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April 19-26, 2006

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Joe Wilson

Collateral Leakage: Joe Wilson will speak April 24 about Iraq and the outing of his wife Valerie Plame.

Joe Wilson's America

The former diplomat and husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame talks about ideological extremists, the politics of personal destruction, and his upcoming appearance in Santa Cruz.

By Bill Forman

A former diplomat whom George Bush Sr. once introduced to his war cabinet as "a true American hero," Joe Wilson never imagined he would one day introduce a best-selling book with the dedication: "To my wife Valerie, I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am for what your government has done to you."

What many are calling a national nightmare became very personal for Wilson when the Bush administration, angered by his critique of its premise for war (specifically those 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa") retaliated against his family. A week after Wilson's op-ed, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," was printed in the New York Times, columnist Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent.

Two weeks ago, former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby testified that George W. Bush had indeed authorized other highly sensitive intelligence leaks in its failed effort to discredit Wilson. Libby has not, however, claimed that the president approved the Plame leak.

On Monday, April 24, Wilson will be part of a UCSC teach-in called "The War on Terror: A Credible Threat." Congressman Sam Farr, Mayor Cynthia Matthews and numerous professors are also scheduled to appear in the free day-long event, which was initiated by Faculty Against War along with a coalition of student organizations that includes Students Against War (SAW), who were only recently dropped from the Pentagon's "credible threat" list.

In the following interview, Wilson talks about the latest revelations, his views on the "Axis of Evil" and the reign of what he calls "the imperial wing" of the Republican Party.

Metro Santa Cruz: Your wife's outing as an agent was a pretty ruthless act, so much so that if the Democrats had done it, Robert Novak would be among the first to call it treasonous. Did you ever imagine when you began to critique the administration's rationale for war that you'd be subjected to this level of retaliation?

Joe Wilson: No. I always assumed that they would come after me, and I was prepared to defend myself. After all, I had been an ambassador for the first George Bush, I was well known in Republican circles, but I thought that these guys would try to attack me. I never believed they would go after my wife. Because essentially she was a national security asset of theirs--of our government and of our country.

Having had this happen, is it rational that you would fear for your own safety after something like this?

This is America, and we don't do that here in America. But the fact that people actually worry about that should give people some concern about the level of trust--or lack thereof--in the institutions of government in this country.

At what point does all this rise to what, at least in the past, would be considered an impeachable offense?

I wouldn't know about that. I mean, there you're talking about whether the President or the Vice President were involved in this in any meaningful way. It's not clear to me that they were.

Although it's becoming clear now in terms of--if not the outing--then at least the leak of other classified information.

It's certainly clear that the administration manipulated intelligence and then, in trying to rebut my criticism of their having done so, continued to misinform the American public. That's clear from the Fitzgerald filings and Ms. Miller's and Mr. Libby's comments about what they said to each other in their meeting.

And with regard to the releasing classified information?

Well, the president can make the argument that he was entitled to do so as the chief executive officer. The way that they did it was unprecedented, or as Mr. Libby said, unique in his government experience. I find it unusual, to say the least, that they would release or declassify information without notifying the originating agency, in other words the CIA, and without notifying the National Security Advisor.

Now at the beginning of 2000, you supported a candidate who at the time seemed to be a centrist conservative, kind of a non interventionist. I mean, did you see any of this coming? Obviously not ...

Let me make this very clear: In 2000, I thought Mr. Bush would be a better candidate for the presidency than Mr. McCain. I was clearly wrong in that judgment. But the candidate that I supported in the general election was Mr. Gore. But no, in response to the broader question, I think that most people saw Mr. Bush as the second term that was denied his father, and I did support his father; after all, we had been to war together in the Gulf. [Bush Sr. sent Wilson to Iraq to meet with Hussein just before the Gulf War; according to Wilson, Hussein offered the United States cheap oil prices in exchange for letting him keep Kuwait.]

How do you account for this transformation from seeming like a non-interventionist candidate to being a very interventionist president?

Well, I think obviously the events of 9/11 facilitated that transformation. I think after 9/11, they basically decided that they would adopt the Project for the New American Century as their basic foreign policy document. And I think if you go back and look at that document now you'll see that, rather than being a realistic assertion of America's strategic interests, it was really a set of ideological assertions.

Do you feel that the events of 9/11 were an excuse to do that, or was this really considered a legitimate response?

Well, it's clear that 9/11 provided these people--the interventionist wing of the Republican Party, or the imperial wing of the Republican Party--provided them with the wherewithal to develop a political consensus for an interventionist policy. These people were on the fringes of the foreign policy debate before 9/11, and they became mainstream after it.

Now as an ambassador, you must have a nuanced and intuitive understanding of character. You met Saddam Hussein. How would you characterize his degree of danger versus the other two points in the "Axis of Evil?"

Well, I think it's important to understand that Saddam Hussein was a very clear sociopath. He was a thug. The question was not whether the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, because it clearly would be. The question's whether it was appropriate to use U.S. military forces to achieve that objective. There are a lot of bad governments in the world. And there are other strategies that are available to a president to deter their aggressions against U.S. interests. Now with respect to the other sort of Axis of Evils, I think the direction we're headed in with Iran, if you believe all the rhetoric, is very dangerous indeed.

As a means of interaction between governments, to what degree do you see diplomacy being left behind by the Bush administration?

I think increasingly we are sidelining the other tools in our foreign policy tool belt and using the military when perhaps the military is not the appropriate tool to be used. It's like every problem begins to look like a nail, and the president keeps pulling out the hammer.

What do you expect you'll be talking about when you get to town?

I probably will be talking about the way ahead in Iraq, because I think it's important to keep our eye on that particular ball. And I'll talk about holding the government to account for the decisions the government made in the name of the American people. And since there is such a heightened interest in the leak case, I would expect to talk a little bit about that.

And what is it that you look forward to once this chapter is finally closed?

I look forward to moving back to my home state of California and resuming my private life, raising my two six year old kids, and enjoying more quality time with my two adult kids.

Joe Wilson. The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and husband of outed CIA operative Valerie Plame will headline "The War on Terror: A Credible Threat," a teach-in taking place Monday, April 24, 11am-7:30pm at UCSC's Quarry Amphitheater. Wilson is scheduled to speak at noon. (831.459.2663;

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