Loyal to a fault

June 06, 2007

It's not a heroic age, is it? Thirty-five miles down the highway from Baltimore lies a capital city pulsing with self-regard, but rarely has such an elite agglomeration of politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats, think-tankers and journalists had less reason to preen.

A visit to Washington in, say, early March of 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, was like a visit to another country altogether. Washington was going to show the world something - even the bookstores were filled with cheerleading displays of testaments to American military perfection - and just about the whole establishment was reading from the same page.

It was not the establishment's finest hour. And if it wasn't evident at the time, it didn't take very many months after the invasion of Iraq for the great adventure to begin unraveling. And so it happened that by July 2003 the administration was trying to undercut the pesky and critical former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was too close to one uncomfortable truth, and in pursuit of this aim it outed his CIA operative wife.

The calls went out to the reliable members of the Washington press corps, some of whom seemed to enjoy the access and spinning that comes with the job so much that they lost sight of the purpose of their work, which is to tell the world candidly and honestly what's happening.

Four years later, this was all laid out for the world to see in the trial of I. Lewis Libby for obstruction of justice. The prosecution of Mr. Libby was deeply troubling in one respect - in that it coerced journalists into becoming unwilling tools of the special prosecutor - but it's not easy to defend the schmoozy, off-the-record, dish-is-better-than-fact culture that was at the heart of the case.

Yesterday the judge threw the book (a light book, to be sure) at Mr. Libby, sentencing him to 30 months in prison. It's interesting to browse through the letters sent to the judge on his behalf, from the usual suspects, such as John R. Bolton, Douglas Feith, Donald H. Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, but also from Mary Matalin and James Carville, and from Eleanor Merrill (publisher of the Annapolis Capital and Washingtonian), Norman Podhoretz (editor-at-large at Commentary) and Leon Wieseltier (literary editor at The New Republic). All testified to Mr. Libby's sterling qualities, which undoubtedly are abundant - but all seemed to be rather blithely unaware that Mr. Libby's crime is intertwined with the effort to justify the war in Iraq, and Iraq is the catastrophe of their generation.

"This nightmare should finally end," wrote Kenneth Adelman, who was once so eloquent for war. He wasn't talking about the nightmare of Iraq, or of the tens of thousands who have died there, or of the damage the Washington establishment has inflicted on America - but about the nightmare of a political functionary who lied and was caught at it.

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