As the suspense around Plamegate builds and we wait to find out precisely who will be indicted, when, and for what crimes, we ought to step back from the details and remind ourselves about why this is important. Exactly who said what to whom and on what date actually does not matter very much (except to the lawyers). But what does matter is the central truth revealed by the whole sordid affair: that the administration knowingly and willfully lied about why we were going to invade Iraq.
Why, we might ask, did VP Cheney and the gang want to punish or smear or discredit Ambassador Wilson in the first place? Why bother? You don't have to discredit somebody who disagrees (or disagreed) with you about policy. Disagreements happen all the time, and anyway, by the time the administration leaked the name of Wilson's wife, we had already invaded Iraq. You also don't have to smear or threaten somebody who points out that you made a mistake about policy. No one likes to admit mistakes, but we all make them, and the public can be pretty forgiving to political leaders who say "we tried our best, but we were wrong on this one." And on the question of WMDs, the administration could easily have pointed to the fact that it had plenty of company: lots of people, in and out of the administration, thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
No, the nasty impulse to "out" Wilson's wife came from the discomfort of officials who knew they had lied and who feared that their lies were being exposed. Wilson's going public about his trip to Africa would make clear that the administration had not been mistaken but deceitful. Cheney,Rove, Libby, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had acted in bad faith and they knew it. And It was the exposure of their bad faith that was intolerable to them, so intoilerable that they would risk breaking the law to punish a minor official who was speaking the truth.
We can only hope that Cheney, et al's fears of being personally and politically discredited by the exposure of their deceptions will indeed come to pass.