"ARE YOU ALL READY TO TAKE BACK AMERICA?" Robert Borosage, the co-director of Campaign for America's Future, asked on Wednesday, standing in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. And the crowd sure was ready. They hooted and hollared. They roared and screamed. They nodded their heads. The day before, Michael Moore had stopped by. On Wednesday, Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee, former senator Gary Hart, and Ambassador Joe Wilson took the stage.
The occasion was a debate on the Iraq war, which may sound a little odd, as all the panelists were in agreement on the issue. The Iraq war was a mistake, they said. A big one. Undeterred by the unanimity among the debate participants, the event's organizers shifted the focus of the talk to Kerry's stance on Iraq, which is cause for agita among some progressive Democrats. Kucinich and Lee, advocates of unilateral withdrawal, disagree with Kerry, and their message was well received. Wilson and Hart, on the other hand, were there to make the case against withdrawal.
Sort of. When Wilson took the stage, he said "It is worth considering" and "debating" whether the United States would do "more or less" harm by withdrawing its troops from Iraq immediately. Wilson still thinks it would be folly to do so, however. (He thought the same thing when I talked to him last May.) But then, Wilson wasn't that interested in talking about Iraq. What Wilson wanted to talk about was the fact that he's been victimized by a "Republican smear machine."
"On my road to Boston I was ambushed," Wilson said. He spoke slowly, deliberately, his wide mouth curled into a dark frown. "I've been accused," he continued, "of being a traitor and a liar."
Wilson was referring to the recent report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which showed he had told misleading stories to reporters last year about a trip he took to Niger in 2002 to investigate whether or not Iraq ever tried to purchase uranium there. Wilson told reporters, and later the public, that his trip had "debunked" allegations of a Niger-Iraq uranium deal (it hadn't), that it had debunked these allegations because Wilson had known documents purporting such a deal had been forged (those documents were not in the CIA's possession until 8 months after Wilson returned from Niger), and that reports of his trip had been circulated to the vice president (they hadn't).
Wilson's credibility was thrown into question as a result.
He doesn't seem to mind. About his credibility, that is. He ducked such questions altogether on Wednesday, saying only that his critics were "liars" who wanted to "silence" him. "There've been assertions made that my wife was somehow responsible for my trip," he said. (The Senate report found that Wilson's wife, a counterproliferation expert at the CIA, had written a memo to her superiors outlining her husband's qualifications for the Niger trip. It also showed, incidentally, that Wilson's wife was present at the meeting in which the CIA raised the possibility of a trip to Niger.)
Well, "the Committee didn't bother to ask the CIA," Wilson said. And they "misquoted" a CIA reports officer, who, Wilson went on, has since "written a letter" revising his comments and disavowing that the ambassador's wife had anything to do with his trip to Niger. Unfortunately, however, the report's officer's wife "won't let him" publish the letter, "because they are afraid."
The crowd hissed.
Wilson's credibility is under attack, he said, because the RNC wants the American public to "be very, very afraid." He will have none of this, however. He will not "allow that climate of fear to enter our debates."
The crowd cheered.
"Does this campaign against me not give the appearance of interference in an ongoing criminal investigation?" He paused.
"That's exactly what it is," Wilson said.
Unlike Bill Clinton, he said, "I don't quote the Bible much, because I don't want people to believe that I am one of those who would replace the Constitution with a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation." The crowd roared. So instead Wilson quoted David Crosby. There was much applause.
The crowd, which seemed ignorant of the barrage Wilson has been under these past weeks, stood up and delivered Wilson's second standing ovation of the day. He waved. He even took a bow.
"Well," Robert Borosage said, as he rose to introduce the next speaker. "That's a hard presentation to follow."