Frank Rich is loaded with them today.
So put aside Mr. Wilson's February 2002 trip to Africa. The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was "actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time." The vice president went on to repeat this charge in May on "Meet the Press," in three speeches in August and on "Meet the Press" yet again in September. Along the way the frightening word "uranium" was thrown into the mix.
By September the president was bandying about the u-word too at the United Nations and elsewhere, speaking of how Saddam needed only a softball-size helping of uranium to wreak Armageddon on America. But hardly had Mr. Bush done so than, offstage, out of view of us civilian spectators, the whole premise of this propaganda campaign was being challenged by forces with more official weight than Joseph Wilson. In October, the National Intelligence Estimate, distributed to Congress as it deliberated authorizing war, included the State Department's caveat that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa," made public in a British dossier, were "highly dubious." A C.I.A. assessment, sent to the White House that month, determined that "the evidence is weak" and "the Africa story is overblown."
AS if this weren't enough, a State Department intelligence analyst questioned the legitimacy of some mysterious documents that had surfaced in Italy that fall and were supposed proof of the Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. In fact, they were blatant forgeries. When Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said as much publicly in the days just before "shock and awe," his announcement made none of the three evening newscasts. The administration's apocalyptic uranium rhetoric, sprinkled with mushroom clouds, had been hammered incessantly for more than five months by then - not merely in the State of the Union address - and could not be dislodged. As scenarios go, this one was about as subtle as "Independence Day" and just as unstoppable a crowd-pleaser.
Once we were locked into the war, and no W.M.D.'s could be found, the original plot line was dropped with an alacrity that recalled the "Never mind!" with which Gilda Radner's Emily Litella used to end her misinformed Weekend Update commentaries on "Saturday Night Live." The administration began its dog-ate-my-homework cover-up, asserting that the various warning signs about the uranium claims were lost "in the bowels" of the bureaucracy or that it was all the C.I.A.'s fault or that it didn't matter anyway, because there were new, retroactive rationales to justify the war. But the administration knows how guilty it is. That's why it has so quickly trashed any insider who contradicts its story line about how we got to Iraq, starting with the former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.
...But by overreacting in panic to his single Op-Ed piece of two years ago, the White House has opened a Pandora's box it can't slam shut. Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there's only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it's essential to protect the king.
What has been obvious is this pattern of trying to trash all critics who brought out the uncomfortable facts that destroyed the Bush regime's war propaganda.
In fact, I think people like Clarke, and the Wilsons, ought to be able to sue the principals involved to be compensated for having their good names dragged through the mud.
I think there is sufficent evidence of criminal activity.
I think the Bush regime suspects this too, and that's why Bush and McClellan have clammed up recently regarding their support for Rove.
Although it's been said (and not completely true) that Democrats can't get elected and Republicans can't govern, I think a large segment of voters who thought "Bush would protect us" are going to abandon the Republican party in droves, when they realize that in the Bush world, "protect" really means "recklessly endanger national security with irrelevant adventures."