The Bush-Libby Non-Story

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Captain's Quarters says it's not even a story that the president used the authority he legitimately has to authorize Lewis Libby to reveal classified information to the press. He also notes that this is information the media had been pressuring Bush to reveal, and only the president could authorize that it be revealed.

I want to say one thing that I haven't seen anyone else say. I've been getting lots and lots of searches with keywords related to Bush's statement that the leaker will be dealt with and that anyone who did anything illegal will be fired. Both statements have to do with the context of the specific information that had to do with Valerie Plame's identity. Nothing in Libby's testimony indicated that he had authorization to reveal her identity, just to share that they had good reason to doubt Joseph Wilson's claims about Niger and uranium. I'm imagining that people are trying to find this quote in order to say that Bush should fire himself, but any conclusion like that requires a very impressive incapacity to engage in careful thought. He never said anything about anyone revealing information that he had legally authorized to be released. He specifically spoke of firing anyone who had committed a crime in leaking information, and he said that the person who leaked the name would be fired. Neither one has anything to do with Bush's legal authorization of releasing the information Libby said Bush authorized him to release, which was just the same information that was released to the media shortly thereafter.

There is one thing people might say. They might wonder not at the legality but at the morality of releasing information like this to the press if the reason is simply for his administration to save face. Several commenters at CQ seem to have this problem. Though I can't say much for the level of commenting on that post, I think it's worth saying something about that point. There are two issues in just war theory when it comes to right intention. One is what the actual person making the decision actually intended. The other is whether a right intention is available. We can never know for sure what any other person was fully motivated by. What we can do is explore whether there was a good reason for doing what the person did. In this case, I think there's a fairly obvious explanation for how someone could authorize the release of this information with the right intentions and not just to save political face. Joseph Wilson was lying about the facts that were part of the basis of the justification for an ongoing military conflict. Those lies could have a negative impact on the entire war on terrorism and not just a negative impact on the president's approval ratings. So getting the facts out in the open about the intelligence justifying the invasion of Iraq could be good in terms of things completely independent of political maneuvering. While it's true that no one can prove that this was the motivation, it's also true that no one can prove that it isn't, and I think it's pretty low to condemn someone's motives as if you know what they are when an alternative explanation is available.

6 Comments

Keep clutching at those straws.

I'm downloading this page.

Gonna send it back to you in a few weeks.

Wonder what excuse you'll make for Bush and his mobster boys then.

I'm not sure how a couple weeks of time would change anything important about the justification I've given (which is not the same thing as an excuse, because an excuse explains why it's ok to have done something wrong, while a justification explains why it was the right thing to do).

In a couple weeks, we shouldn't know anything more about anyone's motivations. We won't be able to reconcile Joe Wilson's contradictory statements any better. A contradiction is a contradiction, and this seems to be a genuine contradiction. We won't be able to say retroactively that this long-standing practice of presidents doing this sort of thing was never a long-standing practice. It was. We won't be able to say that what the law has been all this time wasn't really the law. It was. We won't be able to say that Bush's exact words weren't what they were. They were.

So the straws, I think, are in your hands. Brute force of accusation is not an argument. Now please, if you have something intelligent to say then say it. If I got the facts wrong, tell me. If I made an argument whose conclusion doesn't follow from the facts, tell me that too. This sort of pretense that you have something to say that you don't at all have is not an argument. It may well be that there's something to say against what I've said, but don't pretend you have something to say when you clearly don't.

I haven't really followed this story closely, but based on what I've heard on the news, I have this question: Are we to suppose that indirectly instructing an aide to anonymously slip some intelligence (and only parts that favor going to war) to a single reporter was Bush's method of declassifying? I don't know about the legality of that (I have my doubts), but, morally, it sure strikes me as fishy.

What I understood about this is that Libby asked Cheney if he could supply the information that later was released in an official report, and Cheney asked the president if this information was ok to tell a reporter in a private conversation provided that the reporter agreed not to release it. The issue was that the reporter was going to publish a story that was going to say false things based on what Joe Wilson was saying, and the president, not wanting the effort in Iraq to be damaged by this false information, said it was ok to give this specific information that that particular reporter on this one occasion. Given that it was information that he did officially release not long after, I don't think it's a problem.

I've seen several Democrats who opposed going into Iraq saying that this is legal and has been a common practice of presidents for quite a while. I don't remember offhand who those people were, but I remember one being a Clinton advisor.

For those interested, a quick & useful read on the ethics of this disclosure by Andrew Sullivan is at:

http://time.blogs.com/daily_dish/2006/04/declassifying_a.html

Sullivan mentions the one possible piece of evidence that could lead this into territory that I would say raises real moral questions: if it turns out that Bush authorized Libby to talk about Plame. That would indeed make his statements about finding and dealing with the leaker a little strange, wouldn't it? But as Sullivan notes, there's no good reason to think that's what happened here. As far as Libby has testified, that move was his own. It's always possible that he's covering for a higher-up (either Bush or, more likely, Cheney), but we have no reason to assume that.

I don't buy his claim that this is merely for self-interested purposes. I've already explained why, but perhaps it bears repeating once again that he had a perfectly reasonable national security motivation for authorizing the release of this information to this particular reporter in this particular instance, whether or not that was the actual reason. Since we don't know his motivations, it does not do to assume that it was the less morally acceptable one when it could well have been the perfectly good one (or a mix, as is probably common in politics).

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