Friday, March 09, 2007

Scooter's Fate Ties GOP to NeoCons' Sinking Ship

In the wake of Scooter Libby's conviction for lying and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame case, most of the focus has been correctly centered on 1) whether the prospect of heavy prison time will encourage Libby to spill the beans on Cheney; 2) whether Bush will attempt to cut short any such speculation, or the threat of a lengthy sentence, by pardoning Libby; and 3) how much damage the scandal has caused and will cause to the GOP brand especially regarding public trust in the GOP with respect to national security issues.

I argue, however, that there is an even bigger underlying story here that is being severely underestimated--and it has to do with Libby's reasons for accepting the role of fall guy in the first place.

Libby, you see, is in a singular position of power over the Republican Party right now. He knows good and well that the information he has about the shenanigans that took place in the White House and the Office of the Vice-President could very well bring down the entire Administration if they were to become public. If Libby spilled the beans about it, it would destroy the GOP for the next half-decade at least. True, the GOP would attempt to vilify him as a known liar trying to save his own behind--but the support the GOP has given Libby until now (with everyone from Krauthammer to DeLay encouraging Libby's pardon) would make that difficult.

Where this gets interesting, though, is in figuring out Libby's motivations for accepting the role of fall guy in the first place. It takes more than a simple sense of duty or loyalty to one's employers to accept the possibility of spending the rest of one's life in federal prison: it takes a commitment to ideology, and a depth of feeling about the issue that can only derive from the deepest convictions. And while cynics might argue that he simply expects to be saved by a presidential pardon, I wouldn't trust Bush to do anything that my life and liberty depended on.

To understand Libby's possible motivations, we have to look at his record of public service. For that, a concise summary can be found at Wikipedia's entry on Scooter Libby:

After working as a lawyer in Philadelphia, Libby "accepted a job offer from his old Yale political science professor, Paul Wolfowitz, and went to work for Wolfowitz at the State Department, from 1981 to 1985," as a member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff. From 1982 to 1985, according to his official U.S. State Department biography, Libby served as director of special projects in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Although in 1985 "he left the government to enter private legal practice.... By 1989 he was working again for Wolfowitz, this time at the Pentagon, as principal deputy under-secretary of defense for strategy and resources....For his government service [in 1993] Libby was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Award and the Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award. He also received the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Award for Public Service [1985]." During the George H. W. Bush administration, Libby was also confirmed by the U.S. Senate as deputy under secretary of defense for policy. According to Curtiss, "When the Democrats took over in 1992, Libby crossed the Potomac to serve as legal adviser for the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China." Libby co-authored the draft of the "Defense Planning Guidance for the 1994-99 fiscal years" (dated February 18, 1992) with Wolfowitz for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.

In 1995, as recounted by Curtiss, Libby "became managing partner at the Washington office of the Dechert, Price and Rhoads law firm, where he worked until 2001, when Vice President Cheney named him chief of staff and national security adviser."

According to Stephen Smith, in the previously-cited CBS News report of October 28, 2005, "Along with Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Wolfowitz, Libby became part of a network of neo-conservatives who many know as the 'Vulcans' – Mr. Bush's core national security team." In 1997 Libby became a founding member of the Project for the New American Century, and, while he was still a partner at Dechert Price, and Rhoads, he joined Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and others in writing its 2000 report entitled, "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century".

After becoming Vice President Cheney's chief of staff in 2001, Libby was reportedly nicknamed "Germ Boy" at the White House, for insisting on universal smallpox vaccination. His "constant presence behind the scenes in the Bush administration" reportedly also led to his nickname "Dick Cheney's Dick Cheney": "'He is to the vice president what the vice president is to the president,' said Mary Matalin, who worked with Libby as an adviser to Cheney during Bush's first term....Speaking before the indictments, she described Libby as a deep thinker and problem-solver who gives 'discreet advice.'

Libby was also active in the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee of the Pentagon when it was chaired by Richard Perle during the early years of the George W. Bush administration (2001-2003). emphasis added

Let's summarize this for a second: Libby came into public service through Paul Wolfowitz; went to the private sector before coming back into the government fold again for Wolfowitz; served in the defense department for George H. W. Bush during the first Gulf War; dropped out of Republican politics during the entirety of the Clinton years, serving as a legal advisor encouraging military buildup against China; and then comes back on board to serve under Cheney. He is a founding Vulcan and PNAC signatory.

This is not the picture of a Republican operative; this is the picture of a die-hard NeoCon aggressive foreign policy operative. His biography paints a picture of a man who only gets interested in public policy when it comes in the service of using America's military in an aggressive stance, either to annoy China or to steal oil resources in the Middle East. He is deep in with Wolfowitz; with Doug Feith; with Dick Cheney; and with the rest of his PNAC brethren. He doesn't, on the other hand, appear to care a great deal about tax cuts, abortion, or any other major piece of the Republican platform that doesn't involve dropping bombs on somebody somewhere.

And this is the man who holds the entire Republican Party by the balls.

What makes this singularly interesting is that with public approval of the Occupation of Iraq reaching new record lows almost every week, and with the PNAC agenda having been shown to be as pragmatically awful as it is morally repugnant, the only way for the Republican Party to salvage its image is by throwing the NeoCons overboard and trying to get back to some semblance of an actually conservative foreign policy. There are persistent rumors of a rift between Bush and Cheney himself, and prominent Republicans like Chuck Hagel are openly making their displeasure known with NeoCon foreign policy. And you can bet that the GOP will, toward the end of Bush's term, stick the knife in his back and declare him a liberal Wilsonian at heart, and not a "real" conservative--in fact, that process has already begun.

Scooter Libby, however, throws a monkey wrench into these workings. He is the walking, ticking time bomb that can destroy the GOP--and he knows it. And if I read Libby's character and history correctly, I don't think he'll submit to spending much of the rest of his life in prison to protect a party that has thrown him, his friends, and the ideology he has spent his life and career pursuing overboard.

On the contrary--Scooter's one single biggest bargaining chip is the threat that if the GOP doesn't toe the NeoCon line (or if Bush doesn't pardon him--and Bush hasn't made even a hint that he'll do that), he'll sing like a canary.

If I were a Republican operative, I would be more than a little bit nervous about my party's predicament right now...

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