October 31, 2005
Friday’s indictment of I. Lewis Libby for perjury and
obstruction of justice in the Justice Department probe of the
outing of a CIA agent has shaken not only the White House, but
the entire political establishment in the US.
Libby was one of the chief architects of the invasion of Iraq.
His indictment for lying about an administration "dirty tricks"
operation against a critic of the war implicates both the vice
president and Bush himself.
As the New York Times wrote on October 29, Libby "had
the exalted position of being a full member of President Bush’s
inner circle ... holding three pivotal jobs at once: assistant
to the president, chief of staff to the vice president and Mr.
Cheney’s national security adviser."
Underlying Libby’s indictment is a deep crisis of American
foreign policy—first and foremost the disastrous results
of the US invasion of Iraq—which has come together with growing
internal opposition to both the war and the worsening economic
situation confronting broad masses of working people.
This crisis is more than the end result of the personal limitations
of Bush and the subjective predilections of Cheney, Rumsfeld and
their fellow conspirators. It is rooted in an objective crisis
of historical proportions: American imperialism has arrived at
a blind alley, for which it has no way out other than war and
That is fundamentally what imparts to the US government its
criminal character, and dictates that the more it becomes caught
up in its own contradictions, the more dangerous and violent it
becomes. It would be the most serious mistake to believe that
the response of the Bush administration to the indictment of Libby
will be to compromise and retreat from its policies of militarism
and social reaction. Its instinctive response will be to adopt
even more extreme measures.
This can already be seen in the Bush administration’s
signals to the Christian right, following the collapse of the
Harriet Miers nomination for the Supreme Court, that the president’s
next choice will meet the specifications of the administration’s
Despite the crisis and disarray of his administration, Bush
has one great advantage: his nominal opposition, the Democratic
Party, has no interest in seeing his government collapse. The
Democrats’ combination of cowardice and complicity in the
war ensure that Bush will be given time to work out his plans
for a counteroffensive.
Libby’s indictment arose out of the attempt by the White
House to discredit former diplomat Joseph Wilson. In July of 2003,
after US occupation forces had failed to turn up any evidence
of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the anti-US insurgency
had begun to grow, Wilson published a column in the New York
Times exposing as a lie one of the main pieces of "evidence"
cited by Bush and other top administration officials to back up
their tales of a nuclear-armed terror regime in Baghdad. This
was the claim that Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase uranium
from the African country of Niger.
Wilson revealed that he had been sent by the CIA the
previous year to Niger to investigate the uranium claim, and had
found it to be false. He accused the Bush administration of "twisting"
intelligence to drag the American people into war.
The administration responded by feeding to the press the fact
that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA operative,
and suggesting that she had played a role in assigning Wilson
to check out the African uranium story. The aim was to smear Wilson
and dissuade any other would-be whistle blowers from exposing
the government’s lies.
This plot to silence a critic of the war was only a small part
of an immense web of criminality and lies. It flowed from the
central crime: the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, justified through
the systematic and deliberate deception of the American people.
If the principles laid down by the Nuremburg trials were enforced,
this conspiracy to wage aggressive war would itself result in
Bush, Cheney, Libby and others suffering the maximum penalty.
The Bush administration elevated the illegal premises underlying
the Iraq war to the foundation of its foreign policy, in its doctrine
of "preventive war," which is a direct repudiation of
international law. The pursuit of this policy has entailed the
widespread use of torture, the practice of "disappearing"
alleged terrorists and the establishment of American-run gulags
in various parts of the world.
Given the enormity of these crimes, and the scale of the lying
used to justify or conceal them, what is remarkable is not that
one small aspect of the conspiracy has unraveled, and one of the
culprits has been indicted, but that it has taken years for the
administration to suffer any serious consequences.
This is a government that has carried out one cover-up after
another: of its role in the so-called "intelligence failure"
that enabled a band of Islamic terrorists to blow up the World
Trade Center and bomb the Pentagon; of its policy of torturing
detainees in the so-called "war on terror;" of its conspiracy
to drag the country into an illegal war that has already cost
the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than 2,000
It is a government, moreover, that came to power on the basis
of fraud and the suppression of votes.
Yet it has been given a free pass by the Democratic Party,
Congress, the courts and the media. The CIA leak investigation
that has resulted in Libby’s indictment did not come about
as a result of demands from the Democratic Party, Congressional
probes, or investigations by the establishment press.
Rather, it was the result of mounting tensions and jurisdictional
disputes between the CIA and the State Department on the one side
and the White House, Cheney and the Pentagon on the other. Within
the CIA, bitterness and anger grew over the open contempt with
which Cheney and Rumsfeld treated the agency and its staff. Dissatisfied
with the reports coming from the CIA on Iraqi WMD, Cheney tried
to bully CIA analysts into producing intelligence that could justify
an invasion, and simultaneously set up his own intelligence unit
to bypass the normal channels and churn out the most dire reports.
When the administration outed Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert
operative, the CIA bureaucracy was shocked that the government
would violate so basic a principle of the spy apparatus for political
ends. It decided to retaliate. It was, in fact, an official request
from the CIA for an investigation of Wilson’s exposure that
forced then-attorney general John Ashcroft to appoint a special
counsel to conduct a probe.
That the administration’s claims of Iraqi WMD were either
gross exaggerations or outright lies was known throughout the
political and media establishment. Even the United Nations weapons
inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency had rebutted
Washington’s assertions. And it was well known that the Bush
administration was dominated by neo-conservatives who had been
agitating ever since the first Gulf War of 1991 for a new war
to topple Saddam Hussein and turn Iraq—with its vast oil
resources—into an American protectorate.
Defenders of the war and the Bush administration repeatedly
point to the fact, as supposed proof that the White House did
not deliberately lie, that the preceding Democratic administration
of Bill Clinton had insisted that Iraq was developing weapons
of mass destruction. Clinton used this claim to justify relentless
American pressure on the Baathist regime, including the launching
of air wars and the maintenance of sanctions that destroyed the
country’s infrastructure and led to the death of hundreds
of thousands of its citizens.
The argument that both parties promoted the myth of Iraqi WMD
is, of course, true. What it demonstrates, however, is not the
innocence of Bush, but rather the degree to which the Iraqi WMD
canard had for a decade served as an essential premise of US imperialist
foreign policy. This lie had become so pivotal that it took on
a life of its own and could not be challenged.
The bipartisan consensus surrounding this lie, and its inevitable
and bloody consequences, were spelled out during the 2004 election
campaign by James Rubin, a top Clinton-era State Department official
and adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Rubin
declared that had Democrat Al Gore won the 2000 election, the
US would have invaded Iraq anyway.
These political facts show that every institution of American
capitalism is implicated in the crime of aggressive war, and the
conspiracy against the democratic rights of the American people
of which it is a part. However, no matter how complicit and prostrate
the Democratic Party and the media, taking the country into war
on the basis of lies is an enormously reckless enterprise, fraught
with consequences unforeseen by those who conspired to carry it
In the end, what has produced the Libby indictment and the
broader crisis of the US political system is the failure of the
American military to suppress the Iraqi resistance and the mounting
opposition of the American people to the war. The growth of popular
opposition has been compounded by the disastrous response of the
government to Hurricane Katrina and the escalating assault of
big business against the jobs and living standards of the working
Every one of those who conspired to invade and occupy Iraq
richly deserves whatever legal punishment may be eventually meted
out. But militarism, war, the assault on democratic rights and
living standards will not be halted by the institutions of the
very system that is responsible for these crimes.
On the contrary, the American people face the danger that the
ruling elite, in response to its mounting and intractable problems,
will strike out both abroad and at home. No matter how extended
and bogged down the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the impulse
will be to widen the war in the Middle East.
The editorial page of the October 29 New York Times is
instructive. One day after Libby’s indictment, the Times,
which played a key role in promoting the administration’s
lies and its drive for war against Iraq, published an editorial
on Iran that stated—as a matter of fact—"the trouble
is that Iran has a nuclear weapons program..."
This claim, which has been rejected by the International Atomic
Energy Agency and for which not a shred of evidence has been produced,
serves the same function in preparing for military action against
Iran as the WMD fabrications about Iraq.
The only basis for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
and preventing future and even more bloody catastrophes is the
independent political mobilization of the working class in opposition
to the two-party system and the financial aristocracy whose interests