I've followed the Plame Affair since it first broke in 2003. It is the equivalent of the Watergate break in, except that it has uncovered something far, far more deadly. With Nixon, we had a dirty-tricks master trying to figure out how to screw over his electoral opponents. With Plame, we have a dedicated insular group within the government trying to run it to expand their personal power over, well, the world. Plame points to WHIG, and WHIG exposes the key players - led by Cheney - who have been jockeying for unfettered and unregulated control over the largest arms stash in the world, the US military, and the largest piggy bank in the world, the US treasury.
They've been trying to gain control of this since Nixon's downfall. They got a good toehold during Reagan, but overreached with Iran-Contra and had to regroup. It is absolutely not a mistake that we're dealing with the exact same people, plus a little window dressing courtesy of the Mayberry Machiavellis. The W loyalists are the smoke screen for the Cheneyites. W wants to have the limelight and Rove wants to be known as a kingmaker, but both are bumblers. Compare Rove and Libby in this scandal. Rove joined cheerfully and loudly in the Wilson bashing, then has tried to excuse himself with typical smoke blowing and obfuscation. Libby went about things quietly, used prime news sources, and set things up to entagle his chief leak source in his own criminality (if I go down, so do you, Judy). Rove wants attention. Libby wants power.
It makes sense to look at what I like to call the subject-object agreement: what is the subject of the discussion and what is the object of having it? For some time, the conventional wisdom has been that the subject was Wilson and the object was to initmidate White House critics. I agree with this to some degree, and say that this is clearly in keeping with the Rovian modus operandi of sliming critics. It fits into the Swift Boat style.
Except it was unnecessary. By the time Wilson's op-ed came out, indeed by the time any of his significant statements came out, the Iraq invasion had already occured. Once the order to invade came, it was too late for any critic to stop it. Perhaps they could help to make the war "unpopular", but it never was very popular to begin with. So, while there was a certain satisfaction to slamming Wilson (using sexual/gender role humiliation, another favorite from Rove's bag of tricks), it was not needed. From a strategic point of view, it would have been better simply to cast Wilson as a partisan.
But what if the subject was CIA "disloyalty" to the Cheney administration, and the object was to intimidate the Company into going along with what the WHIG wanted? Then the outing of Plame takes on a different cast, and is to be laid at the feet of a different cast of characters. If the only thing that came out was Plame's name - or even just that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked in the CIA and got him the trip to Niger - then the object would be punishing Wilson, but the other key part of the information was the name of Plame's front company, Brewster-Jennings, and what they were involved in, WMD tracking and intervention. Revelation of that information crippled a significant operating group in the CIA and endangered operatives and informants around the globe. The damage was to the CIA and the message was unmistakable - "You think you can thwart our desires? Go fuck yourself."
The real fight here in the Plame Affair is not the press versus the White House, nor even Joe Wilson against the pro-WH press, though it certainly encompasses those possibilities. This is a battle between the CIA and other professional Intel groups against the Cheneyites, much like Watergate at base was a battle between the CIA and the Nixonians. It is not a mistake that the one reporter who is actually in legal jeopardy is Judy Miller, who is up to her eyeballs in the WMD circus and a fellow traveler (if not a full-fledged co-conspirator) in selling the Iraq War.