The alleged leaking of a CIA operative's name had its roots in a clash over Iraq policy between White House insiders and their rivals in the permanent bureaucracy of Washington, especially in the State Department and the CIA.
As the investigation into the leak reaches its expected climax this week with the expiration of the grand jury's term, the internal disputes have been further amplified by a recent string of speeches and interviews criticizing the administration's handling of Iraq, including by former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and State Department diplomats, and other officials involved in the early efforts to stabilize Iraq.
Scowcroft, a close friend of former president George H.W. Bush, revealed in interviews with the New Yorker a deep disdain for the administration's foreign policy, according to an article published this week. He said he had once considered Vice President Cheney "a good friend," but "Dick Cheney I don't know anymore." When Scowcroft was asked whether he could name the issues on which he agreed with President Bush, he replied "Afghanistan." He then paused for 12 seconds before adding only, "I think we're doing well on Europe."
A top State Department official involved in Iraq policy, former ambassador Robin Raphel, said the administration was "not prepared" when it invaded Iraq, but did so anyway in part because of "clear political pressure, election driven and calendar driven," according to an oral history interview posted on the Web site of the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace.
The unusual on-the-record bashing comes at a difficult period for the White House, which this week is also bracing for the 2,000th military fatality in the Iraq conflict. While the internal conflicts were not a secret even during the planning for war, the intensity of the feelings more than two years later is striking.
A special counsel is investigating how the undercover status of Valerie Plame -- the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV -- was revealed to reporters in July 2003. The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to purchase uranium. Wilson said he found little evidence to support the allegations and later emerged as an administration critic after Bush referred to the Niger connection in the 2003 State of the Union address.
Testimony in the leak case, especially by New York Times reporter Judith Miller, has suggested that one reason White House officials sought to discredit Wilson is a deep animus toward the CIA -- and a suspicion the intelligence agency was trying to shift blame for its failures onto the White House.
But, elsewhere in Washington, others were seething, as well.
"The case that I saw for four-plus years was a case I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process," Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Powell's former chief of staff and longtime confidant, said in a speech last week. "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."
Wilkerson added that when decisions were presented to the bureaucracy, "it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."
Scowcroft, in his interview, discussed an argument over Iraq he had two years ago with Condoleezza Rice, then-national security adviser and current secretary of state. "She says we're going to democratize Iraq, and I said, 'Condi, you're not going to democratize Iraq,' and she said, 'You know, you're just stuck in the old days,' and she comes back to this thing that we've tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth," he said. The article stated that with a "barely perceptible note of satisfaction," Scowcroft added: "But we've had fifty years of peace."
Scowcroft also dismissed former deputy secretary of defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, the intellectual godfather of the Iraq invasion. "He's got a utopia out there. We're going to transform the Middle East, and then there won't be war anymore. He can make them democratic," Scowcroft said. "Paul's idealism sweeps away doubts," he added.
Raphel's interview, conducted in July 2004, has been posted on the institute Web site, along with more than 30 other interviews -- some blunt in their dissatisfaction and disappointment -- with a range of officials involved in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Little notice has been paid to the interviews until this week.
Raphel, who still works at State, said that controversial decisions to fire any officials associated with the Baath Party and to demobilize the Iraqi army were made largely because of "neoconservative" ideology. "What one needs to understand is that these decisions were ideologically based," she said. "They were not based on an analytical, historical understanding. They were based on ideology. You don't counter ideology with logic or experience or analysis very effectively."
Raphel added: "There was very much the sense that we were getting in way over our heads within weeks."