Monday, April 24, 2006

The Bush Bubble Myth

The latest trend in Bush Administration criticism is the reemergence of the Bush bubble myth. This myth, originating in the earliest stereotypes of Mr. Bush, views the president passing his days in a comfortable womb of like-minded people cut off from and uninterested in the world at large, going about his imperious ways with no clue or concern with the suffering his policies are causing.

Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “We have seen this phenomenon before - a cloistered president, fixed in his views and averse to compromise, often at odds with political reality.” Evan Thomas and Richard Wolfe write writein Newsweek that “Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon.” David Ignatius bluntly asserts “Bush and Cheney are in the bunker.”

The din of conventional wisdom echoing the media became so strong that NBC’s Brian William used precious time in an interview with the President at the end of last year to ask about it:

WILLIAMS: I brought some visual aids. I have Newsweek and Time. Cover of Newsweek, look what they've done to you. "Bush's World: The isolated president, can he change?" And inside Time, it says "Bush's search for his new groove." Time magazine says you're out there talking to people. Newsweek says you're in here not talking to people. So what is truth, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I'm talking to you. You're a person.

WILLIAMS: This says you're in a bubble. You have a very small circle of advisors now. Is that true? Do you feel in a bubble?

PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don't feel in a bubble. I mean, you feel in a bubble in the sense that I can't go walking out the front gate and, you know, go shopping, like I'd love to do for my wife…I feel like I'm getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have informed me and informed those who advise me. And I feel very comfortable that I'm very aware of what's going on.

Mr. Williams seems like a decent person, but this is truly an inane question. What does he expect Mr. Bush to say: Yes, I’m in a bubble just like these magazines say. Yes, I have a very small circle of advisors who tell only what I want to hear. Yes, I don’t care how my policies are really doing in the real world so long as Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and maybe Donald Rumsfeld assure me that I’m right.

Anyone who has spent more than a moment examining Mr. Bush’s presidency and psychology would know how far from reality these characterizations are. Like most caricatures, they provide a mental detour around the need to consider facts, thus allowing effortless conformation of biases.

Tellingly, Bush critics point to different evidence as proof of the bubble. Some evidence put forward in defense of this argument is simply silly. The normally sensible Fareed Zakaria was moved to write of an “Imperial Presidency.” Why? Because, “Bush's travel schedule seems calculated to involve as little contact as possible with the country he is in.” Presumably, if Mr. Bush spends more time on touring and less on substantive discussions his presidency will revert to acceptable size.

A possible more serious and widespread criticism is raised by Ruth Marcus writing in the Washington Post says "the notion that this is an insular White House headed by an incurious president isn't exactly administration-bites-dog news.” Her view, seconded by many critics is that in the Bush administration there is too much agreement and too little debate, a recipe for groupthink.

Those who persist in repeating this view overlook or ignore a great deal of evidence to the contrary. During the 2000 presidential campaign a number of reporters including Frank Bruni and Eric Schmidt looked into Mr. Bush’s decision-making style. They wrote in a November 19, 1999 article entitled "Bush Rehearsing for the World Stage," that in getting information, Bush prefers “discussions to in-depth reading, although he has been known to needle his advisors when something they say diverges from something they wrote.” Hardly the humor of an uniformed man. Elizabeth Mitchell who wrote a badly titled, but informative biographical book about Mr. Bush’s development, wrote (p.333) "He likes to hear different views on the same policy problems. During his 1990 campaign for governor, “ George W. took great glee in assembling the most diverse group he could find and then let the discussion fly for several hours. He would ask hundreds of specific questions, demonstrating the same intense curiosity he displayed on the back roads of Texas.”

Has this style carried over to his presidency? The evidence is that it has. Bob Woodward’s look inside the debates that began after 9/11 within the administration makes this clear.

Don’t believe Woodward? Is he to close to Bush? Ok, then how about WP reporters Peter Baker and Robin Wright who wrote that a, “powerful debate was raging, officials now acknowledge, among the president's top advisers over postponing the Jan. 30 interim election in hopes of first tamping down the flaring insurgency and bringing disaffected factions to the table.”

Supporters of Mr. Bush’s policies have every reason to be concerned about the state of his presidency. But they will help neither the president or his policies by buying into the ill-considered and erroneous view that Mr. Bush’s comfortable cocoon must be breached, if his presidency is to be saved. Appearing this week on Fox News Sunday, Ken Duberstein had this to say:

WALLACE: And, finally, Mr. Duberstein, how unvarnished was the message that you were able to give to Ronald Reagan in 1987-88, and what does Bolten need to do with Bush?

DUBERSTEIN: I think Josh Bolten is well equipped to be a reality therapist to President Bush the same way walking into the Oval Office I had to tell the president not what he wanted to hear, but what he needed to hear.

The implication of this is quite clear. Mr. Duberstein thinks Mr. Bush needs some “reality therapy,” because no one is telling him what he “needs to hear,” as opposed to what he “wanted to hear.”

Contrary to his critics, Mr. Bush is quite able to discern the difference between reality and hype. It was Mr. Bush who framed the 9/11 attack as an act of war and not an attack requiring a limited response, a UN resolution, or better police work. It was Mr. Bush who said of Yasser Arafat, publicly, "He can't close the front door of his prisons and let prisoners out the back…Arafat criticized us. He urged us to put more pressure on Israel. Who is he kidding?," or “here’s a man who says he’s signed on to Oslo, that he was going to fight off terrorism. We thought a couple of month ago that we thought we had an agreement. The next thing we know he’s ordering a shipment of arms from Iran." And it was a skeptical Mr. Bush who responded to George Tenet’s presentation about Iraqi WMDs “Is that all you’ve got?”

No, Mr. Bush is a clear-eyed realist when it comes to his circumstances, and ours. He is not in political trouble because he inhabits a bubble. He is on trouble because he has undertaken a difficult war against a relentless enemy and is determined to see it though despite the public’s fatigue and doubt. He is in trouble because from the start of his administration he has faced relentless domestic political enemies who are determined to cripple and, if possible, ruin his presidency. And he is in trouble because some allies he should be able to count upon appear to have adopted the fallacious arguments of his enemies or in the case of Congress are afraid to directly address them.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

David Gergen’s Advice

David Gergen begins his advice to President Bush in an op ed column today with a Freudian joke: “Question: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change. It's a punch line that comes to mind these days as President Bush fights the darkness by rearranging his team.”

With due respect, the question is not whether Mr. Bush wants to change but whether he thinks it prudent to do so. And in any event, Mr. Gergen’s advice to President Bush to ‘rebuild his presidency” by changing his policies on Iraq, energy, secrecy is hard to evaluate given the lack of specifics. Should the president wind down our commitments in Iraq regardless of the timing or consequences? Should he raise taxes, veto spending bills, cut the growth of entitlements or of defense appropriations? Should he discuss more widely with Congress our most critical national security programs and hope for their discretion? Should he waive executive privilege so that Congress can be privy to his private advice? And if changing his Chief of Staff and others won’t do, who will? Donald Rumsfeld? Karl Rove? Perhaps Dick Cheney. As to the president’s base, he has bucked them repeatedly, most recently with his guest worker program.

The line between conviction and stubbornness is a thin one, and Mr. Bush certainly seems to think that his own political losses are worth the price of policies he sees as critical to American national security.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Where have all the Flowers Gone? Part II: Appreciation, Ambivalence, and Nationalism

The expectation that American soldiers would be greeted as “liberators,” with flowers and sweets was reasonable enough. After all, Iraqis had been savagely brutalized by Saddam’s domestic rein of torture, terror and sadism. Robert Kaplan recently wrote that, “Iraq in the 1980s was so terrifying that going to Damascus from Baghdad was like coming up for liberal humanist air. People talked furtively in Syria; in Iraq, nobody breathed a syllable of opposition. The whole country was like an illuminated prison yard. I was emotionally affected. Recent events make it easy to forget just how bad Iraq was back then. “

Still, the question remains: What happened? If Americans were truly viewed as liberators, why is it now struggling against a ferocious insurgency? Why did the good will that Americans expected seem to turn so suddenly into suspicion and resentment? These are very important questions whose answers go to the heart of American efforts in Iraq and the public’s assessment of them.

Critics of the administration have already answered these questions to their self-satisfaction. They are convinced that the administration’s expressed expectations were “one of the biggest frauds of the Iraqi debacle,” and “None of that happened.”.

Were these expectations a “fraud?” No. Were Americans greeted as liberators? Yes. Christopher Hitchens, who was embedded with the invasion force recalled in an interview [HT: Neo-Neocon],

“..there are people who say that that never happened… Well I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't. I saw it with--months after the invasion, people still lining the roads, especially in the south…still lining the roads and waving and the children waving which is always the sign because if the parents don't want them to, they don't. I'll never forget, you know, I will not allow it to be said that that did not happen. And in the marshes too--the marsh area of the country which was drained and burned out by poison by Saddam Hussein. Again, almost hysterical welcome and in Kurdistan in the north..”

Well, if Americans were greeted as liberators then what happened? That is the more complicated and poorly understood part of the story. The answer to that critical question requires a deeper understanding of the psychology and state of the Iraqi people than has been in evidence.

A basic, obvious and overlooked point about the Iraqi people is that they were severely traumatized by the brutal tyranny of Saddam Hussein. They had lived in abject terror for almost a quarter of a century. George Packer, whose well-received book The Assassins’ Gate contains a chapter entitled, “Psychological Demolition” that ought to be mandatory reading for anyone trying to understand what happened in Iraq. Think Mel Gibson's Road Warrior series set in a “post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

The monumental psychological barrier faced by American forces was well summed up by Aquila al-Hashemi, one of the three women who became members of the Interim Governing Council (p.165-66):“We are still under the shock, we are still afraid. We are still living in the same-I was15 in ’68, now I’m 50. You see? You can imagine-can I change in two days, in two moths, in two years? We need to be re-educated, rehabilitated.”

Administration plans to “empower” Iraqis apparently never considered that the psychological foundation of human initiative had been severely eroded under Saddam’s barbarous rule.

The psychological and spiritual damaged inflicted in Iraqis is one part of the answer to the question: What happened? But it cannot by itself fully account for our difficulties. To understand that more fully we must look more closely at Iraqi attitudes toward the invasion and what they reveal.

One way in which to do this is a by looking at some of the polls conducted in Iraq. There are by now a number of them. Face to face polls in Iraq suffer from many drawbacks among them the difficulty of drawing random samples, and the dangers and reticence of personal interviews. Still they are useful if you are careful. However, in the hands of breathless critics however they can be misused.

Consider the wholesale indictment of the Iraqi invasion by Ted Carpenter of the CATO Institute based on a selective and shallow reading of a few poll questions.

Mr. Carpenter begins by boldly asserting: “A new, extensive survey of Iraqi public opinion conducted by Gallup and other groups discredits numerous cherished beliefs that hawks have held about Iraq. For months, the Bush administration and its supporters have argued that there is a silent majority of Iraqis who regard coalition forces as liberators, want those forces to stay for a prolonged period, oppose insurgent attacks on coalition troops, and are enthusiastic about creating a Western style democracy for their country. The poll results contradict every one of those assumptions.”

Not Quite. Mr. Carpenter relies on a poll conducted by USATODAY in conjunction with CNN and Gallup from March 22-April 2, 2004 and reported in USATODAY on April 30, 2004.

He accurately reports that 19% in this sample view Americans as liberators, and makes much of it. But had he done any research or read beyond USATODAY, he would have found a number of surveys with different numbers.For example, an ABC news poll conducted at about the same time and released on March 15, 2004 found 48% of the respondents thought the invasion “was right,” and 39% said that it “was wrong.”

The survey goes on to ask “about any hardships you might have suffered since the US/British invasion, do you personally think that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth it or not? (Q:22) 61% said it was and that included large majorities of Baghdad, Shi’ite, and Kurdish, but not Sunni areas).

Mr. Carpenter then goes on to “discredit” another “cherished belief,” namely that “that a majority of Iraqis want U.S. and British troops to stay on for an extended period.” I know of no administration official for whom this was a cherished belief, Nonetheless, it is true that the USATODAY /Gallup survey reports that 57% of the sample would like the United States to leave “immediately” (in the next few months) and the percentages favoring departure are even higher in Baghdad, Shi’ite and Sunni areas.

Yet, a BBC Poll reported in February of 2004, found that 59.9 % wanted Coalition forces to stay for more than a year, or until security was restored, or until an Iraqi government was in place or never.

However, this is by no means the end of the story. Mr. Carpenter does not report it, but when asked (Q:16) whether they would feel safer if the “Coalition left today,” 53% said they wouldn’t and that included pluralities in the Baghdad, Shi’ite and Sunni areas. He never asks the obvious question: Why would Iraqi want Coalition forces to leave, if it would make them feel less safe?

It is true that when asked whether they considered Americans occupiers or liberators at the time of the invasion (Q: 15) the sample was almost even split overall with 43% choosing each option. It is also true that by the time of the survey that sentiment had moved decisively toward viewing collation forces as occupiers—71% versus 19%.

He inquires no further. He should have because at the heart of Iraqi attitudes toward the collation forces was and remains ambivalence. That term simply means mixed feelings and Iraqis had many of them.

Yes, Iraqis increasing saw the coalition forces as “occupiers,” but why? One important clue is found in another question he overlooks (Q:17), “Would Saddam Hussein have been removed from power by Iraqis if US/British forces had not taken direct military action?” Eight-nine percent said that he would have remained in power and that included 85% of all groups asked (Baghdad, Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurds).

Another import clue comes from a question asked by the ABC Poll: Apart from being right or wrong, do you feel the U.S. led coalition (humiliated Iraq) or (liberated Iraq). The respondents were about even split between humiliation (41%) and liberated (42%). Only one-third of Arab respondents picked liberated. An absolutely parallel result was obtained from the February 2004 BBC poll reported the sample was split 41.2 vs.41.8 on the liberation/humiliation question.

A final clue come from a survey conducted by the Department of State that found (Table 8) that 79% of their sample felt that “transferring all authority to an Iraqi government” would be a very effective way to increase security. Shia (78%) and Sunni (81%) respondents overwhelmingly shared this goal Only 20% of the sample thought the immediate departure of collation forces would aid that goal.

The post-war psychology of the Iraqi people reflects a profound case of ambivalence. Ambivalence reflects conflicted feelings, views that pull emotionally in opposite directions. When the pulls are roughly equal, as they were in the liberation/humiliation question it means that most people felt some of both. The central issue for Iraqis was the split between Iraqi nationalism and relief and appreciation of being out from under the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein. Each of those strong emotional currents pulled in direct directions.

On one hand Iraqis did feel “liberated,” yet they also recognized that their liberation wasn’t by their own hand but rather by an outsider about whom they felt ambivalent feelings, at best. The fact that they were not the authors of their own liberation produced a sense of shame and “humiliation.” They were both relieved and aggrieved.

Add to that a lack of understanding about why the world’s greatest superpower could not immediately reverse the fifty year decline of Iran’s infrastructure. And, couple that with the development of a ranging insurgency that made life extremely precarious and you can begin to understand why Iraqis fervently want us to stay, leave, fix their country and not humiliate them again by doing so.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Who Said American Soldiers would be Greeted in Iraq with Flowers? The CIA

One of the advantages of the passage of time is the emergence of new information that can lead to a deepening of, or occasionally a change in, perspective. That kind of information is now emerging about the planning for the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Among the best of a recent spate of such books is Cobra II by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor. Mr. Gordon is a New York Times reporter who was embedded with the invasion force and has been covering the war for the Times. Mr. Trainor is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general.

The authors talked to many of the people involved in planning and carrying out the invasion, had access to many of the planning documents, and minutes of important meetings. The result is a wealth of new information that sheds light on a number of issues that have vexed American domestic and international discussion and understanding of this controversial war. In the process some of the facile assertions that accompanied such discussions will need to be revised, at least among those open to evidence.

A case in point is the Iraqi response to the American invasion. The standard line is that the Bush Administration believed that Americans would be greeted with flowers. The standard criticisms are that, “None of that happened.” that such views are, ”clap trap” “or that it is “one of the biggest frauds of the Iraqi debacle.”

Critics point to the flowers assumption as reflecting the arrogance, wishful thinking and gullibility of the Bush Administration. It was arrogant because the administration assumed Iraqis would see us as we saw ourselves rather than as they truly felt. How did they truly feel? That is where the wishful thinking comes in, because the raging insurgency proves just how out of touch the Bush Administration was (and remains). And it showed Bush’s hubris and gullibility because he was traduced into the invading Iraq by wily exiles that gave false information designed to tell the administration what it wanted to hear.

The truth, as always, is more complicated.

Yes, on September 14, 2003 Vice President Cheney said to Tim Russert on Meet the Press that, “I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators.” And yes, he also said that:“I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with various groups and individuals, people who’ve devoted their lives from the outside to try and change things inside of Iraq.”

Among the exiles he talked to was Kanan Makiya an Iraqi whose seminal book Republic of Fear laid bare the danger and brutality of the Saddam regime when few understood its true nature.

At the National Press Club event the day after Mr. Cheney spoke Meet the Press, Mr. Makiya was asked the following question [Thanks to Neo-Neocon]:

(QUESTIONER): Vice President Cheney yesterday said that he expects that American forces will be greeted as liberators and I wonder if you could tell us if you agree with that and how you think they'll be greeted and also what you meant you said before that some Iraqi opposition groups might be in Baghdad even before American forces?

KANAN MAKIYA: I most certainly do agree with that. As I told the President on January 10th, I think they will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case (emphasis mine).

Mr. Makiya was not the only exile to make this case, but notice that he confines his prediction to “the first months.” The importance of that qualification is clearer now in retrospect.

Why did Mr. Cheney and those exiles expect Americans to be greeted as liberators? Mr. Cheney made the basis of views quite clear to Mr. Russert: “The read we get on the people of Iraq is there’s no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.”

Critics assume that “the read we get on the people of Iraq” comes from the administration’s wishful thinking, arrogance, and listening only to the people the gave the answers it wanted to hear, like Kanan Mikaya. Well, it turns when Mr. Cheney referred to “the read we get on the people of Iraq,” he was referring to a great deal more than the critic’s litany.

This is where Mr. Gordon and General Trainors’ new book is so instructive. They report the following:

“Throughout the winter of 2002-2003, CIA agents had been operating in Southern Iraq and were convinced that U.S. forces would not face determined resistance but would actually receive active cooperation.” (p.136)

The most upbeat assessment was provided by a [CIA] team who met with [General] McKiernan and his aides at Camp Doha in early 2003. The CIA was so sure that American soldiers would be greeted warmly when they pushed into Southern Iraq that a CIA operative suggested sneaking hundreds of small American flags into the country for grateful Iraqis to wave at their liberators.”(p.137).

In retrospect, the view that Iraqis (with the exception of the Sunnis), having suffered enormously under the murderous Saddam Hussein regime would welcome the end of his tyranny was not at all far fetched and made good psychological sense. The customary response to having been saved from the everyday threat of torture and death is relief and gratitude, and indeed those feelings were present. However, if that is true, then what happened?

Next: Who said American Soldiers would be Greeted in Iraq with Flowers? Part II: Appreciation, Ambivalence, and Nationalism

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Charles Krauthammer’s Immigration Errors

Charles Krauthammer is in a generous mood, at least regarding illegal immigrants. He wants them, and their leaders to choose between amnesty and continued illegal immigration. Concerning the various illegal immigration legalization measures before Congress he asks of them: Is it a precedent or a one-time -- last-time -- exception? Are they seeking open-ended immigration, or do they agree that they should be the last wave?

Who is he asking? The estimated eight to eleven million illegal immigrants already here? The Pew Hispanic Center found ” that about four of every ten adults in the Mexican population say they would migrate to the United States if they had the means and opportunity and that two of every ten are inclined to live and work here without legal authorization. The willingness to migrate, even illegally, is evident in all sectors of Mexican society including the middle class and the well-educated as well as those who are poor and who only completed low-levels of schooling.”

Most new immigrants retain strong emotional connections to their home countries. That is a normal stage in the process of integrating new immigrations into the American national community over time, if and when that happens (a subject for another day). Would these newly- minted green card holders deny the benefits of American opportunity and freedom to their relatives, friends and their fellow countrymen and women back home? Unlikely.

Mr. Krauthammer also addressees his question to those in charge of the mass marches though these organizations are “young,” and lack “unified leadership.” Yes, some groups like La Raza, founded in 1968, are young. But other groups like those connected with the Catholic Church and related religious groups who supported the march and advocate on behalf of illegal immigrants are not. Yet young or old what distinguishes these organizations on the question of illegal immigration is their focus, insistence, and effectives. They speak loudly, with one voice and have many allies in the public and private sectors. The great majority of other Americans speak only though national polls which repeatedly report that they want illegal immigration stopped and not by granting amnesties. Mr. Krauthammer might consider that he is asking the wrong people.

He closes his essay by asserting that, “ The politically mobilized millions need to tell America where they stand: Are they ready to be welcomed into the American family as the last illegals -- or only as the first of many millions more?’ Even if those mobilized millions were to agree that they were the “last” illegal immigrants, how much confidence could Americans have? Not much really.

The fact that eight to eleven million illegal immigrants will make the transition to green card holders is an inducement, not a deterrent to future illegal immigration. Counties that benefit economically and politically from sending their nationals to the United States will be encouraged to continue to do so. Amnesty allies in the Democratic Party, while savoring the millions of likely new recruits to their party, will no doubt be receptive to adding to those numbers at a future date. Their paradoxical allies in the GOP will always be pushing for more immigrants to do the “jobs that American’s won’t do,” or alternatively increasingly afraid, given the large numbers of new immigrants, to be do anything that could be construed or characterized as “anti-immigrant.” The churches will continue to help those who are marginalized by their lack of legal immigration status. The La Razas of the country will continue to advocate for the “rights” of those want to come here, legally or not.

Worse, a large majority of Americans will become further demoralized by the failure of their government to take their views on immigration seriously. Leaders need not slavishly follow public opinion, but on this matter public views have a great deal of legitimacy on their side. Continued illegal immigration in the face of the government’s inability or disinclination to do anything effective about it, is deeply corrosive to the fabric of the American national community. Matters are made worse, much worse, when leaders of both parties try to mask what they are doing behind rhetorical euphemisms like “earned legalization” that bear little relationship to what Senators from both parties are doing behind closed doors. As Senator Jeff Sessions points out in a Senate speech [Thanks to: Mickey Kraus] the Senate compromise bill contains numerous amnesty loopholes. This is egregiously duplicitous.

Charles Krauthammer, whose sharp intelligence I deeply respect, errs here. He is asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. Instead of asking illegal immigrants whether they can guarantee the future migration patterns of their countrymen, which they can’t, he might consider asking political leaders from both parties why they can’t be honest with us, and why they can’t do something to stop the hemorrhaging of the public’s sense of border and national security and, along with it, our civic fabric and national identity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fitzgerald Needs to Make a Second Correction

Josh Gerstein of The Sun reports that the special prosecutor investigating the leak of a CIA operative's identity Patrick Fitzgerald retreated yesterday from an assertion that news outlets and critics of the administration seized on as evidence that President Bush and Vice President Cheney deliberately distorted a crucial intelligence summary on Iraq.

The erroneous assertion was that, “Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium." As several news reports have observed, this was not a “key finding,” a term that denotes high probability and consensus by the intelligence analysts.

The corrected sentence now reads: "Defendant understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, some of the key judgments of the NIE, and that the NIE stated that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium." So obviously, Mr. Libby did not misrepresent a judgment as a “key finding in an attempt to hype the information.

But there is another matter of significance here, so far not examined. Mr. Gerstein reports that the prosecutor is,” investigating whether White House officials deliberately leaked the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to retaliate against her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who challenged Mr. Bush's public assessment of Iraqi nuclear weapons efforts.”

The investigation, as I understand it, is not to investigate the motives of Mr. Libby or anyone else, but whether a crime has been committed. Mr. Fitzgerald has not alleged the underlying crime of revealing the name of a covert intelligence agent, he has charged with Mr. Libby only with lying in his grand jury testimony.

Yet, in doing so he has entered into the speculative swamp of motive. In his filing before the court he has alleged, a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" -- using classified information -- to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq, as the Washington Post article put it.

When information is put into public play that is untruthful and others set the record straight with correct information, the original misinformation and those who peddled it are certainly discredited. This is what happened to Joseph Wilson, who misrepresented both his trip and his findings in a New York Times Op Ed and later lied about being responsible for uncovering forged documents.

Given how much was at stake, including public confidence in an administration fighting a war in Iraq and more generally against terrorism, correcting damaging, but inaccurate misrepresentations by a clearly partisan and anti-Bush zealot was not only politically necessary, but a public responsibility.

As to punishing or seeking revenge, on what basis does Mr.Fitzgerald make this claim? Was it because the administration was angry at lies directed at it and the public about a subject of the most serious consequences? He doesn’t say.

My guess is that the administration was upset, and appropriately so. But does this support the prosecutor’s view that the administration wanted “revenge” or to “punish” Mr. Wilson.

What they no doubt wanted more than anything else was to present the facts as they were, not as Mr. Wilson had misrepresented them.

This is not punishment. Mr. Wilson’s clear hatred of the administration and its policies apparently protects him from the shame of having been publicly caught red-handed lying. Nor is revenge, by itself, a high priority motive since “getting even” is small consolation if the public believes the misinformation it gets and policies you think are crucial to national security suffer as a result.

Exposing Mr. Wilson as a liar with correct information addresses that main concern but clearly reflects poorly on him at the same time. That’s too bad for Mr. Wislon, but that is not "revenge," it is the price that truth exacts from lies.