Mark Steyn continues to be puzzled by the Novak-Wilson-Plame brouhaha.

And if you watch the network news that’s pretty much where the facts stop. The Independent summed up the angle most of the press seems to be interested in: ‘Disclosed CIA Officer Fears For Her Life’ — i.e., Ms Plame’s name was leaked in order to put her in danger. The implication seems to be that she’s on some top-secret mission but, like 007, travelling under her own name, perhaps as an innocuous businesswoman: ‘The name’s Plame. Valerie Plame. Universal Export.’

‘Very interesting, Ms Plame,’ replies Blofeld, stroking his cat, in whose litter tray lies the front page of that day’s Washington Post. ‘Any relation to the CIA agent of the same name?’

The notion that Ms Plame ‘fears for her life’ is somewhat undermined by the fact that her gabby hubby, currently on TV, radio and sympathetic websites 22 hours a day, is clearly having a ball, loving the attention and happy to yuk it up about how he and the missus have been ‘discussing who would play her in the movie’.


Even if you accept that it’s technically possible to leak something that’s widely known around town and published in the guy’s Who’s Who entry, if the object was to discredit Joe Wilson why leak the name of his wife? On his own, Wilson comes over like a total flake — not a sober striped-pants diplomat but a shaggy-maned ideologically driven kook whose hippie-lyric quotes make a lot more sense than his neocon-bashing diatribes for leftie dronefests like the Nation. This is a guy who says things like, ‘Neoconservatives and religious conservatives have hijacked this administration, and I consider myself on a personal mission to destroy both.’ He spends his days dreaming of the first sentence of his obituary: ‘Joseph C. Wilson IV, the Bush I administration political appointee who did the most damage to the Bush II administration.’ Imagine Michael Moore and his ego after dropping 300lbs on the Atkins diet and you’re close enough. By revealing the fact that Mrs Wilson is a cool blonde CIA agent, all you do is give her husband a credibility lacking in almost every aspect of his speech, mien and coiffure.


Indeed, the two Bush scandals–this and the “lies about WMD”–strain credulity. Even if you assigned the most absolutely venal intentions, neither make the slightest bit of sense politically. Even if they never thought they’d get caught, the anti-Wilson leak was bound to have virtually zero positive impact. And ginning up a war based on a pretext that could easily be proven untrue just in time for a re-election bid similarly makes no sense. So, either there’s more to both of these than meets the eye or this is the most politically inept administration in the history of the Republic.

(Hat tip: Reductio ad Absurdum)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brett says:

    I don’t understand the implication here, Jim, which I take to be: Because you don’t find the imputed strategy, post hoc, to be smart, the actions must not have taken place.

    And as far as the “lies about WMDs” goes, I don’t think that the argument was that Bush officials saw all the evidence, knew there were no WMDs, and decided on war anyway. It seems to me that the argument is that the adminstration had a host of reasons for going in, including a belief that Hussein had WMDS (a belief not supported by hard evidence, but that’s not uncommon), and they both read and presented the available evidence in a way that went beyond what, upon cool reflection, seem to have been the true warning signs. The strongest case, as I see it, is not that the administration was malignant, but that they were so blinded by their own preconceptions (and other desires) that they overplayed their hand. So, perhaps, incompetence is right.

  2. James Joyner says:


    Could well be with the WMD; it makes more sense than the “Bush lied” meme. Saddam clearly had chemical and biological weapons in the 1980s and was working on a nuclear program in the 1990s. Perhaps the UN inspection regimes and/or the various bombing raids of the mid-1990s got ’em all. Why Saddam nonetheless allowed himself to be invaded rather than documenting this, though, I can’t grasp.

    The Plame thing just strikes me as implausible, at least the initial WaPo version–they did it to get revenge on Wilson. That they wanted to get the info out that Wilson was a hack put in by his wife makes a lot more sense.

  3. JC says:

    Since when does something have to make sense? I love this logic… Because someone does something boneheaded, they must not have done it because it doesn’t make sense that they do it?

    Wow. I wish I would have thought of that when I was a kid.

    I’ll use it on a policeman next time I’m stopped.

  4. James Joyner says:


    The lack of motive and/or mens rea are fairly common defenses. Logical argumentation are often used to make this defense.

    Further, one would think that complex organizations of politically experienced people would make calculations with greater skill than, say, a child.

  5. Paul says:

    If Wilson was harmed by this whole thing it is real hard to tell with him laughing and smiling thru his 15 minutes of fame. One would tend to think that if you were offended that your privacy was trampled upon you would not be speculating about who would play you in the made for T.V. movie.

    I still find it amusing that the same people that claim Bush lied and can be so skeptical on one hand can believe the most implausible things on the other hand.

    For example: Is it more plausible that Saddam hid the weapons or that the leaders of the world’s 50 largest countries all lied when they said he had them?

    They simply believe in mythology.

    And if you are on of the ones who chooses to believe in mythology, that is fine.. Save me the flames, I never will.

  6. Kevin Drum says:

    I have to agree that the “doesn’t make sense” defense just doesn’t make sense.

    They wanted to make Wilson look like a flake, and they also wanted some revenge. Otherwise they wouldn’t have deliberately mentioned Plame’s maiden name. It was a twofer.

    Burgling the Watergate hotel didn’t make sense either. It’s pretty obvious that someone in the White House just wanted to put out this fire, didn’t stop to think that outing an agent might be dangerous, and then did something really stupid. Happens all the time.

    (As for WMDs, almost nobody is making the case that the Bushies just flat out lied. As I’m sure you know, the case is considerably more nuanced than that.)

  7. James Joyner says:


    I dunno: I see the “Bushies just flat out lied” argument all over the place, including from Democratic Senators, several journalists with books out, etc.

    The Watergate counterexample occured to me as well since, rather clearly, it would have been virtually impossible for Nixon to have not won reelection by that point. But, as is now a virtual maxim, “It’s not the crime but he coverup.” The burglary was really a minor issue that could have been handled pretty easily with truth. Deliberately exposing a NOC was something that was almost certain to come to light and was per se criminal if the exposer knew what he was doing.

  8. JC says:

    I was listening to Greg Thielman and David Halberstam on KQED’s forum this morning and they have quite a bit to say about the “lying” regarding WMD. You should give it a listen (over the web).

    Lying is too strong a word, perhaps. But misrepresentation, distortion and suppression of anything that didn’t fit their world view is actually a characterization that fits.

  9. Tom says:

    Could it possibly be that the press is so determined to find things to hang Bush on, that any response by the administration would be treated with contempt or not reported? It reminds me of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” question.

    President Bush says I will prosecute whomever leaked the information, and asks for an investigaiton. Some in the press know who made the statement, but refuse to “divulge their sources”. Then the same press attacks the administration for the statements. How can you protect yourself.

    The meme that Bush lied about the “imminent Threat” has been so disqualified by anyone who has cared to research it. Yet , the press is still treating it like a proven fact, when they have to know that it is a lie. Again, how can you protect yourself.

    I will tell you, to me it says there are those in the press that have the agenda that Bush is bad, and will find anything to prove it. You hear so much about journalistic ethics, but they are used as a tool as much as a belief.

  10. Jim Clark says:

    Steyn is indeed confused:

    (1) It’s irrelevant that Joseph Wilson told people his wife’s name. It wasn’t a secret that Valerie Plame was married to Joseph Wilson, but it was a secret that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, and it was a secret that her nominal employer was a CIA front company. Valerie Plame didn’t pretend to be someone else, she pretended to work for someone else. Steyn’s reference to Wilson’s “Who’s Who” blurb is either obtuse or dishonest.

    (2) The leak could be damaging even if Plame’s life is not endangered. For example, Plame’s contacts could be endangered and CIA operations compromised even if Plame weren’t herself at risk. We don’t know what harm resulted from the leak, and the CIA isn’t likely to tell us. It’s foolish to claim there’s no harm done unless Oddjob offs Valerie Plame.

    (3) The slime and defend campaign against Joeseph Wilson is a red herring. We now know that the administration was grasping at straws on African uranium — even the administration has acknowledged that the “sixteen words” were a mistake. Nor is Wilson terribly relevant to the leak investigation — all he knows about the leak is what others have told him. Wilson may annoy Republicans (you know he’s under the skin when people criticize his hair), but that doesn’t justify outing a CIA agent.