"The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie SEP 5, 2005)
Joseph C. Wilson's life as a foreign service officer, Ambassador to Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe under President George H. W. Bush, Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton, Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council from June 1997 until July 1998, (responsible for the coordination of U.S. policy to the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa), and the last diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein in 1990, just before the first Gulf War, is fascinating enough to warrant a best selling memoir, in and of itself. President Bush #41, once hailed Wilson as "truly inspiring" and "courageous," after he gave shelter to more than one hundred Americans at the US embassy in Baghdad, although Saddam Hussein threatened to execute anyone who refused to hand over foreigners.
There is much autobiographical material in The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed my Wife's CIA Identity, but this is so much more than the run of the mill anecdotal musings of "my life so far." At the heart of this book lies Wilson's controversial story and the allegations which led to Justice Department Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation into possible violation of multiple criminal statutes, including the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which makes it a federal crime to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert CIA agent.
In just over 500 pages, Wilson gives a detailed account of his foreign service career which spanned more than two decades. He also candidly discusses the events leading to his decision to go public with his criticisms of the Bush administration. Wilson divides his book into three parts: his time in Africa - in which his love of the continent and its people is clearly evident; his time as the acting ambassador of Iraq on the eve of Desert Storm - which has sections that read like an espionage thriller; and finally the story of his mission to Niger, and the outing of his wife's identity to serve unethical political purposes.
Wilson writes of a meeting he was asked to attend at CIA headquarters, whose participants included the intelligence community's experts on Africa and uranium, along with staff representing the CIA and US State Department. According to Wilson, a report "purporting to be a memorandum of sale of uranium to Iraq had aroused the interest of Vice President Dick Cheney." Wilson was then told that the Vice President's office had tasked the CIA to find out if there was any truth to the report. He was asked, at this meeting to share with the analysts his knowledge of Niger, uranium, and the Nigerien government officials in charge at the time the contract was supposedly signed - 1999 or 2000. Wilson had not been to Niger in two years, but the Minister of Mines, who would have overseen the uranium sale, if it had taken place, was a friend of his. At the end of the meeting, Wilson was asked if he would be willing to travel to Niger to check out the report in question. He emphasized to the attendees that he was a diplomat not a spy, and that his profile in Africa could hardly be considered a low one. He knew the country, the situation and had the contacts. He thoroughly discussed whom he would meet with and what questions he would ask with the US Ambassador to Niger. You'll have to read the book for further accounts.
Now, I think, given the controversy and name calling, that the following is important and is indicative of other similar issues which have been used in a vicious PR campaign to cloud Wilson's allegations, and the purpose of the Justice Department's investigation. Objectively, does it matter if Vice President Cheney's office officially gave Mr. Wilson the assignment? His office tasked the CIA with selecting an appropriate, qualified person to do the job. Does it matter if the director of the CIA personally hired him for the temporary investigatory position? Or a high-level CIA official? Or if he was selected because Valerie Plame, his wife, recommended him for the job? (which Wilson denies). Who hired him is not the point here, nor is whether he could or couldn't get the job on his own, etc. The point is that Joseph C. Wilson would not have been sent to Niger on a fact finding mission if he did not possess the expertise to do the job. Not only was the messenger shot in this case, so was his wife!!
The outing controversy has its roots in the 2003 State of the Union address, when President Bush said, that the British government had learned that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa, a possible indication of Saddam Hussein's interest in nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed article in The New York Times questioning whether the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Had the administration ignored not only his own 2002 report, but two previous inquiries by Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, an American ambassador to Niger, and Carleton Fulford, a Marine Corps general, who also found that the Iraq-Niger story was not credible.
What follows are the details of columnist Robert Novak's role in bringing Ms. Plame's name to the fore and connecting it with her CIA job, and all the subsequent ugliness. Wilson and his credibility have been attacked on a daily basis. "He's just a flamboyant politician, not equipped to discuss yellow cake." "She's been photographed by Vanity Fair?" (Whatever that means!?). Is it a crime to be glamorous and intelligent? Everyone has read the slurs. I find Wilson's take on all this informative, and can certainly empathize with his outrage, (and his wife's - and mine as a US citizen!), however, this is not the book's strongest section. Much of this information, minus Wilson's unique perspective, is available in the media. The first two parts are outstanding, and the entire narrative is extremely well written. However, I know most will buy or borrow this book because of the seemingly ever present scandal of leaks and lies associated with it.
Whatever one's partisan politics, and we all have them, hopefully the American people will unite and condemn anything illegal or unethical that was committed in this altogether unsavory situation. The investigation is still underway, and it will be interesting to see how this all pans out. In the interim, the book makes for a compelling read. It is certainly not boring.
- Amazon readers rating: from 86 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Politics of Truth at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Put the White House on Trial and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity (April 2004)
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- Official website for Joseph C. Wilson
- NOW with Bill Moyers interview with Joseph C. Wilson
- BuzzFlash.com interview with Joseph Wilson
- Time Online article on "A War on Wilson?"
- Washington Post article, "Senate Does Battle Over Rove's Role in Plame Leak"
- Washington Post article, "In Plame Leaks, Long Shadows"
- SFGate article, "Who Told Bush What in Leak Case"
- Houston Chronicle review of "The Politics of Truth"
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About the Author:
Joseph Wilson was born in 1949. He was a career United States diplomat from 1976 to 1998. During Democratic and Republican administrations he served in various diplomatic posts throughout Africa and eventually as ambassador to Gabon. He was the acting ambassador to Baghdad when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. In February 2002, he investigated reports of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger. In October 2003, Wilson received the Ron Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling from the Fertel Foundation and the Nation Institute.
He lives in Washington, D.C.