Of chasing Iran-contra has turned the...


December 31, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"SIX YEARS of chasing Iran-contra has turned the 80-year-old lawyer into Ahab."

So said the Wall Street Journal of Lawrence Walsh.

Nice line. Ahab was the mad whaler who spent years tracking down the great white whale, Moby Dick, in Herman Melville's allegorical novel, "Moby Dick." As I recall my high school literature teacher's lecture, the whale symbolized evil, but so did Ahab in his unrelenting desire to kill it.

Now I may not have that quite right. High school was long ago. I didn't keep my notes. And I don't trust the movie. (Though Gregory Peck does bear a resemblance to Lawrence Walsh.) On this subject I am in the same class as the New Yorker editor, Harold Ross, who once asked a more literate staff writer on the magazine, "Was Moby Dick the man or the whale?"

The drift of the Wall Street Journal's editorial is that Walsh has an absolute obsession verging on madness when it comes to investigating Iran-contra. Yes, but I believe there is a hole in the editorial writer's analogy, however. Ahab had only one Moby Dick. Walsh has had several.

Moby Dick II was Oliver North. North symbolized all that was wrong about Iran-contra. He admitted -- no boasted -- of having done the things he was accused of doing. Walsh harpooned him, and got a conviction, but the appellate courts overturned that.

Moby Dick III was John Poindexter. Another conviction and another reversal.

Moby Dick IV was Caspar Weinberger. Just as Walsh was about to try this Moby, he got away, when George Bush pardoned him.

George Bush is Moby Dick V, as Ahab/Walsh made clear when he denounced the president for pardoning IV and said he -- Bush -- was trying to save his own blubber.

Walsh/Ahab also said then that all the cover-ups to date had protected Ronald Reagan -- Moby Dick I -- from possible impeachment.

(At this point I envisioned a raving Gregory Peck in the middle of a school of white whales, all getting away.) (To be fair, Walsh caught a few other Iran-contra players, but I don't count them as Moby Dicks. They were just little fish. Elliot Abrams, guys like that.)

Even without the Bush pardons, Walsh can't be matched when it comes to the-one-that-got-away stories. I do not believe any prosecutor at any level in history has ever been so feckless. Symbolically, Walsh, like Ahab, has been done in by his whale. Reagan, Bush and the rest of the big ones are swimming free, and Walsh is battered and drowning.

And his vessel is sinking. The independent counsel law has expired. Congressional Democrats are talking about reviving it next year, but I have a hunch they won't.

Will that be so bad? I don't think so. Without such a law, a couple of harpooners named Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski caught and got rid of the greatest, evilest white whale of all time, Moby Tricky Dick.

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