Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Waiting for Fitzgerald

All apologies to the late great Samuel Beckett, but one can't resist appropriating the title of his most famous play and tweaking it a little, in honor of the most intense, excruciating waiting game Washington has seen in at least five years -- one that's likely to have a big impact on the Bush administration's domestic agenda for the next three years.

The nation's capital waits -- in what MSNBC's Chris Matthews turgidly called "a tangy meringue of the maudlin and the giddy" -- on the indict/no-indict decision by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel appointed more than two years ago to investigate the possible complicity of certain figures in the Bush White House in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, as an act of political retribution against her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his failure to toe the mark on the White House party-line policy of Iraq as nuclear-capable boogeyman.

The administration is in the unlikely position of being at the mercy of an outside force; long used to being the catalyst of events, the Bushies are compelled to wait and see what transpires. In the balance: possible indictments for perjury and obstruction of justice for Karl Rove, White House deputy chief of staff and by all estimations one of two powers behind the throne; and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, the shadow president of the United States, who walks the corridors of power with the smirk of a man giddy with the realization of being the one who runs the country without getting the heat of the man elected to run the country.

The prospect of losing the architect of the Bush presidency and another high-ranking official a heartbeat away from the man an irregular heartbeat away from the presidency has Foggy Bottom Republicans in a quiet panic. Some have already retreated into defensive postures that owe more to instinct than to intellect. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Texas senator herself under a past ethical cloud, has already gone on the record saying that the possible perjury charges amounted to a "technicality." Bow-tied right-wing apologist Tucker Carlson said as much to Matthews on the same show last night.

These reflexive political crouches beg the question of why perjury was an impeachable offense for President Bill Clinton, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but is now no more than a minor flaw in the judicial process and one to be overlooked this time. What can you say? It's automatic, about as automatic and scripted as the probable response from the White House if indictments do come down (possibly tomorrow). The Los Angeles Times Web site has a story up by the excellent Doyle McManus reporting the likely strategy if the shithammer comes down: try to do the backstroke in the toilet bowl, work to serenely rise above the situation and come up with a suitable distraction.

As if they haven't adopted that approach in the past. Like yesterday, when the 2,000th known U.S. military fatality was reported. President Bush, in as close to a pre-emptive strategy as he's ever ventured, spoke before an audience of military spouses at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, and admitted the agony of the nation's mounting losses affected him as well -- all the while insisting that America stay the course in Iraq.

These strategies may fail to work if Fitzgerald finds a true bill in this case. If he brings indictments against Rove, Libby or possibly even Cheney for being the source of the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, the mendacity of this administration will be laid bare on a global scale. The very underpinnings of the rationale for pre-emptive war will be questioned again, but with an urgency and a foundational skepticism from the national judiciary not seen before. And indictments will sure as hell embolden the already growing number of Americans against the war in Iraq, giving weight to their longstanding belief that the war on terrorism as prosecuted in Iraq was a fiction from start to finish.

Even if Fitzgerald doesn't indict them, or anyone else, there's a sentiment out there that suggests Fitzgerald -- by all indications something of a Boy Scout, a single, single-minded Irish-immigrant's son from Brooklyn utterly dedicated to the case at hand, whatever the case is -- may feel compelled to release some kind of statement of progress, a disclosure of what he did and didn't find, if for no other reason than to justify his expenditure of the taxpayers' money for two years.

Unlike the situation in Beckett's play, in which the two characters wait for someone who never comes, at least two of the protagonists in this little drama will realize a very real finalilty, one way or the other. Will Vladimir Libby and Estragon Rove be the subject of target letters? Let's wait and see.

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