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Wilson weathers political storm well

Published August 13, 2005

I am often disappointed when I get to talk at length with people who are suddenly in the national spotlight, so I didn't expect much last week while waiting at the airport to pick up former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

He is at the center of a storm that started when he was asked by the CIA to make a trip to Niger, where he once served as general services officer. It is near Gabon, a country where he lived as an ambassador appointed by President George H. W. Bush. He's written a book about it, The Politics of Truth.

I don't usually pick up the various authors who travel to Tallahassee to speak, but I am a member of the Capital Tiger Bay Club, where Wilson spoke Thursday, so I agreed to take him to dinner at my house.

Until meeting Wilson and listening to his side of the story in detail, I'd sort of thought this whole Karl Rove leak investigation was much ado about very little except the unfortunate jailing of a reporter who refuses to divulge a source.

I'm better informed now. And Wilson is much more than just an aggrieved husband. He was acting ambassador to Iraq during the first Gulf War and was President Bill Clinton's top adviser on Africa. He knew the area and the officials he visited in Niger. He seems a logical choice to make the trip, whatever his wife does for a living.

His explanation of his life and events leading up to this controversy come across as almost apolitical.

Wilson has little sympathy for reporters in jail, but he makes a good case for his side of the story. His wife, Valerie Plame, works for the CIA and was exposed by someone who leaked her name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak last year.

Wilson thinks Rove, the president's top political adviser, and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., could be indicted by a federal grand jury looking at the White House leak. Rove already has been identified by a Time magazine reporter as the source of a leak, but has denied doing anything more than passing on a rumor heard from other reporters.

In a compelling speech to a packed Tiger Bay meeting, Wilson explained his trip to Niger, the findings he reported and his decision to go public with the information after he failed to get the White House to admit the president was mistaken when he included a line about an African country trying to sell uranium to Iraq in his State of the Union speech in early 2003.

Wilson's op-ed piece, "What I didn't find in Africa," was printed in the New York Times July 6, 2003. It questioned whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify an invasion.

A day later the White House acknowledged the line probably shouldn't have been included in the speech.

Then Wilson found himself under attack by anonymous political operatives who were trying to discredit him by suggesting his Niger trip was arranged by his wife, who has expertise on weapons of mass destruction.

The point here is simple. No one has found any evidence that Iraq was re-establishing a nuclear program and two other experts made similar reports to the CIA.

Wilson also had a lot to say about the war in Iraq and the deaths of American men and women. He questions the handling of the entire invasion and occupation and believes some really smart people need to be figuring how to get us out of there.

He knows a lot about Iraq. He led the negotiations when Iraq took Americans hostage and used them as human shields in the first war. Now he fears the United States is making American soldiers look like mercenaries while we strengthen Iran and the Shiites who govern several countries in the region.

On television he often comes across as a political activist. Indeed, he was an adviser to Democrat John Kerry's presidential campaign.

In person, he ably defends his credibility and stands up for his wife. A career diplomat, Wilson knows he won't work for the State Department again and believes his wife will have to leave the CIA.

They are the humans caught up in a national drama dominating political life in Washington.

[Last modified August 13, 2005, 01:21:17]

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