Then I assume you’re far more concerned about the far more systematic and dangerous abuse of executive power by the current administration.
Whether Lewis Libby is a fall guy or not, whether there’s a grey area in terms of his legal responsibility, whether or not it was actually dangerous to expose a CIA agent’s identity, whether or not the Washington press corps’ own complicity in the system has been exposed, I think one thing is and has been clear about this episode from the beginning. It was one example of a systematic attempt by the Administration to intimidate its critics within the government. If it hasn’t dawned on you yet how costly that attitude has been in terms of the actual execution of the war in Iraq, you’re not paying attention. When you regard all criticism as treasonous dissent and play hardball against anyone who isn’t “on message”, what you get is a slavering corps of yes-men who live in a world of dreams and phantoms. Step outside the moment, particularly if you’re a historian, and the pattern is fairly unmistakeable: it has happened time and time again within royal courts and the world of the powerful. Sometimes that just leads to King Midas getting asses’ ears while the people go about their business. Sometimes it leads to mass suffering and disaster.
Those who want to excuse Libby on various grounds may be right that the Plame affair is a relatively trivial incident (though I think its gravity far outweighs, oh, say, the Monica Lewinsky case). But just as Watergate was ultimately a small episode that exposed a much larger systematic problem, I think anybody who isn’t hopelessly partisan or dispassionately cynical about political process has to see that there are far graver instances of abuse that are visible to sight now. The case of the dismissed United States Attorneys, for one. That isn’t just about trying to keep critics of a war silent, it’s about the generalized desperation of a party apparatus to insulate itself from the electorate. It is an encouraging sign of the system’s overall resilience that even this kind of manipulation couldn’t control the electoral results. But trust me as an observer of postcolonial African politics: when you become resigned to something like, “Let’s fire the attorneys who won’t accelerate indictments of corruption to suit our short-term political needs, and put in our own guys instead”, your resignation is an open door to far nastier abuses of power.