Better Never Than Late
By MAUREEN DOWD
Instead of George Tenet teaching at Georgetown University, George Tenet should be taught at Georgetown University.
There should be a course on government called “The Ultimate Staff Guy.” A morality saga about how much harm you can do as a go-along, get-along guy, spending so much time trying not to alienate the big cheese so he doesn’t can you that you miss the moment where you have to can him or lose your soul.
If Colin Powell and George Tenet had walked out of the administration in February 2003 instead of working together on that tainted U.N. speech making the bogus case for war, they might have turned everything around. They might have saved the lives and limbs of all those brave U.S. kids and innocent Iraqis, not to mention our world standing and national security.
It would certainly have been harder for timid Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards, to back up the administration if two members of the Bush inner circle had broken away to tell an increasingly apparent truth: that Dick Cheney, Rummy and the neocons were feverishly pushing a naïve president into invading Iraq with junk facts.
General Powell counted on Slam Dunk — a slender reed — to help him rid the speech of most of the garbage Mr. Cheney’s office wanted in it. Slam, of course, tried to have it both ways, helping the skeptical secretary of state and pandering to higher bosses. Afterward, when the speech turned out to be built on a no-legged stool, General Powell was furious at Slam. But they both share blame: they knew better. They put their loyalty to a runaway White House ahead of their loyalty to a fearful public.
Slam Dunk’s book tour is mesmerizing, in a horrifying way.
“The irony of the whole situation is, is he was bluffing,” Slam said of Saddam on “Larry King Live” on Monday night, adding, “And he didn’t know we weren’t.” Mr. He-Man Tenet didn’t understand the basics of poker, much less Arab culture. It never occurred to him that Saddam might feign strength to flex muscles at his foes in the Middle East? Slam couldn’t take some of that $40 billion we spend on intelligence annually and get a cultural profile of the dictator before we invaded?
If he was really running around with his hair on fire, knowing the Osama danger, shouldn’t he have set off alarms when W. and Vice went after Saddam instead of the real threat?
Many people in Washington snorted at his dramatic cloak-and-dagger description of himself to Larry King: “I worked in the shadows my whole life.”
He was not Jason Bourne, lurking in dangerous locales. He risked life and limb on Capitol Hill among the backstabbers and cutthroat bureaucrats — from whom he obviously learned a lot. He spent nine years on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, four as staff director. When Bill Clinton appointed him to run the C.I.A. in 1997, the profile of him in The Times was headlined “A Time to Reap the Rewards of Being Loyal.” It observed that old colleagues had said “he had an ability to make many different superiors feel at ease with him.”
Six former C.I.A. officials sent Mr. Tenet a letter via his publisher — no wonder we’re in trouble if spooks can’t figure out the old Head Spook’s home address — berating him for pretending he wrote his self-serving book partly to defend the honor of the agency and demanding that “at least half” of the profits be given to wounded soldiers and the families of dead soldiers (there needs to be a Son of Slam law). One of the signers, Larry Johnson, told CNN that Slam “is profiting from the blood of American soldiers.”
“By your silence you helped build the case for war,” the former C.I.A. officials wrote. “You betrayed the C.I.A. officers who collected the intelligence that made it clear that Saddam did not pose an imminent threat. You betrayed the analysts who tried to withstand the pressure applied by Cheney and Rumsfeld.”
They also said, “Although C.I.A. officers learned in late September 2002 from a high-level member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle that Iraq had no past or present contact with Osama bin Laden and that the Iraqi leader considered Bin Laden an enemy ... you still went before Congress in February 2003 and testified that Iraq did indeed have links to Al Qaeda. ...
“In the end you allowed suspect sources, like Curveball, to be used based on very limited reporting and evidence.” They concluded that “your tenure as head of the C.I.A. has helped create a world that is more dangerous. ... It is doubly sad that you seem still to lack an adequate appreciation of the enormous amount of death and carnage you have facilitated.”
Thus endeth the lesson in our class on “The Ultimate Staff Guy.” If you have something deadly important to say, say it when it matters, or just shut up and slink off.