Saturday, July 16, 2005

Shabbos: Learning from Heretics

Talmud scholar?
. . . one who learns one thing from a heretic is liable to death . . . (75a)

You just can't trust heretics. They are prone to mislead. Take Robert Novak, for example. In October of '03 after the shit hit the fan, he explained the motivation behind his July '03 column on Joseph Wilson's trip to Africa as follows:
"I was curious why a high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton's National Security Council (NSC) was given this assignment."

Yet in the column that caused all the fuss, Novak hardly pictured Joseph Wilson as a Democratic lackey:
His first public notice had come in 1991 after 15 years as a Foreign Service officer when, as U.S. charge in Baghdad, he risked his life to shelter in the embassy some 800 Americans from Saddam Hussein's wrath. My partner Rowland Evans reported from the Iraqi capital in our column that Wilson showed "the stuff of heroism." President George H.W. Bush the next year named him ambassador to Gabon, and President Bill Clinton put him in charge of African affairs at the National Security Council until his retirement in 1998.
Three months later, Novak wrote (indignantly) that "
Wilson had become a vocal opponent of President Bush's policies in Iraq after contributing to Al Gore in the last election cycle and John Kerry in this one." Gee, putting aside his (treasonous?) contribution to Al Gore, I wonder if his opposition had anything to do with the aftermath of a policy dispute in which his wife's career was destroyed.

It is possible to learn from the words of a heretic, but it is deadly to assume that one is learning if one simply takes in their words without testing them. It was disingenuous for a seasoned professional like Novak to profess that he had not been told that Wilson's wife had a classified role that should not be disclosed publicly. In the infamous column he wrote simply, "
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." Would a responsible journalist publish the name of an agency operative for no other reason than that he knows it? Wilson warned him as best he could without revealing classified information. He is quoted by Novak as telling him, "I will not answer any question about my wife." And Novak adds in October:
At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson's wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help. He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause "difficulties" if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson's wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name.

But he was suggesting that she would be endangered! To use a stronger word than "difficulties" would have been a security breach. Is Novak suggesting that he lacks the sophistication to understand communications from sources working with classified documents?

Moreover, looking at Wilson's credentials, the central thesis of Novak's original smear, that Wilson's assignment was a nepotistic assignment, is unsubstantiated. As we can see, Novak doesn't prove it and is given a denial from the CIA. Would a former ambassador to Africa need his wife'
s recommendation to be assigned the mission he was given? And given Novak's statement that "The
White House, State Department and Pentagon, and not just Vice President Dick
Cheney, asked the CIA to look into" the situation that Wilson was then sent to
investigate, later claims that none of them were aware of the report are
difficult to believe.

No, it is indeed deadly to learn anything from a heretic.