Impeachable offense

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

In 1970, Gerald Ford defined an impeachable offense in unarguably practical terms, as: “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Ford’s defintion is the only thing saving George Bush’s hide right now, as Plamegate hemorrhages and the high-level machinations that drove the country into an unnecessary war publicly unravel. Beyond special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s possible perjury indictments of Scooter Libby and Karl Rove lie 100,000 or so deaths, a ruined country, worldwide enmity and a bill to U.S. taxpayers of $200 billion and counting. Admittedly, this is no semen-stained dress, but it’s a colossal screw-up nonetheless.

Even if the president isn’t impeached for these offenses, which meet every requirement for this action except the one that matters (and has growing public backing, with 42 percent saying they would support impeachment if the evidence that Bush misled us into war were strong enough, according to a recent Zogby poll), his administration and its cynical agenda are unraveling with Category 5 counterspin.

Fitzgerald’s investigation into the White House leak that resulted in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame reveals a ruthless shortsightedness within the administration that should shatter every non-insider’s Civics 101 naivete about how our government works.

Plame, as everyone knows by now, is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who — about the time Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner was beginning to sink into the quagmire — wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times titled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” What he didn’t find was any evidence that Saddam Hussein had purchased yellowcake uranium in Niger, which could have been used to build a nuclear bomb. Wilson’s testimony exposed the whopper justifying the invasion: Saddam’s cache of WMD.

What happened next is a case study in why we teach children not to lie. Their cover story cracking, Team Bush was forced to lash back. They tried to discredit Wilson by revealing his wife’s CIA status to cooperative reporters. Plame was an NOC — non-official cover — agent monitoring nuclear proliferation. She was deep undercover, and her outing shakes the whole infrastructure of U.S. spookdom. The safety of anyone who had ever talked to her was jeopardized with the public disclosure of her status.

To send such a tremor through U.S. intelligence operations — and in so doing, to run afoul of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which was pushed through Congress by Reagan-era conservatives — is so wildly irrational it bespeaks blind desperation, and begs the question, what are these guys hiding?

What they’re hiding is a fusion of politics and ideology that resulted in a war of raw aggression. We invaded Iraq to ensure GOP electoral success in future elections and to advance a neoconservative agenda long obsessed with control of Iraq. The first casualty of the war, as ever, was the truth.

“We wouldn’t be invading Iraq to further Rovian domestic politics or neocon ideology; we’d be doing so instead because there was a direct connection between Saddam and al-Qaida and because Saddam was on the verge of attacking America with nuclear weapons,” wrote Frank Rich in last Sunday’s New York Times. “The facts and intelligence had to be fixed to create these whys; any contradictory evidence had to be dismissed or suppressed.”

Rove and Libby, representing opposite poles of the Bush administration, joined forces to create a win-win scenario for everyone except the Iraqis, the American public and the rest of the world. If they’re indicted for lying about it — what irony.

Why is it that justice for the truly monumental crimes is a matter of grasping at such straws? I ask this question not to look a gift horse in the mouth — Fitzgerald’s guts and doggedness in pursuing this investigation may have saved the republic — but to examine the learning opportunity the scandal opens up.

The abuses of the Bush administration may be the most extreme in U.S. history, but they came wrapped in the cloak of patriotism and fear-based necessity, and most of us, including the media, barely questioned them, or we accepted them with a shrug as the unchallengeable prerogatives of the powerful.

What kind of democracy can such an enervated, powerless people hope to spread to the rest of the world? How did we wind up with a system of government that practices the ideals it trumpets only by mocking them? How do we let future leaders know that waging an unnecessary war is an impeachable offense?