Brian Carney performs a useful postmortem on the Scooter Libby case in this month’s Commentary.
If a lesson about the Bush administration lies buried in this tale, it is close to the opposite of the accepted one. It is a lesson about an administration caught in an uncomfortable position as a result of one State Department officialâ€™s indiscreet remark to a skilled columnist, an administration straining to appear to be doing the right thing even at the expense of actually doing anything right. But the real lesson here has nothing to do with the Bush administration, any more than it has to do with prewar intelligence or with the First and Fifth Amendment rights of CIA officers.
The modern American government is a vast and largely self-sustaining bureaucracy. That bureaucracy acts, first and foremost, in its own interest, and not necessarily in the interests of its putative but temporary political bosses. The CIA, its intelligence having been challenged, sold out the White House on the sixteen wordsâ€”even though that intelligence would later be upheld. The State Department, faced with the knowledge that one of its own was responsible for the Valerie Wilson leak, preferred keeping the White House in the dark to revealing what it knew. The Justice Department did what prosecutors do when ordered to investigate, which is to charge people with crimes.
In other words, the Republican partyâ€™s alleged â€œfull controlâ€ of government prior to the 2006 midterm elections was more myth than reality. The Bush administration lost control of the Wilson story almost from the beginning, and while on a number of occasions it failed to exercise the control available to it, it was also denied the opportunity to control its fate by entrenched interests that no elected administration can ever fully master without the consent of the bureaucracy that supposedly serves it.