Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, June 08, 2007

  Take it from me, Scooter would never break the law. Honest.

If you want a good, long laugh, head on over and read some of the friend-of-the-court letters received by Judge Reggie Walton before he sentenced Lewis "Scooter" Libby to 30 months in jail for obstruction of justice. Many movers and shakers in DC, as well as some wannabees, wrote in piously to declare their unquenchable faith in the fine, upstanding felon.

Spend a few minutes perusing this maudlin tripe and you'll understand why Libby's lawyers pleaded with Judge Walton not to release the amicus letters. They feared, they said, that the authors would be mocked by the public—especially (and worst of all) by bloggers. Gosh.

Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.

As it turns out, the letters have been published on the internet (PDF). If you'd like an overview of the dossier, the Wall St. Journal Online has a few choice thoughts about the worthy establishmentarians who sprang to Libby's defense, and by contrast the ordinary citizens who wrote to urge the court to jail him. For example, W. E. Buffington had this thought:

"My father once told me that the lowest a man can get is to attack another man's wife because he is too cowardly to attack the husband directly."

Since it's too late to contribute to publishing the letters on the internet, I thought I might instead do my part by mocking the authors. Not those like Mr. Buffington, who are entirely right on principle and also manage to get straight to the point.

No, I mean the preening fools who think that a federal judge should substitute their own fuzzy feelings ("What I observed was a very dedicated father...") for the fact that Libby had helped to expose an undercover CIA agent, lied to the grand jury, and conspired to stonewall the investigation. Curious; never would have occurred to me to pursue their line of argument.

Along the way, they manage to tell us a lot about their own sense of what is important—which means above all, themselves.

Gen. Peter Pace, for example, appears to think that it's more important to please the White House than to maintain a decorous distance from politics. The even more disgraced former UN Ambassador, John Bolton, like so many other authors, devotes considerable attention to describing his own achievements (Bolton then adds a lengthy discursus on the dangers of WMDs, wouldn't you know).

A surprising number of letter-writers think it's relevant to remark that Libby has written a novel—which an equally surprising number consider to be an excellent novel.

It would all be quite laughable, if it weren't for the plain fact that these people wished to substitute the jury's finding of guilt with their own sense that Libby is too good, or cheerful, or important, or well-liked, or successful, to do jail time for his crime. Jail, you see, is for the dirty people—you know, those whose reputations are not sullied by being dragged into court, whose dignity is not outraged by the slightest suspicion, whose wealth is not impaired by their dedication to public service.

In short, these letter-writers' pronouncements deserve the very scrutiny that they no doubt expected to escape.

* *

Let's just take one author and make an example of him: Fouad Ajami.

He's one of a dozen neocon think-tankers who assembled in November 2001—on the promise that their comments would be kept secret—to advise the Bush administration about which Middle Eastern country the US should concentrate on pushing around. They agreed that although several other countries were much more troublesome, these were also more dangerous; it would be vastly easier, they advised, to beat up on a weak and vulnerable Iraq.

Ajami is a scoundrel, in other words. For years from his perch at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, where his friend Paul Wolfowitz also nested for some time, Ajami has done his splendid best to misrepresent the Arab world to the powers that be in Washington. He advocated strongly for invading Iraq, and seems to have worked hand in glove with Dick Cheney toward that goal. From a profile of him in The Nation, April 2003:

Dick Cheney tried to assuage concerns that a unilateral, pre-emptive war against Iraq might "cause even greater troubles in that part of the world." He cited a well-known Arab authority: "As for the reaction of the Arab street, the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation in Basra and Baghdad, the streets are sure to erupt in joy." As the bombs fell over Baghdad, just before American troops began to encounter fierce Iraqi resistance, Ajami could scarcely conceal his glee. "We are now coming into acquisition of Iraq," he announced...

If Hollywood ever makes a film about Gulf War II, a supporting role should be reserved for Ajami...

As a publicist for Gulf War II, Ajami has abandoned his longstanding emphasis on the limits of American influence in that "tormented region." The war is being sold as the first step in an American plan to effect democratic regime change across the region, and Ajami has stayed on message. We now find him writing in Foreign Affairs that "the driving motivation of a new American endeavor in Iraq and in neighboring Arab lands should be modernizing the Arab world." The opinion of the Arab street, where Iraq is recruiting thousands of new jihadists, is of no concern to him. "We have to live with this anti-Americanism," he sighed recently on CBS. "It's the congenital condition of the Arab world, and we have to discount a good deal of it as we press on with the task of liberating the Iraqis."...

A leftist in the 1970s, a Shiite nationalist in the 1980s, an apologist for the Saudis in the 1990s, a critic-turned-lover of Israel, a skeptic-turned-enthusiast of American empire, he has observed no consistent principle in his career other than deference to power. His vaunted intellectual independence is a clever fiction.

Further evidence of Ajami's intellectual dishonesty is on view in this hypocritical op-ed from 2004 in which he tries to distance himself from the unfolding fiasco in Iraq (one of the first neocons to do so).

It was high time President Bush spoke to the nation of the war in Iraq. A year or so ago, it was our war, and we claimed it proudly. To be sure, there was a minority that never bought into the expedition and genuinely believed that it would come to grief. But most of us recognized that a culture of terror had taken root in the Arab world. We struck, first at Afghanistan and then at the Iraqi regime, out of a broader determination to purge Arab radicalism...

But gone is the hubris. Let's face it: Iraq is not going to be America's showcase in the Arab-Muslim world...

We are strangers in Iraq, and we didn't know the place. We had struggled against radical Shiism in Iran and Lebanon in recent decades, but we expected a fairly secular society in Iraq

As Helena Cobban remarked at the time the op-ed was published:

Don't you just love it? First, that grandiose, all-encompassing use of "we" in the lede there (with just that dismissive, patronizing nod, "To be sure... " to the "minority" who opposed the war.) And then, that stark, owner-less "Gone is the hubris"?

Excuse me, whose hubris is he talking about there? Could it, just possibly, be his own not inconsiderable earlier role in whipping up support for the war to which he is referring there?

Is this a true mea culpa?

No, it is not. Rather than admitting explicitly to any responsibility of his own, he leaves it to that grander, more amorphous historical force of unattributed "hubris"...

"We are strangers in Iraq, and we didn't know the place", indeed! I might just make that slogan up in needlepoint--along with the name of its author-- and send it to every booker on every TV channel in the nation! Among them, of course, all the bookers on all the prestigious chat-shows who have "got" Ajami onto their shows precisely because he claimed, as an Arab, to be someone who really "understood" the Arab world.

Cobban supplies a mighty take-down of Ajami, and it's well worth reading the comments on her blog as well.

His long career in disingenuousness was far from over, however. Consider this recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, which tries to make the case that the "surge" is working (yeah, I know; letters to him, not to me please):

A traveler who moves between Baghdad and Washington is struck by the gloomy despair in Washington and the cautious sense of optimism in Baghdad...

The nightmare of this government is that of a precipitous American withdrawal...

In Baghdad, Americans and Iraqis alike know that this big endeavor has entered its final, decisive phase. Iraq has surprised and disappointed us before, but as they and we watch our adjectives there can be discerned the shape of a new country, a rough balance of forces commensurate with the demography of the place and with the outcome of a war that its erstwhile Sunni rulers had launched and lost. We made this history and should now make our peace with it.

Again, Ajami is singularly lavish with the first-person plural. It's enough to suggest that his self-delusions remain as grandiose as ever.

* *

Which brings us down to his May 1st letter to Judge Walton, written on Johns Hopkins letterhead. Ajami opens it, predictably enough, with a paragraph describing in detail his own academic attainments and honors. You can just see the Judge sitting on the edge of his seat while reading about Ajami's scholarly distinction.

After this proem, the body of the letter begins:

Scooter Libby is one of the most honorable people I have known in public life.

I can well believe that; Ajami hangs out with a bad crowd. But it hardly pays, I would have thought, to draw attention to that fact if you're hoping to convince the Judge to put trust in your judgment and discretion. Sensing no doubt that he'd gotten off to a bad start, Ajami then backtracks to an area of discourse he feels more comfortable with—the academic letter of recommendation.

Possessed of a keen mind, of a deep curiosity about distant peoples and lands, Scooter Libby's interests in Islam and Islamic radicalism brought us together. No facet of Arab politics escaped his attention. His questions were always probing, it was a sheer joy to share with him the inner workings of the Wahhabist creed in Arabia, the trends of thought among the Shia of Lebanon and Iraq, the temptations of the Iranian revolutionaries....Scooter was always keen to draw on the widest available expertise...A tireless worker, he checked in from campaign stops in Wisconsin and Ohio, he read everything I sent him, assimilated every possible piece of detail...His fidelity to the truth of what he saw and heard deeply touched and impressed me.

The professor goes on to explain that Scooter made excellent use of Ajami's own books, and despite some false starts, produced one of the best two papers in the seminar. He received a well-deserved "A" for the course, and Ajami's lasting admiration and respect.

Most of this reads like a recommendation for a graduate fellowship, which is perhaps more what the author of such a "spectacular" novel deserves than, say, jail time. Still, it appears that Ajami is writing in this way because his mind is flustered.

I never thought I would be writing of him under these circumstances. More likely, I thought, I would be writing to commend him...

The notion that there might be some accountability for those who have lied in order to excuse invading Iraq—just impossible to get your mind around it. Much better then to stick with what you know. In Ajami's case, inevitably, that means making excuses and babbling about imaginary solutions.

One can't wave a magic wand and wish all this hurt and pain of Scooter Libby and his family away.

As it turns out (though I had not imagined it until he said so), it was the Judge's responsibility to make Scooter happier. Perhaps happy enough that Scooter will agree to accept the graduate fellowship Ajami has lined up for him, which carries a very respectable stipend and not all that much teaching, when you think about it.

This is a man who never shirked his duty, who would never set out to hurt anyone...

So what if his duty was to inflict harm and lie about it? Who among us would not do the same?

Fouad Ajami

crossposted from Unbossed

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