Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Soldier's Creed

Fouad Ajami sent the following open letter in last Friday's Wall Street Journal to President Bush. Its subject is I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. It is well worth reading, and thinking about.

Fallen Soldier
Mr. President, do not leave this man behind.

Friday, June 8, 2007 12:01 a.m.

Mr. President, some weeks ago, I wrote a letter of appeal, a character reference, to Judge Reggie B. Walton, urging leniency for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Scooter, I said, has seen the undoing of his world, but he comes before a "just court in a just and decent country." I was joined by men and women of greater acclaim in our public life, but the petitions were in vain. Now the legal process has played out, Judge Walton has issued a harsh prison term of 30 months, and what will rescue this honorable man is the power of pardon that is exclusively yours.

This case has been, from the start, about the Iraq war and its legitimacy. Judge Walton came to it late; before him were laid bare the technical and narrowly legalistic matters of it. But you possess a greater knowledge of this case, a keen sense of the man caught up in this storm, and of the great contest and tensions that swirl around the Iraq war. To Scooter's detractors, and yours, it was the "sin" of that devoted public servant that he believed in the nobility of this war, that he did not trim his sails, and that he didn't duck when the war lost its luster.

In "The Soldier's Creed," there is a particularly compelling principle: "I will never leave a fallen comrade." This is a cherished belief, and it has been so since soldiers and chroniclers and philosophers thought about wars and great, common endeavors. Across time and space, cultures, each in its own way, have given voice to this most basic of beliefs. They have done it, we know, to give heart to those who embark on a common mission, to give them confidence that they will not be given up under duress. A process that yields up Scooter Libby to a zealous prosecutor is justice gone awry.

Mr. President, the one defining mark of your own moral outlook is the distinction between friend and foe, a refusal to be lulled into moral and political compromises. Your critics have made much of this and have seen it as self-righteousness and moral absolutism, but this has guided you through the great, divisive issues faced by our country over these last, searing years. Scooter Libby was a soldier in your--our--war in Iraq, he was chief of staff to a vice president who had become a lightning rod to the war's critics. He didn't sit around the councils of power only to make the rounds in Georgetown's salons insinuating that this was not his war all along. He didn't claim this war when it promised an easy victory only to desert it when it stalled in the alleyways of Fallujah and Baghdad and in the twilight world of Arab politics. You are not a lawyer, Mr. President, nor is the vast populace out there. The men and women who entrusted you with the presidency, I dare say, are hard pressed to understand why former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was the admitted leaker of Mrs. Wilson's identity to columnist Robert Novak, has the comforts of home and freedom and privilege while Scooter Libby faces the dreaded prospect of imprisonment.

Much ink has been spilled on this case, and its moral and legal absurdity is more evident by the day. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could not, and would not, decide whether this was a case about outing an undercover agent, or a plain case of perjury and obstruction of justice. He had the best of possible worlds: He presented this case as one of perjury, insisted that the undercover status of Valerie Plame Wilson was of no consequence, then shifted grounds to introduce the Intelligence Identities Protection Act at a latter phase in the proceedings. The "covertness" of Mrs. Wilson was never convincingly and fully established. Even Judge Walton himself was not sure of her employment status. So the recollections of Scooter Libby clashed with those of journalist Tim Russert? Surely, we don't end an honorable career in public service and haul a man off to prison on that thinnest of reeds.

A war raged in the inner councils of your administration. The Department of State and the CIA let it be known that they were on the side of the angels, that they harbored great doubts about this expedition into Iraq, that they were "multilateralists" at heart, but that they had lost the war to Vice President Dick Cheney and to the "hawks" around him. In the midst of this, Scooter Libby worked tirelessly and quietly to prosecute and explain and defend this war. He accepted the logic of the Iraq war, the great surprises we met in the course of this war.

He was never a triumphalist. The man I got to know in the aftermath of 9/11, the man you know so much better, was stoical about our causes in the Arab-Islamic world. He was a man of great depth. He knew moral complexity (his remarkably lyrical novel, "The Apprentice," bears witness to an eye for human folly and disappointment) but he stuck to your agenda and to this war. He was not steeped in the ways of the Arabs, but he sought out, tirelessly, all that could be ascertained about the radicalisms threatening our country. From my vantage point as an interpreter of Arab and Islamic matters, I could testify to his great curiosity and relentless devotion. He was keen to understand the winds at play in the Islamic world. This legal process thus removed from the higher ranks of our national security a man of real abilities and insight.

The Schadenfreude of your political detractors over the Libby verdict lays bare the essence of this case: an indictment of the Iraq war itself. The critics of the war shall grant you no reprieve if you let Scooter Libby do prison time. They will see his imprisonment as additional proof that this has been a war of folly from the outset.

At the beginning of this ordeal, it would have been the proper thing to acknowledge that this case rested on a political difference over the prosecution of the war, that Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson were protagonists in a struggle over the conflict. It was then, it should be recalled, that you, Mr. President, said that any of your staff caught up in that case "would no longer work in my administration." And it was then that the Justice Department stepped out of the way to let a special prosecutor launch an investigation that would, by necessity, have to vindicate itself. The better part of wisdom was to see the matter for what it was--a policy difference over the war, a matter that should never have been criminalized.

The prosecutor, and the jury and the judge, had before them a case that purported to stand alone, a trial of one man's memory and recollections. But you have before you what they and the rest of us don't--a memory of the passions and the panic, and the certitude, which gave rise to the war. And a sense, I am confident, of the quiet and selfless man who sat in the outer circle when your cabinet deliberated over our country's choices in Iraq, and in those burning grounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Scooter Libby was there for the beginning of that campaign. He can't be left behind as a casualty of a war our country had once proudly claimed as its own.

Mr. Ajami, the 2006 Bradley Prize recipient, teaches at the School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see Fouad state his major points to a family that had actually LOST someone in Afghanistan or Iraq!!!