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I foolishly wasted time last week following a trail of links to a rather ridiculous right-wing website. There was a long, gleeful post about the outing of Joe Wilson as a liar, coward, and all around jackass. The way it was written, it seemed really important, but it wasn’t really clear why. In the comments section, I proposed the following deal: I’ll stipulate to Joe Wilson being a liar with no credibility whatsoever, if you’ll stipulate to the outing of Valerie Plame as a felonious and craven political maneuver, illegal under a law championed by George HW Bush, that ought to result in jail time for an as yet unnamed Bush administration senior official. The response was to explain that this wasn’t about Valerie Plame, it was about Joe Wilson, so stop changing the subject.

This is, of course, silly. Joe Wilson is relevent to the national conversation for two reasons. First, he contributed to the exposing of the dubiousness of a claim Mr. Bush made in his SOTU address about Iraq attempting to acquire Uranium in Africa. While Wilson was not in a position to offer dispositive evidence that this was an erroneous claim, he certainly contributed strong circumstantial evidence to that effect. And to my knowledge, we’ve yet to see any significant evidence that might exonerate that claim. Perhaps his credibility has been compromised at this point, but that doesn’t really change the overall picture on the Bush claims about uranium in Africa–as evidenced by the fact that the Bush administration has consistently distanced themselves from these claims (and it takes a lot to get them to distance themselves from discredited claims that may have political value). Wilson’s role was primarily that he was the first to challenge this bit from SOTU, which attracted managed to gain traction in the media for a while. But the insight and information he provided is not necessarily central to this story. What has been called into question by the SSRI is not what Wilson said about Niger, but what he said about how he got his job, and the centrality of the role he played in the intelligence gathering process.

Sidebar: has anyone in our glorious media actually tried to figure out exactly who forged those Niger documents? (I’m not saying the question’s never been investigated, I just don’t remember ever hearing about it. The majority of media sources seemed content to operate under the assumption that forged documents about the procurement of nuclear materials by rogue regimes should just be expected to emerge from Niger for no particular reason….)

The second reason for Wilson’s fame is the response to his role in the above affair, the apparently punitive outing of his wife as an undercover CIA operative. On this front, it matters not a wit whether or not Wilson lied. He could be a serial killer, it wouldn’t justify this crime at all. This really ought to be obvious to anyone not commited to spinning as hard as they can for Bush. It’s worth point out that we’re now more than a year removed from this story breaking, and while an investigation is still ongoing, no one has been punished. I wonder if W, who said he wanted to get to the bottom of this, has compared notes and discussed strategy with OJ Simpson on his search for the real killers.

Two good posts sorting out the Wilson/Plame/Niger story from Matthew Yglesias here and here.

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