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U.S.: Little Foreign Policy Impact Seen From CIA Probe Indictment

Libby Lewis yesterday (epa) By Kathleen Moore and Robert McMahon

Prague, 29 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It's believed to be the first time in some 130 years that a sitting White House official has been indicted.

President George W. Bush's first reaction -- this is serious, but we have a job to do. And he had some words of support for Libby, who says he's innocent.

"Today, I accepted the resignation of 'Scooter' Libby. Scooter has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country. He served the vice president and me through extraordinary times in our nation's history," Bush said.

Those extraordinary times include the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq two years ago. Libby played a key role in building the case for war -- and in justifying the invasion after no weapons of mass destruction were found.

He was described as "Cheney's Cheney," a measure of his influence on a man considered one of the most powerful U.S. vice presidents in recent history.

So experts say this is not good news for the White House. It could put new scrutiny on the U.S. decision to go to war, and on troops' continued presence in Iraq. Political rivals are likely to seek to revive the debate.

Little International Impact

But analysts say they don't expect much impact, if any, on the future direction of U.S. foreign policy.

Michelle Flournoy, a foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Libby is replaceable.

"It's a problem for the administration in terms of perceptions of its integrity and how it manages and uses information -- how it did manage and use information -- in paving the way for war in Iraq," Flournoy says. "And so I think it certainly will only increase the heat if you will but I don't think it will actually change the direction of U.S. foreign policy in any meaningful way."

Observers say previous presidents have struggled to conduct foreign policy in the midst of a domestic crisis. The most serious of these in modern times was the 1970s Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon.

But they say this CIA leak probe is less serious by comparison.

Michael O'Hanlon, an expert on U.S. security policy at the Brookings Institution, says Libby's actions may have been criminal. But he adds that "I don't think it was a crime to the detriment of the nation's basic national security interest or democracy the way Watergate was. I think it was a much lower level scandal."

But could Bush's administration be handicapped, for example if Bush's prestige abroad gets a knock?

Robert McGeehan, an expert in U.S. affairs at London's Chatham House, says "No," adding that the controversy that led to the investigation is old news.

"It was part of the build-up to the war, did Saddam [Hussein] try to buy the ingredients for an atomic weapon. It certainly is yesterday's news and yesterday's topic. I don't see any current or future implication right now," McGeehan says.

Libby was indicted for perjury, obstructing justice, and making false statements during the investigation into who gave to the media the identity of a covert CIA agent.

Valerie Plame's name appeared in the press shortly after her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, cast doubt on U.S. administration claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa.

Wilson said the disclosure was revenge for his criticism.

Libby is accused of lying about when he found out about Plame's identity and gave information to reporters. If he's found guilty, he could face up to 30 years in jail.