Outside view: Russian eye on Plamegate

By VLADIMIR SIMONOV, Outside View Commentator   |   Oct. 27, 2005 at 11:40 AM

MOSCOW, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Moscow is looking with concern as a political hurricane whose consequences could be worse than the destruction wrought by Hurricane Wilma moves toward Washington.

This week special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald and his grand jury will decide whether two key figures in the U.S. administration are guilty of a serious crime of naming undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the press.

As a result, President George W. Bush's team may lose Karl Rove, a close aide to the president and the architect of his 2004 victory, and I. Lewis Libby, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. These highly influential players behind Washington's scenes are suspected of throwing Plame to the wolves in summer 2003.

The White House should start boarding up windows in expectation of a political storm. The point at issue is not so much the disclosure of an undercover agent's name. It is rumored that Bush's attack dogs exposed the agent in a base desire to take revenge on her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had criticized the war in Iraq and U.S. claims about weapons of mass destruction there.

The special counsel should decide who leaked Plame's name and for what purpose, and his conclusions might reopen America's festering wound. The country is becoming increasingly worried that the intervention in Iraq was not justified. Were GIs sent to fight a bloody war far away from home over a false idea, planted by Washington neo-conservatives, that the Baghdad regime had access to bombs, missiles and chemical weapons of mass destruction, and was ready to turn them over to al-Qaida?

Against the backdrop of U.S. problems in Iraq, these questions are eroding the people's trust in the ruling Republican Party and the Bush administration, and developing into a curse that cannot be healed by prayer. Americans regard 2,000 killed and 15,000 wounded in Iraq as a tragic and unacceptable payment for the mistakes of the military campaign and skidding post-war reconstruction.

The Bush team and a small group of Iraqi leaders may be happy over the referendum on the Iraqi constitution, but this cannot gloss over the grim fact that the United States has lost the battle for Iraqi minds and hearts. A recent confidential report for the British Ministry of Defense shows that less than 1 percent of Iraqis believed that the American and British military presence in their country promoted security, while 67 percent thought that it was the reason behind their problems. Worse still, 65 percent approve terrorist attacks on the occupation forces.

In other words, events that are described as terrorism in Iraq can be regarded as largely democratic, as they reflect the will of the popular majority, and hence may be viewed as a mass protest movement against foreign occupation.

Moscow is looking with concern as the Rove-Libby scandal has compounded other exposures that have hit the U.S. administration in the past months. First, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, accused Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of collusion to isolate his boss from foreign policy making. And then the White House received a blow from an unexpected direction -- former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, an old-time friend of the Washington hawks.

A respected scholar, Brzezinski expressed open concern over the "degradation of America's moral standing in the world."

"It is a self-delusion for Americans to be told that the terrorists are motivated mainly by an abstract 'hatred of freedom' and that their acts are a reflection of a profound cultural hostility," he wrote in an article entitled "American Debacle," published in Los Angeles Times on Oct. 9. "The targets are America's allies and client states in its deepening military intervention in the Middle East." As a result, "geopolitical alienation from America could become a lasting and menacing reality."

Brzezinski reminds Americans of the "adroit phrase" from Arnold Toynbee's monumental "Study of History," namely that the ultimate cause of imperial collapse was "suicidal statecraft."

"Sadly for George W. Bush's place in history and -- much more important -- ominously for America's future," that phrase "increasingly seems applicable to the policies pursued by the United States since the cataclysm of 9/11," he wrote.

Traditional U.S.-Russia rivalry should, in theory, mean Moscow is happy about its rival's failures. But the Russian political elite no longer thinks in these categories. It is deeply worried that the Bush team's mistakes and the growing bipartisan criticism they have provoked are containing the White House's options in major areas of cooperation with Russia -- strengthening international security, fighting terrorism, and maintaining the non-proliferation regime.

The weakening administration, which has problems even with nominating a candidate for a vacant post in the Supreme Court, cannot be expected to answer the call of the day. Bush has not fulfilled his 2000 election promise to cut the flight readiness level of as many missiles as possible, though this could dramatically lower the risk of an unwarranted launch.

In striving to get the support of India in the war against Iraq and to block off China, Washington decided to provide assistance to the Indian nuclear program. As a result, the international community regards it as the proponent of double standards juggling with non-proliferation principles. Mohammed el-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said on this score, "It's hard to tell people to quit smoking when you're chain-smoking yourself."

The weakness and uncertainty that have hit the U.S. administration, together with the scandal hurricane, do not promise anything good to the world, including Russia.

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(Vladimir Simonov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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