Joseph C. Wilson at Willamette (II)
Bill Long 4/6/06
His Attempt to "Correct the Record"
After the March 2002 decision of Vice-President Cheney to attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, who was from 1998-2002 a well-paid consultant on international business issues, a number of things happened which I cannot pursue here in detail. Many other blogs and books narrate the events of Summer and Fall 2002, in which the "rush to war" was beginning to develop in America. Wilson still hadn't gone "public" with the report of what he didn't find in Niger yet. That is, he wouldn't actually write a piece on what he didn't find in Africa until early July 2003 in the New York Times. In the meantime, however (from Summer 2002-January 2003), the Administration pulled out all the public relations stops it had in order to inflame war sentiment in the country. This inflammation centered on one sentence that was repeated over and over again by Administration spokespeople beginning in Summer 2002. It was to this effect: 'We cannot afford to await a smoking gun [on weapons of mass destruction] in the shape of a mushroom cloud.' Over and over again this sentence pummeled the American people until the polls rose to a level that would permit an attack on Iraq. Saddam was not only an evil dictator, a fact that had been amply documented by all, but he had weapons of mass destruction (which had been documented by none) which he was about to use on the American people. Our national security was at stake. And, even if we were not immediately going to be subject to an attack, in September 2002 the Bush Administration redefined, in contradiction to international law, the kind of situations in which we could initiate a war. Read about that here.
America in the Fall of 2002 was a frenzied place. We had been stunned by the attack on 9/11/01 and were willing to entrust to the President authority to do almost anything he saw fit to protect the American people. Over the next year the President took that power and began planning the war on Iraq. He made use of all sources at his disposal, including the print and broadcast media, Office of Legal Counsel, and whatever other goodwill he was granted (he certainly hadn't earned it) to pursue his strategy. He also needed to squelch dissent. Attacks on rock stars, disgruntled former Administration officials and anyone else who opposed him was the order of the day. So it was in early 2003 that the war against Joe Wilson heated up.
The war against Wilson heated up because Wilson took issue with 16 words in the President's January 2003 State of the Union Address--words which Wilson knew were false. These 16 words, which he claims that the Adminstration knew at the time were false (and I believe that claim), were put in the State of the Union address to further fuel the rush to war, a rush which was almost complete by January 2003. These 16 words were: "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." This, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell's shameful presentation at the United Nations the next month, were the final nails in the coffin of any opposition to a quick strike against Iraq. The "case" had been made. America was in danger of a nuclear attack from Saddam Hussein which would potentially obliterate American cities. Our way of life was threatened. He was President and needed to do something about it. War was the only way. And so we rushed headlong into war, a war that is growing more and more unpopular by the day in America three years later.
"Outing" Valerie Plame Wilson
Wilson, then, sought to correct the record created by the President and his Secretaries, by his July 6, 2003 op-ed piece in the New York Times. This unleashed the fully fury of the Adminsitration, which needed support for its war venture which it had proclaimed an unmitigated success only six weeks previously. And so, leaks were made to the press of the identity of Wilson's wife. There are technical legal questions which the Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is now sorting out (regarding whether it was a crime to leak her name; who was involved in the leaks; to what extent people tried to cover up the leaks; when exactly the leaks took place, etc.), but these questions ought not to obscure the basic point that there was an all-out assault on Wilson and his credibility that followed. Conservative talk shows, Administration officials, Congressional Republicans and others all attacked his credibility. If truth be told, I think he probably has not been fully consistent in telling every detail of his story regarding his mission to Niamey in February 2002. But that isn't so important, in my judgment.
For example, there is a difference between not being consistent on how many people are killed in a disaster and declaring the disaster never happened. If someone reported that "245 people" were killed in a disaster and the real number ended up being 248, does that tarnish the credibility of the source? No, it just means that none of us gets it right the first time around, on almost anything. Debates over niggling details should not obscure the larger points. Or, if the debaters want them to obscure the larger points, we should ask what the agenda of the debaters is.
Fast Forward to Today
So now we are more than three years into the War against Iraq. We know that intelligence data was cooked; we know that the case made for War was unsupported by the evidence; we know that the Adminsitration had no plans for "winning the peace." Instead, the Administration has bogged us down in an international imbroglio of immense proportions. One of Joseph Wilson's points is that in times like these it is incumbent on the American people to hold our government responsible for what it has done. In that regard he doesn't see himself as a moral exemplar or heroic person. He characterizes himself as a citizen who opposes the Adminsitration because he happens to have first-hand knowledge that crucial claims made by the Adminsitration to get us into war were false. These claims remain false. And, Joseph Wilson encourages us all to speak that truth.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long