Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Armitage

Where’s the Outrage Over CIA Outing?

The White House had egg on its face today. The news about the accidental outing of the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan seemed to be just one more instance in a long list of incompetent episodes in a second term that is proving to be as problematic as even President Obama’s sternest critics predicted. But the story of how the name of the station chief—which is, obviously, classified material, and was sent out in an email to thousands of journalists as one of a number of people briefing the president during his Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan—should not be dismissed as merely the latest episode of the real life situation comedy that is Obama’s second-term West Wing staff.

Coming as it did from an administration and a political party that has often sought to successfully criminalize the leaking of such information in the recent past, we have a right to ask where’s the outrage about this colossal error? But more than that, this absurd tale also speaks volumes about the hypocrisy and selective prosecution policies pursued by the same people now telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see.

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The White House had egg on its face today. The news about the accidental outing of the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan seemed to be just one more instance in a long list of incompetent episodes in a second term that is proving to be as problematic as even President Obama’s sternest critics predicted. But the story of how the name of the station chief—which is, obviously, classified material, and was sent out in an email to thousands of journalists as one of a number of people briefing the president during his Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan—should not be dismissed as merely the latest episode of the real life situation comedy that is Obama’s second-term West Wing staff.

Coming as it did from an administration and a political party that has often sought to successfully criminalize the leaking of such information in the recent past, we have a right to ask where’s the outrage about this colossal error? But more than that, this absurd tale also speaks volumes about the hypocrisy and selective prosecution policies pursued by the same people now telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see.

It should be remembered that it was only a few years ago that the same Democratic Party that currently runs the White House was up in arms because the name of a CIA official was leaked to the press. While initially thought to be an act of political revenge by a Bush administration seeking to get even with officials who opposed their Iraq policies, it turned out that the person who actually gave up the now famous name of Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak was Richard Armitage, a State Department official who was just as hostile to the White House as much of the press. But the outrage about Plame’s outing in the liberal mainstream press was universal and white-hot. An angry Washington press corps helped manufacture a crisis that forced President Bush to appoint a special prosecutor to look into an act that was proclaimed to be nothing short of treason. The prosecutor—Patrick Fitzgerald—spent millions of taxpayer dollars largely on trying to pin the leak on Bush political advisor Karl Rove or Vice President Dick Cheney. Even after he learned that it was Armitage who had done the deed and that there was no ill intent or crime to be prosecuted, Fitzgerald didn’t let up and wound up successfully prosecuting Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby for perjury over something he said to a grand jury about the case. Libby was innocent in Plame’s outing as well as of the perjury charge, but that didn’t stop the press from crucifying him. Even today, many Americans still think it was Libby who outed Plame and that in doing so he had endangered her life even though both assertions are false.

Libby’s ruin was the result of partisan politics but once Bush’s Democratic opponents took over in January 2009, they began their own campaign to make leakers pay. In one prominent example, another CIA official, John Kiriakou was sent to prison for leaking the name of another CIA officer who had conducted the waterboarding of al-Qaeda terror suspects.

But when it comes to their own incompetence, this White House isn’t so up in arms about leaks whatever their causes.

Let’s remember that what occurred this past week was far worse than anything that happened to Plame. Plame was, after all, serving in an office in Virginia and, while classified, was no secret. By contrast, the CIA station chief whose name was released is in peril every day in Kabul. He is serving on the front lines of a shooting war and the release of his name in this indiscriminate manner may well have compromised his effectiveness if not his safety.

No matter what the cause of this leak, the person who did it should be punished. If not, those throughout the security establishment who have been harshly treated by an administration that is paranoid about leaks have a right to complain. So does Libby. In the past, high-ranking Democrats such as Clinton administration National Security Advisor Sandy Berger have often gotten a pass or a slap on the wrist for security breaches that were considered serious offenses when committed by Republicans. If the press lets Obama get away with this blunder, it will be just one more example of the refusal of the national press to hold this administration to the same standards that it judges the president’s opponents.

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Armitage Fiddles While Istanbul Burns

Diplomacy is about more than one ambassador sitting down with another. Imagery is often as important as content. When Tony Blair met Muammar Gaddafi in a desert reception tent, Gaddafi pointed the sole of his shoe at the British prime minister, a symbolic humiliation of the grinning British politician that was lost on neither Libyans nor the larger Arab world. As former Pentagon official Chuck Downs chronicles in Over the Line, a study of diplomacy with North Korea and hands down the best study of the interplay of culture and diplomacy I have ever read, the North Koreans would go further, often sawing the legs of Americans’ chairs so the North Koreans could televise themselves looking down on American negotiators. When Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry defied Bush administration requests to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad isolated, they deflated Syrian dissidents and convinced Assad not to take seriously U.S. demands to stop supporting terrorism.

Alas, now former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has shown that some Republicans have just as poor a sense of timing. The last week has seen Istanbul’s worst protests in a quarter-century. Demonstrations spread across Turkey after police attacked with excessive force protestors seeking to preserve an urban park. Two people have now been killed, thousands detained, and even more injured. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis (“Frank”) Ricciardone, about whose sycophancy toward dictators I have often been critical, has carried himself well among the protests.

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Diplomacy is about more than one ambassador sitting down with another. Imagery is often as important as content. When Tony Blair met Muammar Gaddafi in a desert reception tent, Gaddafi pointed the sole of his shoe at the British prime minister, a symbolic humiliation of the grinning British politician that was lost on neither Libyans nor the larger Arab world. As former Pentagon official Chuck Downs chronicles in Over the Line, a study of diplomacy with North Korea and hands down the best study of the interplay of culture and diplomacy I have ever read, the North Koreans would go further, often sawing the legs of Americans’ chairs so the North Koreans could televise themselves looking down on American negotiators. When Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry defied Bush administration requests to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad isolated, they deflated Syrian dissidents and convinced Assad not to take seriously U.S. demands to stop supporting terrorism.

Alas, now former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has shown that some Republicans have just as poor a sense of timing. The last week has seen Istanbul’s worst protests in a quarter-century. Demonstrations spread across Turkey after police attacked with excessive force protestors seeking to preserve an urban park. Two people have now been killed, thousands detained, and even more injured. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis (“Frank”) Ricciardone, about whose sycophancy toward dictators I have often been critical, has carried himself well among the protests.

So what does Armitage do? As gas wafted through the streets of Istanbul and nearly every Turkish provincial capital, Armitage decided to party with Turkish ambassador Namik Tan. The venue was a conference at the Ritz-Carlton to promote U.S.-Turkish relations. Now, Namik—a talented diplomat—may be a very nice fellow, although he is, alas, a political chameleon lacking any firm principles.

Imagery matters. It would be nice if Turkey and the United States enjoyed good relations. It would be even nicer if the Turkish government did not embrace Hamas, support the Nusra Front, a group which the United States considers an al-Qaeda affiliate, defend Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir in the face of genocide charges, imprison dozens of journalists, and beat people in the street. Let us hope that Armitage, in his position as chairman of the board of the American Turkish Council, finds some benefit to his actions. If he truly wanted to improve U.S.-Turkish relations, partying at the Ritz with Erdoğan’s man in Washington is not the way to do it.

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Don’t Let Door Hit You on Way Out, Pat

No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

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No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

But hey, a special prosecutor’s gotta do what a special prosecutor’s gotta do: indict someone for something. In this case, the anointed ham sandwich was Scooter Libby, indicted and then convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice — the “crime” of giving investigators an account of a conversation he’d had years earlier with Tim Russert that differed from Russert’s recollection.

Putting away Rod Blagojevich and a bunch of New York Mafiosi won’t make up for that. Nor will the conviction of the blind sheik.

So, as Mr. Fitzgerald goes off to a lucrative future in a fancy law firm, or even possibly to a status stint as FBI director, we should bid him goodbye and good riddance.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Politico assures John Meacham (aka “the boy wonder”) that all that nasty criticism of the collapse of Newsweek on his watch doesn’t reflect on him and won’t stop his “meteoric” rise. Unfortunately, the critics seem to be pretty persuasive in its castigation of him (“a perfect example of media insularity and self-congratulation”) for turning the magazine “into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review — a magazine that went belly up several generations ago.”

Congress may not meekly accept the defense-spending cuts Robert Gates has been ordered to serve up. Really, Obama isn’t skimping anyplace else, is he?

Valerie Plame cashes in — hobnobbing in Cannes, making her motion-picture debut, and pushing with her lefty friends for a nuke-free world. I suppose Richard Armitage — recall he was the leaker — should get a residual check.

Arlen Specter now says he could have won as a Republican. Maybe he’ll try it as an independent if he loses today. In that event, it sure would be fun to see Obama campaign against him.

Seems like we goofed in giving the State Department the job of enforcing Iran sanctions: “The department’s mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes. So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. … How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department’s apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran’s ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.” Let’s face it, in 90 percent of administrations, if you want something done right, don’t give it to State.

Irony alert: “After the signing of the Freedom of Press Act on Monday, President Obama declined to take any questions from the press. During a pooled press event in the Oval Office, President Obama was asked if he would take a couple questions. ‘You’re certainly free to ask the question,’ Obama told the reporters in the room. ‘I won’t be answering, I’m not doing a press conference today, but we’ll be seeing you in the course of the week.'” He’s not only inaccessible; he’s rude. You wonder when the press will finally turn on him.

In a nutshell, why voters are mad at Democratic incumbents: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% favor repeal of the law, while 39% are opposed. … While most voters nationwide favor repeal, the Political Class is opposed to repeal by an 88% to eight percent (8%) margin.” There is a way of fixing that gap, of course.

The White House gets nervous about the military-recruiter issue and mounts a defense. Alas, they didn’t explain why Harvard had no problem taking money from a regime that executes gays.

Politico assures John Meacham (aka “the boy wonder”) that all that nasty criticism of the collapse of Newsweek on his watch doesn’t reflect on him and won’t stop his “meteoric” rise. Unfortunately, the critics seem to be pretty persuasive in its castigation of him (“a perfect example of media insularity and self-congratulation”) for turning the magazine “into a middle-brow thumb sucker, reminiscent of Norman Cousins’ Saturday Review — a magazine that went belly up several generations ago.”

Congress may not meekly accept the defense-spending cuts Robert Gates has been ordered to serve up. Really, Obama isn’t skimping anyplace else, is he?

Valerie Plame cashes in — hobnobbing in Cannes, making her motion-picture debut, and pushing with her lefty friends for a nuke-free world. I suppose Richard Armitage — recall he was the leaker — should get a residual check.

Arlen Specter now says he could have won as a Republican. Maybe he’ll try it as an independent if he loses today. In that event, it sure would be fun to see Obama campaign against him.

Seems like we goofed in giving the State Department the job of enforcing Iran sanctions: “The department’s mission is maintaining and repairing relations with foreign countries, not antagonizing them by targeting foreign companies that do business with rogue regimes. So it should not be surprising that the State Department has failed to enforce meaningful sanctions against Iran. … How many violators has the State Department pursued? None. Sadly, the department’s apparent unwillingness to punish offenders ensured that Iran never paid the price for supporting terrorism worldwide. Nor, as we now know, did Iran’s ruling mullahs pay a price for developing a nuclear program.” Let’s face it, in 90 percent of administrations, if you want something done right, don’t give it to State.

Irony alert: “After the signing of the Freedom of Press Act on Monday, President Obama declined to take any questions from the press. During a pooled press event in the Oval Office, President Obama was asked if he would take a couple questions. ‘You’re certainly free to ask the question,’ Obama told the reporters in the room. ‘I won’t be answering, I’m not doing a press conference today, but we’ll be seeing you in the course of the week.'” He’s not only inaccessible; he’s rude. You wonder when the press will finally turn on him.

In a nutshell, why voters are mad at Democratic incumbents: “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 56% favor repeal of the law, while 39% are opposed. … While most voters nationwide favor repeal, the Political Class is opposed to repeal by an 88% to eight percent (8%) margin.” There is a way of fixing that gap, of course.

The White House gets nervous about the military-recruiter issue and mounts a defense. Alas, they didn’t explain why Harvard had no problem taking money from a regime that executes gays.

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