's not to say that there's a genuine alternative within the Washington elite. Some of the most indignant noises about the leak scandal are coming from politicians who themselves were enthusiastic cheerleaders for "Operation Iraqi Freedom" when it looked like a winner.

Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, while criticizing Bush's tactics, have been careful to defend the core political assumptions behind his "war on terror": that the U.S. has the right to carry out pre-emptive military strikes to preserve its status as the world's only superpower. Anyone who doubts this should watch as leading liberals swallow their tongues while Bush demands "regime change" in Syria and threatens Iran, and leading Democrats try to sound even tougher.

It will be a joy to watch someone like Rove and Libby squirm. But the results of Fitzgerald's investigation--unless they're a complete whitewash--will have a further meaning. At the least, they will reinforce the already majority opinion that the war on Iraq--the indisputable centerpiece of the "war on terror"--was a fraud from beginning to end.

If Cheney is implicated, Plamegate might even become the straw that breaks the Bush White House--if not by forcing Bush out of office like Richard Nixon before him, then by reducing his presidency to an extended lame-duck joke.

But it's important to understand what will happen next. The Clintons and Kerrys will step forward, not to provide an alternative, but to contain the damage for the wealthy and Corporate America.

No matter where the Plamegate scandal ends--and the higher up the ladder it claims its victims, the louder the cheers will be from Socialist Worker--there's still a job ahead of us. Our challenge is to move from widespread opposition to the war on Iraq to building a movement that can challenge the pro-imperialist assumptions behind the "war on terror" and U.S. military intervention anywhere in the world--no matter which politician's lies are put forward to justify it.

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