Copyrighted material


by Michael Winship

Attacks on Pelosi a Flashback to Elliott Abrams' Attack on '87 Speaker

Throughout the whole Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame scandal and the ensuing trial and conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby, one particular thing kept bugging me.

The phony story about the African nation Niger selling yellowcake uranium to Saddam Hussein was bad enough. Then came Libby's outing of CIA operative Plame to discredit her husband Joe Wilson's going to Niger and blowing the whistle on the yellowcake scam. Yeah, that was pretty heinous, too.

But what really charred my toast was the underlying, misogynistic assumption on the part of Cheney, Libby and the rest of the executive pump head gang that Joe Wilson must be some kind of girly-man because Plame got him the assignment. Or, as Cheney notoriously scrawled across a copy of Wilson's New York Times op-ed expose, "Did his wife send him on a junket?"

First, if you consider travel to Niger, a landlocked desert of drought, famine and disease, "a junket," remind me not to let you book my next Carnival Cruise.

Second, we know from the testimony of Plame and others, she didn't hire Wilson for the mission but merely acted on the request of a supervisor. "I didn't suggest him," she told Congress. "There was no nepotism involved. I didn't have the authority." Besides, she said she wasn't exactly thrilled with the notion of him traveling while she was left wrangling their two-year-old twins, a task I imagine roughly equivalent to defusing land mines wrapped in diapers while juggling flaming Indian clubs.

But would it have been such a big deal if she had recommended him for the job? To suggest so is to endorse dilapidated notions of gender and inequality. Wilson was knowledgeable and qualified. Just about every professional couple I know here in New York job references one another from time to time -- if they're in the same line of work. In the media business, it's not unusual at all. And just look at all the power couples in DC, the dating and marital nexus of government, politics and the press. So why the sniggering?

In the case of Cheney, a curious double standard seems to be at play. I'm not about to attempt climbing that particular mountain of pathology without an alpenstock, brandy and several tanks of oxygen, but still. Here's a fellow with powerful women in his life: his wife Lynn, a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, his daughter Elizabeth a former deputy assistant secretary of state. His other daughter, Mary, was a high-ranking aide to her father during the 2004 re-election campaign. You might cringe at their politics but these are not women of small accomplishment (although doubtless helped along their career paths by the incumbent veep).

Yet look at the way Vice President Cheney reacted to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- a trip that came amongst similar sorties to Damascus by various Republican congressmen -- visits that went unassailed by Cheney and the White House.

After Pelosi said that she had spoken to Assad about the possibility of peace talks between Syria and Israel, Cheney chided her for "bad behavior" and scoffed that what she said was "a non-statement, nonsensical statement and didn't make any sense at all that she would suggest that those talks could go forward as long as the Syrians conducted themselves as a prime sponsor of terror."

Of course, that's not what she said. She pretty much stuck to the American and Israeli official policy line. Where she swayed from the one true path was in talking with the Syrians at all, even though this was a key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, among others.

Sure, much of Cheney's reaction was pure, partisan politics. And, as columnist Joe Conason noted, "The problem is not what Pelosi did or said, but how she exposed the exhaustion of neo-conservative policy... The war against Pelosi is a rear-guard assault by the White House against moderates and liberals in both political parties who understand that the failed Bush policies have jeopardized American interests and hurt the Mideast peace process."

But would the response have been as vitriolic and bespittled if the Speaker was a man, if the trip had been led by, say, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? I wonder.

What's additionally irksome in this whole sorry episode is that reports seem to point to the possibility of the White House and Cheney enlisting the help of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Pelosi smear.

As noted by Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo blog, the April 2 edition of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Olmert's government was using Pelosi to pass on a message to Assad that Israel had no intention of attacking Syria and sought peace.

But shortly after Pelosi's meeting with Assad, Olmert's office issued a "clarification" that "although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East. In order to conduct serious and genuine peace negotiations, Syria must cease its support of terror."

To other members of Pelosi's delegation, it was a clarification of something unnecessary to clarify. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) quoted California Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saying, "The speaker conveyed precisely what the prime minister... asked." JTA added, "That included the traditional Israeli caveat about Syrian backing for terrorism." Lantos suggested there was pressure from the White House. Certainly it was Olmert's statement upon which Cheney leaped to trash Speaker Pelosi.

According to JTA correspondent Ron Kampeas, it's not the first time the vice president has undermined a woman engaged in diplomacy. "Last year," he wrote, "US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Olmert into a 48-hour cease-fire during the war with Hezbollah to allow humanitarian relief, but within hours Israeli planes were bombing again, to Rice's surprise and anger.

"Olmert had received a call, apparently from Cheney's office, telling him to ignore Rice."

As the old joke goes, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. It's even harder when your supposed dance partner deliberately keeps his foot on the hem of your gown.

© 2007 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   April 10, 2007   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.