I've been trying to figure out why the Judy Miller saga has become so all-consuming for so many people.

Yes, you have the soap opera surrounding a controversial reporter at one of America's great newspapers, a woman who went to jail and then sprung herself, and a front-page chronicle that attempts to answer the questions but contains major holes, in part because Miller won't fully cooperate and won't share her notes.

Yes, you have a special prosecutor winding up a two-year probe that could yield charges against senior White House officials (or not).

Yes, the fact that one of these aforementioned senior officials is Karl Rove, who is reviled by the left, has spawned a whole genre of what-would-Bush-do-without-his-brain pieces.

Yes, all this stems from what appears to be an act of petty partisanship, the outing of a CIA operative to rough up her husband.

Yes, the case raises major questions about the rights of journalists to resist prosecutors' subpoenas and protect their confidential sources.

But all of that still doesn't explain the intensity of emotion among those following every wrinkle of this unfolding investigation.

Then it hit me. It's the war, of course. We're re-fighting the war through this case.

After all, Mr. Valerie Flame, Joe Wilson, was accusing the White House of exaggerating the evidence for Iraq having WMDs--based on his CIA-approved fact-finding mission to Niger--when those "senior administration officials" went after his wife.

The people who are mad at Miller are mad because they feel she was a conduit for the administration's erroneous WMD claims, and that she is still protecting Libby. The people who are mad at Libby and Rove are mad because they are seen as among the architects in designing and selling an unnecessary war to the American people, not to mention the press.

The people who are mad at Wilson believe he is a publicity hound who has his own credibility problems and has milked the controversy for a book and television exposure, not to mention a Vanity Fair photo shoot with his now-less-than-covert wife. They feel the press is antiwar and was all too happy to attack Bush over the famous 16 words in the State of the Union on Iraq seeking uranium from Africa, and is still beating the WMD drums as a way of discrediting the war. And they don't believe a crime was necessarily committed in the leaking of Plame's name.

So all this amounts to a proxy war. And there will be more collateral damage before it's over.

John Aravosis | http://americablog.blogspot.com/2005/10/normalization-of-treason-republicans.html of Americablog exemplifies the passion of the left:

"If a senior White House staffer had intentionally outed an American spy during World War II, he'd have been shot. We're at war, George Bush keeps reminding us. We cannot continue with business as usual. A pre-9/11 mentality is deadly. Putting the lives of our troops at risk is treason.

"Then why is the White House and the Republican party engaged in a concerted campaign to make treason acceptable during a time of war? That's exactly what they're doing. On numerous news shows today, Republican surrogates, their talking points ready, issued variations of the following concerning White House chief of staff Karl Rove's outing of a covert CIA agent as part of a political vendetta:

"- It's the criminalization of politics

"- Is this 'minor' leak really worth all this?

"- Political payback is common and should not be criminalized

"- Mis-speaking or mis-remembering is not a crime

"Yes, the Republicans are now making light of an intentional effort to expose an undercover CIA agent, working on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, no less, while we are at war in the Middle East on that very issue. The GOP has become the party of treason.

"It would be one thing for a senior adviser to the president to put the nation's security at risk during a time of war. That could be explained as an aberration - a quite serious one, no doubt - but a fluke nonetheless. But when the president himself refuses to keep his own word about firing that aberration, and when the entire Republican party rallies around that fluke and tries to minimize what is usually a capital offense during wartime, something is seriously wrong with that party and its leadership."

Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com/main_article.php?artnum=20051016 gets equally worked up attacking "the ideological rudder of George W. Bush's presidency, also known as Karl Rove. It was Rove who crafted the new Republican majority in America: that of a religiously-centered party dedicated to steering the largess of bigger and bigger government to its own faith-based and corporate constituencies.

"It was Rove who used the war to marginalize fiscal conservatives alarmed at spending and libertarian conservatives worried about civil liberties and minority rights. It was Rove who forged a difficult alliance between a growing conservative intelligentsia and millions of evangelical Protestant voters who had previously been reluctant to engage in raw, partisan politics. It was Rove who decided that a wartime president, rather than seeking national unity, should use the war as a means to drive a wedge through the Democrats and consolidate his own faithful supporters. It was Rove who was the architect of a 51 percent strategy of always playing to the party base, and expanding it, especially among blacks and Latinos, rather than reaching out to the center. . . .

"Could Bush survive without Rove? Once unthinkable, Washington's chatterers now talk of it incessantly."

Following the big Times takeouts, Bill Keller sends his staff a note, posted on Romenesko | http://poynter.org/forum/view_post.asp?id=10507:

"In the world beyond the media water coolers, the focus will shift back to more momentous stories -- possibly including the leak investigation in which, for all we know, this paper's ordeal may have been more a digression than a climax. With any luck all of you can resume your undistracted, full-throttle pursuit of putting out the best news report in the world. . . .

"If I had it to do over, there is probably much I'd do differently, and we can chew on the lessons learned when I return, but I hope my first instinct -- and the paper's -- would still be to defend a reporter in the line of duty, even if the circumstances lack the comfort of moral clarity."

The Times does a cool thing | http://www.nytimes.com/ref/politics/05web-leak.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/ref/politics/05web-leak.html--it posts a page of bloggers tackling the Miller case, including those who are ripping the paper.

Journalists are quick to predict indictments, as we see from Bill Kristol's Fox appearance with Chris Wallace:

"KRISTOL: But talking to people pretty close to both Libby and Rove outside of government, who therefore can talk about it, I think they expect the worse now. I think they --

"WALLACE: That both Libby and Rove will be indicted.

"KRISTOL: I believe, if I had to predict -- and I don't know more this than anybody else reading the papers -- that both Libby and Rove will be indicted, not for what the original referral was about but for some combination of disclosing classified information or perhaps failing to be fully candid with federal investigators or with the grand jury."

Josh Marshall | http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/index-old.php picks up on my quotes from Floyd Abrams, Miller's lawyer, talking about his client:

"Remember, this isn't just another player in the case. This is her lawyer. Nobody expects him to lie for her. But he doesn't have to say anything.

"I know using the word 'lie' here may seem overdone. And certainly Abrams is careful to phrase his words in such a way so as not to explicitly say she is being untruthful. But these are not minor points in her story that he is contradicting. They are close to the two most significant ones -- first, just why she initially refused and then agreed to talk, and, second, whether there are other mystery sources out there who could be the source of Plame's name.

"On both points he is taking it upon himself to contradict her account publicly."

Hartford Courant columnist Denis Horgan | http://blogs.courant.com/travel_columnists_horgan/2005/10/jayson_miller.html seems to envy Miller's freedom:

"Say, how do I get a job at The New York Times?

"What a great place to work! No rules. No editors. No standards. You can do whatever you want. I could be the next Jayson . . . oops, Judith . . . Miller.

"Apparently they don't have bosses at the Times. What a Shangri La. Like Jayson Blair, Judith Miller . . . could get away with anything there.

"Her reporting was so lousy on the bogus and dishonest and flat-out-falsified reasons to have a war on Iraq that she's nearly an accomplice, yet she is carried on the payroll just as if she were actually a good, honest reporter rather than a stenographer for the government."

There's that war theme again.

President Bush's polling problems haven't gone away:

"Beset by political and economic troubles at home and a difficult war in Iraq, President Bush's job approval rating has slipped to 39%, the lowest measure of his presidency, according to a USA TODAY | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-10-17-bushapproval_x.htm/CNN/Gallup Poll.

"Bush, whose approval rating hit 55% shortly after he was re-elected last November, has been below 50% approval since May. But this marks the first time he has fallen below 40%, a level that until now had been his floor. . . .

"Analysts attribute the latest erosion to multiple factors:

"{bull} The continued problems of managing the recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"{bull} The possible indictment of top White House aides in a grand jury inquiry into the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.

"{bull} The furor among some conservatives over Bush's nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court."

In the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey Bell and Bill Kristol | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/211eywgm.asp punch back:

"Why are conservative Republicans, who control the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time in living memory, so vulnerable to the phenomenon of criminalization? Is it simple payback for the impeachment of Bill Clinton? Or is it a reflection of some deep malady at the heart of American politics? If criminalization is seen to loom ahead for every conservative who begins successfully to act out his or her beliefs in government or politics, is the project of conservative reform sustainable?

"We don't pretend to have all the answers, or a solid answer even to one of these questions. But it's a reasonable bet that the fall of 2005 will be remembered as a time when it became clear that a comprehensive strategy of criminalization had been implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern as conservatives. And it is clear that thinking through a response to this challenge is a task conservatives can no longer postpone."

Slate's John Dickerson | http://slate.msn.com/id/2128058/nav/tap1/ imagines a Rove-less universe:

"White House officials will not talk about the case but do not challenge the logical notion that Chief of Staff Andy Card is already thinking through how to fill Rove's shoes. Card can shuffle around his duties into different organizational boxes, but it won't do much good. Rove can't be replaced. His departure would create a 'black hole,' says one official who works with Rove closely. 'He's irreplaceable.' "

This person couldn't go on the record with "he's irreplaceable"? Is he a "former Hill staffer"?

Let's see, who else can we blame? Maybe Andy Card?

"With Karl Rove distracted by the intensifying C.I.A. leak scandal, some of the Bush administration's other challenges in recent months have cast a longer shadow on Andrew H. Card Jr., for years a guiding force as the White House chief of staff," says the NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/10/18/politics/18card.html?hp&ex=1129608000&en=e890ad69eedb2f6d&ei=5094&partner=homepage.

"His office oversaw the administration response to Hurricane Katrina, coordinating federal assistance that was broadly condemned as too slow. Mr. Card personally managed the selection of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court, a choice that has splintered the Republican Party and left the administration scrambling to rescue her nomination.

"The confluence of crises, all running through Mr. Card's suite just steps from the Oval Office, has some critics asking whether Mr. Card needs to clean house or assert himself more forcefully -- or at least consider a course correction before Mr. Bush is downgraded permanently to lame duck status."

Among the critics: Frum and Kristol.

Salon's Farhad Manjoo | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/10/16/times_miller/index.html deconstructs the Miller case:

"What did Judy Miller do here that was so wrong?

"She protected -- and, indeed, still looks to be protecting -- people she knew were trying to discredit Wilson, even though they were possibly breaking the law, and even though she seems to have had no legal or ethical basis for doing so. . . .

"The record now indicates that for more than a year -- from August 2004, when she was first subpoenaed in the case, until Sept. 29, 2005, when she was released from jail -- she made only minimal efforts to convince Libby to free her from her agreement with him, even though, in the end, he appeared to have been willing to do so all along. In that time, she kept information from her bosses at the Times -- who say they let her lead the paper's handling of the affair -- as well as from the special prosecutor and, most important, from her readers. And she's still keeping information from her readers. . . .

"She appears to have lied to Philip Taubman, the Times Washington bureau chief, when he asked her in the fall of 2003 whether any administration officials had disclosed Plame's identity to her. Miller said no -- even though Libby had discussed Plame's identity with her."

On another subject, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund | http://online.wsj.com/article/SB112951254779770349-email.html digs up a story that, if true, will have a major impact on the Miers debate:

"On Oct. 3, the day the Miers nomination was announced, James Dobson and other religious conservatives held a conference call to discuss the Miers nomination. One of the people on the call took extensive notes, which I have obtained, and on which the following account is based. According to the notes, two of Ms. Miers's close friends -- both sitting judges -- said that she would vote to overturn Roe.

"The call was moderated by the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. Participating were 13 members of the executive committee of the Arlington Group, an umbrella alliance of 60 religious conservative groups, including Gary Bauer of American Values, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and the Rev. Bill Owens, a black minister. Also on the call were Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court and Ed Kinkeade, a Dallas-based federal district court judge.

"Dr. Dobson says he spoke to Mr. Rove on Oct. 2, the day before President Bush announced the nomination. Mr. Rove assured Dr. Dobson that Ms. Miers was an evangelical Christian and a strict constructionist, and said that Justice Hecht, a longtime friend of Ms. Miers who'd helped her join an evangelical church in 1979, could provide background. Later that day, a personal friend of Dr. Dobson's in Texas called him and suggested he speak with Judge Kinkeade, a friend of Ms. Miers's for decades. . . .

"What followed was a free-wheeling discussion about many topics, including same-sex marriage. Justice Hecht said he'd never discussed that issue with Ms. Miers. Then an unidentified voice asked the two men, 'Based on your personal knowledge of her, if she had the opportunity, do you believe she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?' 'Absolutely,' said Judge Kinkeade. 'I agree with that,' said Justice Hecht. 'I concur.' "

So much for keeping an open legal mind.