In a truly remarkable statement published in the online version of his ‘Weekly Standard’ Wednesday morning, William Kristol essentially slapped George W. Bush with his glove, accusing him of disloyalty, indecency, and cowardice with respect to the president’s failure so far to issue a pardon for I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff who, as of Tuesday, is looking at a 30-month prison term for perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the Valerie Plame affair.
While Kristol, who certainly ranks among the top five most-influential neo-conservatives in the movement, has occasionally been critical of Bush’s performance, he has reserved his harsher attacks for convenient subordinates (Powell/Rumsfeld/Tenet/Rice/Gates/etc), presumably to remain in the Decider’s good graces. But this latest assault on the president himself is unprecedented both in severity and in directness. (Compare, for example, the more politic attack of the no-less-neo-conservative editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal Wednesday or even of the National Review Online Tuesday).
“Will Bush pardon Libby? Apparently not—even if it means a man who worked closely with him and sought tirelessly to do what was right for the country goes to prison,” Kristol wrote. ‘’Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, noting that the appeals process was underway, said, ‘Given that and in keeping with what we have said in the past, the president has not intervened so far in any other criminal matter and is going to decline to do so now.’”
“So much for loyalty, or decency, or courage,” Kristol went on. “For President Bush, loyalty is apparently a one-way street; decency is something he’s for as long as he doesn’t have to take any risks in its behalf; and courage – well, that’s nowhere to be seen. Many of us used to respect President Bush. Can one respect him still?”
This sounds like a make-or-break attack on Bush’s manhood – an attempt at intimidation, even — and that carries serious risks, such as being declared persona non grata at the White House for a considerable period of time, possibly even until the end of the term before which Kristol and his ideological confreres clearly hope that Bush will order a military attack against suspected Iranian nuclear sites if the diplomatic track fails to produce results before then.
It would be uncharacteristic of Kristol to take such a risk simply on the basis of his frustration or anger at the moment; this is not someone liable to either commit crimes or criticisms of passion. So the statement suggests that Kristol actually does believe that Bush can be bullied into pardoning Libby. If so, what is the basis for that belief? Did he consult with White House insiders (in Cheney’s office or the NSC perhaps, or even Cheney himself) as to what was the best tack to take?
Coupled with Helene Cooper’s article in Saturday’s NYT (link to previous post), Kristol’s glove-slapping Bush certainly adds to the sense that hawks are increasingly desperate about the president’s direction and Cheney’s ability to affect it.