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Joseph Wilson on the Election and the Lawsuit

At war with the Bush Administration


"I believe strongly in our country and in the importance of speaking out," says Joseph Wilson, author of The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity. This belief prompted Wilson, a former ambassador who served in diplomatic posts throughout Africa and Iraq, a man President George H. W. Bush once described as a "true American hero," to write a New York Times op-ed piece about how the government's claims that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger were false. The result was the leaking of the name of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA operative. As the country plunged into battle, thus began Wilson's odyssey to expose the lies of the war and who was responsible for the leak. After more than three years of his outspoken criticism, everyone has an opinion about Joe Wilson.

Speaking on his cell phone as he traveled into Washington, D.C. on a warm November afternoon, two days after the election, Wilson was charming and affable. With the top down on his convertible, he was on top of the world. Many of the candidates Wilson campaigned for had just won.

So you're happy with the election results?

I crossed the country three times in two weeks campaigning for a number of candidates, and a lot of them came home against the odds. What motivated me in this was not partisanship as much as it was a desire to see some restoration of checks and balances and accountability in this great democracy of ours.

Any disappointments?

I campaigned for Tammy Duckworth [who ran in the 6th Congressional District of Illinois]. I thought the absolute tackiest campaign move was that the First Lady came to campaign for her opponent. Tammy Duckworth sacrificed two limbs for George Bush's war, and for George Bush to show so little respect for that sacrifice and actually send his wife out to campaign for her opponent. That was extraordinarily tacky.

You've filed a civil suit against Vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and John Does one through ten, including Richard Armitage, who were involved in leaking your wife's identity. What is the status of that lawsuit?

They have until the middle of November to file a motion to dismiss, which we fully expect them to do, and then we will fight it out. You can go to www.wilsonsupport.org for updates.

What do you expect to happen?

I think there's going to be some interesting clarification of law on the rights of public officials who abuse their positions of public trust to execute private political vendettas. It will be interesting to see how the judges rule on that and whether that's going to be allowed in our democracy.

In many ways you, by speaking up when others were afraid to, helped bring about this extraordinary election. When you first spoke out, a lot of people came at you. Is there a big difference today in how you're treated?

Well, you know it's true what they say about Washington; if you want a friend, get a dog. The political machine of the Republican Party decided that they wanted to destroy me and that the way to do that was to engage in a systematic campaign of smears. I think people increasingly realized exactly the depth of their capacity to be vindictive and also what this administration has gotten us into. I'm gratified that recently a former senior official from the first Bush administration said that he knew that I would be doing the same thing against Democrats if they had run this country over as the Republicans have. It's not about partisan politics--it really is about what we stand for as a country.

Were you surprised with the vehemence with which they attacked you?

I knew that they would try to kill the messenger, but I thought that they were a pretty inept group. Any time they have a choice between a meat cleaver and an ice pick, they choose the meat cleaver every time, and it's pretty easy to dodge a meat cleaver.

If you had to do it over again, would you still have shared your thoughts with Nick Kristoff and written the now infamous New York Times op-ed piece?

My wife and I talked about it. And we agree that there is nothing we would have done differently from what I did. It is important for our national security and for our governance to get the facts out and call our government into account. One of the lessons I have learned from all this is that we have to be even more vigilant. My wife and I have 43 years of combined service to our country and to find our integrity attacked by people whose entire careers are devoted to dirty tricks is appalling. But the fact that we have been attacked in the way we have means that these guys are scared to death, and they should be scared to death. What they did is treasonous. But we still have to be vigilant. As I say in my book, the neo-conservatives are parasites, and they happened to fling the Republican Party as a willing host. They will migrate to whatever host will accept them.

After graduating college and working as a carpenter for several years, why did you decide to enter the U.S. Foreign Service?

I was actually driving nails in Washington state in the winter. It was not like I was a carpenter in Santa Barbara in the winter. It was wet and miserable, and so I was looking for and thinking about a career change and putting my degree to good use. I went and looked at a program in public affairs at the University of Washington, but you had to demonstrate talent for public service. So I thought I'd take the Foreign Service exam.

Would you ever want to be an ambassador again?

My involvement in certain policies over the past six years has not been a job interview. I served with my country for 23 years and was proud to do so. I have no ambition to come back as an ambassador, but at the same time, if the president of the United States asked me to do so, it would be hard to say no.

You spent so many years in Africa. Do you have a real affinity towards that continent?

I do. It's a great continent, and I have a real affinity for the people of Africa. Seven hundred million people are suffering terribly across the continent because of AIDS, epidemics and corrupt governments. The African people, in the face of incredible adversity, keep their dignity, their convictions, their tenacity and their will to live.

What's your take on Darfur?

If you're going to call something genocide, which is what this administration has done, then you're under some obligation to react. I think it is genocidal, and I think we should be doing everything we can to emphasize that with national leadership we will try to bring it to an end. It's hard for the administration to do because they're bogged down in Iraq and because they've decided that they would abuse the United Nations rather than find ways of working with them.

With the Democrats taking both the House and Senate, are you.expecting the course to change?

I don't know. It'll be interesting to see. I think the results were startling. I think it was a decisive rejection of their policies. At the same time, President Bush, who is known for his stubbornness, is minor in that way compared to Dick Cheney. I will say this: I think the election was a clear rejection of this administration's effort to convert our democracy.

Do you still feel some anger over what happened to you and your wife?

Anger is not how I would describe it--certainly not personal anger. I understand what these guys are about, and I'm a big boy and can give as good as I get. What I'm angry about is what they've done to our country in leaking Valerie's name. They betrayed the national security in my country to execute this political vendetta.

Were you surprised that Karl Rove didn't get indicted for his part in the leaking of your wife's name?

He went in front of the grand jury five times, and if Patrick Fitzgerald didn't think there was enough to convict him of the crime, then I'm glad he didn't indict him. I'm glad he didn't put him through it. We are a nation of laws, and Pat Fitzgerald is the executor of those laws. I don't know him very well personally--I've only met him once, but I've watched his work, obviously, and I think that he is giving it his best shot. I have absolute confidence in his thinking and intervention.

Published: December 01, 2006
Issue: Holiday 2006