When Words Have Multiple Meanings

Steven Taylor has two interesting posts today on the subject of what constitutes a “leak.” In the first, he argues that, while the president is legally entitled to authorize selective release of information, doing so constitutes a “leak” and, since the president has constantly decried “leaks,” he is a hypocrite. He bases this judgment on a reasonable enough definition: “[R]egardless of the source and the degree of official acquiescence, a leak is simply the selective release of information to a limited number of members of the press in such as way as to fashion political advantage for the leaker.” In a follow-up, he deals with the objection that I and others have made that there is a world of difference between releases authorized by the president and done against the president’s wishes because, “the motivation for the declassification of the NIE was clearly for the political interest of the administration vis-a-vis its Iraq policy, not the purer motive of protecting the national interest.”

My objection to this line of argument, though, is that whether what the president authorized constituted a “leak” by some definition is really irrelevant when assessing the president’s hypocrisy; what matters is whether constituted one by the president’s definition. Like all presidents, this one authorizes the selective release of information to the press on a regular basis. It is the sine qua non of effective communications. Obviously, he has no objection to this practice. Therefore, it is not what is referring to when he constantly criticizes “leaks.”

It has been accepted wisdom since the first days of the Bush administration that this president places extraordinary value on loyalty. His objection to “leaks” has nothing to do with the technical merits of classification policy but rather his expectation that his subordinates act in their boss’ interest. He gets frosty when people who have information by virtue of working for him go to the press to undermine his policy, settle scores within the bureaucracy, or curry favor with reporters.

I would also argue that, in early 2003, “the political interest of the administration vis-a-vis its Iraq policy” and “the purer motive of protecting the national interest” was a distinction without meaning in the minds of the president and vice president. Whatever on thinks of their judgment in taking us to war or their dismissal of evidence contrary to their position, they clearly thought the war was vital in a post-9/11 environment and desperately fought back such things as op-eds by Joe Wilson that might undermine it at that crucial juncture.

Update: Ditto divulging the tactical planning for war with Iran to Sy Hersh.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    James, you should be ashamed of yourself for such transparently shoddy reasoning. Bush knew that Iraq did not constitute a threat to the United States. He also knew that some pretty incredulous charactors were telling the CIA all kinds of lies about Iraq. Yet in spite of knowing the truth, Bush told us lies.

    He led the American people to believe that Iraq was such an immanent threat that war upon that country was the only viable choice to make.

    There was a world of difference between what was good for “the political interests of the administration vis-a-vis their Iraq policy ” and â??the purer motive of protecting the national interestâ??

    It is self evident that the first and formost imperative in protecting the national interest must be to refrain from starting illegal, immoral and unjust wars. Yet that is exactly what the Bush Iraqi policy called for.

  2. ken says:

    James, one more thing. Reliable sources have it that Bush is now trying to put together a case against Iran sufficient to warrant him using the bunker buster nuclear weapon. Think about that.

    Bush is insane.

  3. Ken, you’re an idiot.

    When reliable sources tell Bush Iraq is trying to buy uranium, that’s a lie… but when reliable sources tell you Bush wants to drop nuclear weapons on Iran, it’s evidence?

    Who’s your reliable source? Stephen Osborne? He makes a lot of noise, but he’s hardly reliable.

  4. Herb says:

    Caliban Darklock:

    Don’t get to excited about what Ken has to comment on. He is the chief Anti American coward here on OTB. He has never served a single hour of his time in service or defence of the USA. He is only a taker, He takes, takes, and tackes and offers nothing worthwhile for his country or his fellow man.

    Ken however, does take trips every now and then to one of the far reaching planets somewhere out there. Obviously, he is on another trip to his favorite place in space where he gathers his thoughts and ideas.

    So, don’t worry about Ken when he is out there tripping, but watch you wallet when he’s around.

  5. Of course, the politic effects of the events in question take place regardless of the intentions/mindset of the administration.

    Further, I do think it somewhat disingenuous to use the leak method (i.e., selective dissemination of information) rather than simply releasing the info to the general public. As such, I think that there is some room for the hypocrisy label.

  6. Roger says:

    “…they clearly thought the war was vital in a post-9/11 environment.” BS. They clearly were planning to attack Iraq pre- 9/11 and didn’t have the sense to rethink it after 9/11 when some serious rethinking was called for. Our priorities should have changed after 9/11. The neocon idiots just saw 9/11 as a handy tool to put to use in going forward with their original plans to wage an agressive war against Iraq, no threat to us before or after 9/11. Idiots.

    By the way, the NIE report looked at the possibility Iraq was working on developing nukes (the aluminum tube theory) and determined the evidence wasn’t strong enough to include this theory in the final “major points” section of the report. Read the thing. Bush’s selective leak of only that portion of the report where the theory was touched on without releasing the conclusion that the evidence was weak was deceptive. Idiots.

  7. Bithead says:

    Bush knew that Iraq did not constitute a threat to the United States…

    To the contrary Ken… Bush knew nothing of the kind. That’s because what you’re saying, simply isn’t true.

    Iraq did in fact constitute a threat to the United States as the documents that are pouring out of that country now atest. (Next, we’ll hear from you, doubtless, about how these documents are all forged…)

    Apparently, to Democrats a leak is anything that makes Democrats look bad, that they’d rather the public not know about.

    And Steven, you oughta know better than:

    Further, I do think it somewhat disingenuous to use the leak method (i.e., selective dissemination of information) rather than simply releasing the info to the general public. As such, I think that there is some room for the hypocrisy label.

    It is, and has been, standard practice for every administration in history, just about, to give advanced info to select reporters… information that will later be released to the press corps a whole. The idea of course, is controlling the initial spin of the documents. This is hardly be considered disingenuous, but rather preventing lies.

  8. Roger says:

    Amazing how skeered the neocons were of that dreadful threat Iraq posed to the West while no one in Europe was quaking in their boots before the dreadful Saddam threat. Chickenhawks.

    I’m being facetious, of course. They knew there was no threat, just wanted to try out their America-can-now-rule-the-world fantasy. Idiots.

    By the way, the NIE report looked at the possibility Iraq was working on developing nukes (the aluminum tube theory) and determined the evidence wasnâ??t strong enough to include this theory in the final â??major pointsâ?? section of the report. Read the thing.

  9. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Ken calls Bush insane. Ken how sane is it to do nothing about a threat? Iran’s President has issued unveiled threats against both the United States and Israel. Since you side with the enemy, why don’t you go live with them. Is it because your life expectancy would be counted in hours rather that years? In real life, Ken, cowards like you hide under rock but because of the safety of the internet, idiots like you get to voice their opinion. I must be nice to be known as the main moonbat on this blog.

  10. Jim Henley says:

    I would also argue that, in early 2003, �the political interest of the administration vis-a-vis its Iraq policy� and �the purer motive of protecting the national interest� was a distinction without meaning in the minds of the president and vice president.

    A libertarian couldn’t put it better. He would also point out that this is precisely the problem.

  11. Bithead says:

    Iâ??m being facetious, of course. They knew there was no threat, just wanted to try out their America-can-now-rule-the-world fantasy. Idiots.

    They knew nothing of the sort.
    Funny thing, the record shows Saddam was a threat. … err.. Saddam’s own records. (Warning: PDF)