In the memo he sent to his staff earlier this week, Bill Keller, who is traveling in China, wrote, "When I get back I'll still have some important loose ends to tie up from this episode."
And what might those be? Find out who was Judy Miller's "other source"? Find out which phantom editor rejected Miller's "strong recommendation" that an article be written about Joe and Valerie Wilson? Find out why officials from the CIA, the DIA, and the Pentagon all say they have no idea what Miller was talking about when she claimed she had "security clearance"?
And then there is the mother of all "loose ends": how Miller and the Times served as accomplices in the White House's "marketing" of the war in Iraq. Because, in the end, that's what Plamegate has always been about.
In May 2004, in the Times' mea culpa for its criminally-inaccurate WMD coverage, the paper said: "We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight."
In the ensuing 17 months they've done nothing of the sort. Indeed, the Miller "episode" -- and Arthur Sulzberger's decision to give Judy the wheel of the Times car -- made the paper of record even less aggressive, something Keller himself admitted when he told staffers this week: "With any luck you can resume your undistracted, full-throttle pursuit of putting out the best news report in the world."
It's time for the Times to reengage in "aggressive reporting."
And this would be a particularly opportune time to do so, with indictments likely and a growing chorus of MSM voices reaffirming the bigger Plamegate picture:
Howard Kurtz: "It's the war, of course. We're re-fighting the war through this case."
Howard Fineman: "We're going to reargue the run-up to the war in Iraq, and the aftermath of it."
Chris Matthews: "If [Fitzgerald] does prosecute... it will be a WMD story. It will be a casus belli story."
Frank Rich: "What makes Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy... that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war."
Of course, this is not the first opportunity we, as a nation, have had to delve into the administration lies that took us into the debacle in Iraq. In fact, the stench of White House deception has wafted up many times -- both during the run up to the war and after the flowers that were supposed to be tossed at our feet were supplanted by IEDs.
We could have had a sustained national discussion back in May 2002, when Time published an article describing Cheney as saying that "the question was no longer if the U.S. would attack Iraq... the only question was when," and offering that "Rumsfeld has been so determined to find a rationale for an [Iraq] attack that on 10 separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to the terror attacks of Sept. 11. The intelligence agency repeatedly came back empty-handed."
We could have had a sustained national discussion in July 2003, when, following publication of Joe Wilson's op-ed, a firestorm broke out regarding the president's use of the Niger/Saddam uranium connection in his 2003 State of the Union speech, even though the bogus claim had been thoroughly discredited many times over. The administration fanatics so badly wanted it to be true they refused to let it die the death it deserved (still wonder why the White House wanted to discredit Wilson?)
We could have had a sustained national discussion in January 2004, when Paul O'Neill let it be known that invading Iraq had been Bush's goal before he had even learned where the Oval Office supply closet was, just 10 days after the president was inaugurated. "It was all about finding a way to do it," O'Neill said. "That was the tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this.'"
We could have had a sustained national discussion in March 2004, when Richard Clarke published "Against All Enemies," painting a devastating portrait of an administration teeming with zealots for whom evidence is little more than an obstacle on the path to greater glory: "'Look,'" Clarke quoted Bush as saying on the day after 9/11, "'I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way.' 'But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this.' 'I know, I know -- but see if Saddam was involved. Just look...'"
We could have had a sustained national discussion in April 2004, when Bob Woodward published "Plan of Attack," which showed a vice-president so obsessed with linking Saddam to 9/11 that no piece of intelligence that supported his hypothesis was deemed too unreliable to be used. Cheney was like an al Qaeda alchemist, converting shards of faulty intel into golden reason for pre-emptive war. It also revealed how Colin Powell -- further out of the war loop than Prince Bandar -- made like a Good Soldier when the president asked him to carry his sample vial of anthrax at the UN, and set out to hoodwink the world.
And we could have had a sustained national discussion in May of this year when the Downing Street Memo story hit, and we learned that, in July 2002, Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, had reported that in Washington "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
For a variety of reasons -- including a spineless opposition and a go-along media -- the debate never took hold.
But things have changed. Emboldened by their work on Katrina, many in the media have rediscovered their balls (sadly, the same can't be said yet for the leaders of the Democratic Party). Plus, the post-Katrina reality makes it harder for the utter recklessness and incompetence of the Bush administration to be ignored. There is also a greatly invigorated blogosphere, Bush's plummeting approval rating, the cloud of corruption hovering over the GOP, the ongoing chaos in Iraq, and the fast-approaching milestone of 2,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq.
In Dante's "Inferno," deceivers are sentenced to have their souls encased in flames, hypocrites are forced to wear a cloak weighted with lead, and those who use their powers of persuasion for insidious ends are doomed to suffer a continual fever so intense that their body sizzles and smokes like a steak tossed on a George Foreman grill. Maybe Satan will give Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby and their accomplices at the New York Times a three-afflictions-for-the-price-of-one deal.
There is nothing more immoral in the life of a nation than waging an unnecessary war -- which Iraq surely is. It is time for America to confront the terrible truth that we have allowed ourselves to be blinded to. And it is way past time for those that led us into that war, from the White House Iraq Group to Judy Miller and the New York Times, to be held accountable for their actions.
That's one hell of a "loose end."