Right Hook

National Review pundits go on the defensive over CIA-gate, Krauthammer sizes up the Bush haters, and Suzanne Fields hopes macho Arnold can halt the "homosexualizing" of America.

Published October 1, 2003 9:58PM (EDT)

The White House eats "yellowcake"
If Bush watchers smelled blood in July when the Iraq-Niger uranium scandal first broke, Part 2 of the story has set off a full feeding frenzy. Predictably, conservatives began running damage control after the Washington Post dropped a bombshell on Sunday about the alleged White House outing of retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. National Review contributing editor Mark Levin asserts, with a touch of circular logic, that it's Wilson's own fault his wife's cover was blown, if only because Wilson embraced his job a little too heartily:

"When I first heard about Wilson's wife, my immediate thought was: Wilson created the very circumstance he now complains about. He voluntarily drew attention to himself and, by extension, his family. He interjected himself into an intense international policy dispute regarding the war with Iraq. And it was his op-ed in the New York Times that caused the so-called '16-word controversy' in which President Bush was criticized for relying on British intelligence when he declared that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger...

"Why would the CIA choose Wilson as the administration's fact-finder on the Niger uranium issue knowing that his wife's activities might become exposed? Well, in the same Robert Novak column that reveals the identity of Wilson's wife, Novak reports that it was Plame herself who recommended her husband for the job!

"Shouldn't it have occurred to someone in CIA management that sending the husband of an agency operative on a highly sensitive, high-profile mission could jeopardize that operative's activities?

"While I'm all in favor of investigating national-security-related leaks, we'll never know if foreign-intelligence agencies, among others, had already learned of Plame's position thanks to the attention her husband drew to himself by taking the Niger fact-finding assignment in the first place. Like it or not, Wilson bears some responsibility for his wife's predicament."

Levin's colleague, former Times correspondent and current National Review contributor Clifford May, says everybody knew Plame was a spook anyway:

"Who leaked the fact that the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA? What also might be worth asking: Who didn't know?

"That wasn't news to me. I had been told that -- but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."

After dismissing Ambassador Wilson's qualifications for the Niger mission, May tosses the scandal right back where the White House hoped to drop it in July -- in George Tenet's lap.

"There also remains this intriguing question: Was it primarily due to the fact that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA that he received the Niger assignment?

"Mr. Wilson has said that his mission came about following a request from Vice President Cheney. But it appears that if Mr. Cheney made the request at all, he made it of the CIA and did not know Mr. Wilson and certainly did not specify that he wanted Mr. Wilson put on the case.

"It has to be seen as puzzling that the agency would deal with an inquiry from the White House on a sensitive national-security matter by sending a retired, Bush-bashing diplomat with no investigative experience. Or didn't the CIA bother to look into Mr. Wilson's background?

"If that's what passes for tradecraft in Langley, we're in more trouble than any of us have realized."

While some Republicans try to talk around the scandal, others see the danger in sending such serious allegations through the spin machine. Blogger Daniel Drezner, a University of Chicago political science professor who also labels himself a libertarian, wants to hear straight from the top:

"Let me repeat -- this is a serious allegation, and I want to see the President address it directly and publicly... I would like to see a strong denunciation by President Bush about what took place. [Though his] press spokesman, national security advisor, and other subordinates have already said that the President would not tolerate this sort of behavior, there's a big difference between assertions by intermediaries and a video feed of the President himself."

Anger management
Bush's CIA troubles notwithstanding, Washington Post commentator Charles Krauthammer gauges the president's stature in a recent Time magazine essay, "What Makes the Bush Haters So Mad?" He thinks Bush has done a good job avoiding any major scandals thus far, though oddly enough he puts Bush in the company of Richard Nixon:

"Democrats are seized with a loathing for President Bush -- a contempt and disdain giving way to hatred that is near pathological -- unlike any since they had Richard Nixon to kick around. An otherwise reasonable man, Julian Bond of the NAACP speaks of Bush's staffing his administration with 'the Taliban wing of American politics.' Harold Meyerson, editor at large of the American Prospect, devotes a 3,000-word article to explaining why Bush is the most dangerous president in all of American history -- his only rival being Jefferson Davis.

"The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from. Bush's manner is not particularly aggressive. He has been involved in no great scandals, Watergate or otherwise. He is, indeed, not the kind of politician who radiates heat. Yet his every word and gesture generate heat -- a fury and bitterness that animate the Democratic primary electorate and explain precisely why Howard Dean has had such an explosive rise."

Though Krauthammer calls Bush "tepid" on one hand, he sees him as a presidential titan on the other:

"Whence the anger? It begins of course with the 'stolen' election of 2000 and the perception of Bush's illegitimacy. But that's only half the story. An illegitimate president winning a stolen election would be tolerable if he were just a figurehead, a placeholder, the kind of weak, moderate Republican that Democrats (and indeed many Republicans) thought George Bush would be, judging from his undistinguished record and tepid 2000 campaign. Bush's great crime is that he is the illegitimate president who became consequential -- revolutionizing American foreign policy, reshaping economic policy and dominating the political scene ever since his emergence as the post-9/11 war president...

"Sure, the aftermath of the Iraq war has made it easier to frontally attack Bush. But the loathing long predates it. It started in Florida and has been deepening ever since Bush seized the post-9/11 moment to change the direction of the country and make himself a President of note."

"Titillated by Arnold's tush"
As the Oct. 7 California recall vote closes in, Arnold Schwarzenegger is looking muscular in the polls. Washington Times columnist Suzanne Fields says Arnold's all brawn and no brains is just what California -- and the rest of the country -- needs. She wonders if Arnold might have any substantive thoughts on policy issues, but maintains his election would rightly oust the limp Gray Davis and chalk up a valuable win in America's culture wars:

"Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been a hunk in the eyes of heterosexual women. But when the widely read Drudge Report reproduced a blurry photograph of a nude Arnold taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, the art photographer who almost brought down the National Endowment for the Arts, the self-declared homosexual blogger Andrew Sullivan asked, 'Which real Californian wouldn't vote for someone with a body like that?'

"Our highly sexualized popular culture was bound to spill over into the political culture. Bill Clinton got everyone, young and old, talking about oral sex at the dinner table. So now we're titillated by images of Arnold's tush.

"'Republicans have seldom shied from an embrace of manliness,' writes Jay Nordlinger in the American Enterprise magazine. George Bush, like Ronald Reagan before him, epitomizes 'political virility.' Both wear sweaty T-shirts in public and enjoy the rugged cowboy look in hat, buckle and boots.

"But that may be an observation behind the curve(s). If Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected governor of California, Republican manliness will be defined afterward by the size of a man's biceps. This would separate the men from the boys.

"Arnold, who is indeed adept at flexing physical muscle, nevertheless has yet to show much intellectual muscle. He was clever in the debate, but we still don't know much about what he thinks on crucial issues. If he wins, it will be because even in California voters are tired of neutral, if not effeminate and effete, images of men, political and otherwise."

Jeering current pop-culture trends like "metrosexuals" and Bravo's smash-hit show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Fields explains the broader importance of Schwarzenegger's machismo:

"Much of this is amusing as fashion goes. But it testifies to the homosexualizing of our society. Gays are crusading not only to make their 'marriages' legal, but to make the popular culture over in their image. They're making headway. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the photographs by Mapplethorpe to the contrary notwithstanding, is a strong antidote to all that.

"Feminists call Mr. Schwarzenegger a misogynist, chauvinist Neanderthal cad. They're reacting to decades of interviews revealing him as vulgar, off-color and irreverent. 'He's the kind of guy, if you met him at a bar, you'd want to push him off his barstool,' says Karen Pomer, an organizer for Code Pink, the leftist woman's group...

"Arnold says he's a 'different Arnold' today. I believe him. I only wish that while he was building the biceps he thought more about what he would do if he's elected governor."

Wesley Clark's PATRIOT act?
Blogger Glenn Reynolds, author of the popular InstaPundit site, offers Howard Dean some take-down advice for rival presidential candidate Wesley Clark: Scrutinize him for Orwellian tendencies.

"JetBlue passengers are unhappy about it sharing their personal data. Interestingly, Wesley Clark is on the board of Acxiom, the company involved, according to [the Washington] Post. Clark didn't have a specific role with JetBlue, it says, but he was behind the development of the passenger-information database involved. Does this tell us anything about the privacy policies of a Clark Administration? I don't know. Somebody should probably ask him. At the moment, he's getting beaten on pretty badly [in the Post article]:

"'The privacy impact of anti-terrorism initiatives is certain to be a major issue in the presidential campaign,' said David L. Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in the District. 'He owes the public an explanation as to how, if elected, he would limit the government's expanding collection of personal information about citizens.' Others believe that Clark faces skepticism about the money he took to represent Acxiom, even though many former military leaders have done the same thing. 'There's something unseemly and, yes, mercenary, about a distinguished general lobbying for a company trying to get government contracts,' said Charles Lewis, executive director for the Center for Public Integrity."

The Post coverage leads Reynolds to one conclusion:

"Think Howard Dean might make an issue out of this?"

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By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Arnold Schwarzenegger Cia National Review