Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Plame Case: Rule by Intimidation and Fear

While others are concerned with whether key members of the Bush Administration, and Karl Rove in particular, broke the law in revealing the identity of a CIA operative or answering questions afterwards, I wish to look at the moral issue.

A Theory

A plausible interpretation of the moral story goes like this:

Key members of the Bush Administration wanted the United States to attack Iraq, alone if necessary, long before they became key members of the Bush Administration. Whether it was a just (justified) war or an unjust war did not matter, as long as Iraq fell into friendly hands.

No doubt, these people thought that such an attack was the right thing to do. Yet, people generally find it very easy to convince themselves that they are doing good deeds, even when they are not. In fact, it is difficult to find anybody, from a common thief to genocidal tyrant, who does not assert with conviction that their acts served a greater good.

To buy support for this war, the Administration needed to manufacture a supply of fear and inject it into the body politic. People are afraid of nuclear weapons, so this is a very powerful ingredient to put into this potion of fear.

It makes sense to think that Vice President Dick Cheney would be pleased to hear rumors that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger. If it could be proved, this would make the case for war irrefutable. Cheney asked the CIA to check the story out.

When the report came back that these rumors were unfounded, Cheney and his associates were probably disappointed.

However, manufacturing fear does not require evidence, only belief. Therefore, the administration continued to use the rumor that Iraq had tried to buy uranium. In doing so, they sought to manufacture fear and, with this, to manipulate American voters into supporting aggression against another country.

I actually think that these Administration officials probably believed that Saddam Hussein was trying to create nuclear weapons. The absence of proof was the fault of the investigators; any competent person doing their job would have found the evidence, they thought.

However, suspicion that somebody might perhaps be a threat at some time in the indefinite future is a poor excuse for a war. If our standard for going to war is, ‘the other country might, perhaps, be up to something, even though we have no evidence that they are,” then any country may justifiably invade any other country at any time.

There is no foundation for peace – there is no national security -- unless war requires at least something more solid than suspicion without evidence.

Exposure and Retribution

Then, Joe Wilson, who went to Africa to investigate the original rumor, wrote an article for the New York Times saying that he had investigated the rumors, found them to be unfounded, and reported this to the Administration. Admitting that his findings could have been in error, he publicly asked whether his findings had been outweighed by other evidence or selectively ignored.

(Note: Recent developments suggest that the Bush Administration was looking for ways to damage Wilson earlier than originally thought, when news articles citing an unnamed source disputing the Niger claims appeared in the New York Times on May 6 and the Washington Post on June 12th, 2003)

Accused of manufacturing fear, Administration officials did not answer the challenge to provide outweighing evidence. Instead, they decided to attack their attacker. To attack Joe Wilson, they asserted that he was a crony recommended for the job by Wilson's wife, formerly Valerie Plame; now, Valerie Wilson.

Somehow, the Administration believed that there was something wrong with hiring close friends and supporters to perform important government functions, and wanted to argue that this cronyism justified questioning Wilson's qualifications and competence.

The moral story ends here.

Well, the first chapter ends here. We still have the issue of being careless with national security information. This carelessness told agents and potential contacts throughout the world that American government officials would sell them out if it could buy them a few political points. However, that is not the moral story I am concerned with here.

Moral Considerations

Here, I am talking about deceptively manipulating the American people into approving an act of aggression against another country that they would not have supported if they had known the truth. I am talking about a government that injected unjustified fear into American lives in order to make them submissive and pliable. I am talking about attacks made against those who questioned their tactics.

Under different circumstances, the Bush Administration might have found ways to attack Joe Wilson in ways that were perfectly legal. This would not have changed the first part of this moral story. This would have had no effect on what I am writing about here.

In seeking answers to the Judy Plame issue, we have quit demanding answers to a question that is at least as important; did the Bush Administration deceptively manipulate the American People into supporting an attack that, if they had known the truth, they would have considered immoral?

The Moral of the Story

The lesson that these government officials want the American People to learn is clear. "Even if you have evidence that we have done wrong, do not dare to mention it, or you will suffer. We insist that you remain silent when you have evidence of our transgressions. Those who do not do so will be made to suffer."

This is the type of America that these people are trying to create -- one in which government officials routinely employ a tool of intimidating potential critics into silence.

If we reward this type of behavior -- if we allow those who use these tactics of misdirection, ad hominem, and accusing the accusers, to profit from them, then we teach important lessons that the next generation of politicians will no doubt learn and put into practice. We make intimidation an attractive practice.

To the degree that we put these types of people on the social 'protected species' list, coddle and protect them, to that degree we can expect them to thrive, and to raise more who are just like them.

Regardless of how any other part of this story turns out, the American people are well advised to consider how much they value leadership by intimidation and fear.

Appendix: Just War

Note: I want to add a point of clarification. One cannot consistently be opposed to immoral actions and be tolerant of tyranny. Turning a blind eye to the suffering caused by tyrants is its own moral crime.

On moral grounds, the first Persian Gulf War was right because the world needs to stand up to countries that invade their neighbors, just as the community needs to band together against those who will invade one of their houses.

Clinton's actions in the Balkans was nothing other than the defense of innocent people from murderers and butchers.

The war in Afghanistan was a war against people who spread death and destruction across the entire face of the globe.

I could have been talked into defending the invasion of Iraq if it had been grounded on a decent respect for the principles of a just war. However, a unilateral attack grounded on manufactured fear deprived this war of its moral footing. That, more than anything, has contributed to the high price we have had to pay, and that we will continue to pay.

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