I spent the day in Chicago. It was a beautiful day all over the Midwest, and very welcome after an unusually cold and rainy spring.
I didn’t learn of George Tenet’s resignation until I returned home tonight. I have no idea, of course, what prompted it, but I’m struck once again by how cynical many people are about other peoples’ motives. Despite having, myself, a somewhat high-pressure job, I don’t understand how anyone can stand to occupy as demanding a position as CIA director for seven years. That would be true even if the job did not entail being summoned to Capitol Hill periodically for photo ops with moronic Senators like Mark Dayton. So, when Tenet says that he is resigning for personal reasons, I see no reason to doubt him. It is remarkable that capable people are still willing to serve long terms in such thankless positions.
The left is taking great pleasure in Tenet’s demise. Far-left outlets like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have rushed into print assessments like this one, titled “Resignation Won’t Solve Bush Woes:”
[T]he agency has taken too many hits for virtually any director to weather.
The CIA, along with the FBI, has been criticized for failing to “connect the dots” leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. Tenet reportedly told President Bush that intelligence offered a “slam-dunk case” that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. That same intelligence reportedly misled Secretary of State Colin Powell to overstate, at least, the WMD case before the United Nations Security Council. Serious questions are being explored over the CIA’s connection to interrogation-related abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Now there are allegations that Ahmad Chalabi received — and shared — information on the United States having broken Iran’s intelligence code.
Former CIA chief Stansfield Turner said it was unlikely the resignation was Tenet’s idea. “I don’t think he would pull the plug on President Bush in the midst of an election cycle without being asked by President Bush to do that.”
It is far more likely that — in the midst of an election cycle — Bush would pull the plug on Tenet. But the issues raised by 9/11, a nation led into war by shoddy intelligence and inhumane treatment of prisoners will not be solved with a single resignation.
No, of course not. They will be solved only by President Bush’s defeat in November, which the Post-Intelligencer fervently wishes for. As for Stansfield Turner, he has no more idea than I do what led to Tenet’s resignation. He is one of a long line of former military and intelligence officials who served in Democratic administrations and therefore receive a respectful hearing in the nation’s press, no matter how discredited they may deserve to be.
Here is what Turner had to say in the immediate aftermath of September 11:
Much depends on how we conduct ourselves at home and abroad: When our foreign policy is based on selfish interests, bias, or domestic political concerns, it may unnecessarily make us a target for the wrath of others. On the other hand, if it has a moral and humanitarian thrust, it should garner respect. …[I]f our domestic policies evidence a similar morality and humanity, they may discourage disaffected groups from turning to terrorism rather than working within the system.
Yes! By following liberal domestic policies we can encourage terrorists to “work within the system”! And this man was once Director of Central Intelligence. Like all good Democrats, Turner has infinite faith in lawyers:
Legal recourse is the option most compatible with American values. Legal recourse against terrorists falls into two categories: apprehending terrorists, and isolating states that support terrorism… Bringing culprits to justice is an important step in curtailing terrorist acts. Despite much folklore to the contrary, most terrorists like to live–and outside of jail. Isolating a nation by means of political condemnation can be telling over the long run, though it seldom has an immediate impact.
What bothers me most, I guess, is that the liberals who are now gleeful over Tenet’s resignation are the same people who gutted the CIA in the aftermath of Vietnam, who made it almost impossible to conduct covert operations, and who (like Turner) deliberately de-emphasized espionage and human intelligence. Here is how Edward Epstein characterizes Turner’s tenure as CIA director:
In the summer of 1977, after setting in motion a plan to eliminate 820 positions in the espionage branch (and notifying the affected case officers by a computerized form letter), Turner reported to President Carter that “the espionage branch was [now] being run ethically and soundly.” This was no doubt what the President wanted to hear from his Director of Central Intelligence.
[Turner’s] real design for the CIA involved effectively abolishing espionage, except as an ad hoc supplement in certain prescribed circumstances, and replacing it with “technical collection,” which is information gathered by electronic and image interceptors in satellites, ships in international waters, and other remotely-based platforms. This is a fully understandable preference: espionage, done by human agents who are vulnerable to arrest, is inherently dirty, unethical, unreliable, and potentially explosive; technical collection, performed by machines, is clean, legal, reliable, and invulnerable to scandal.
So the very people who neutered the CIA are now gleeful because George Tenet, who did his best to repair the consequences of their folly by rebuilding the intelligence-gathering and operational capabilities of the agency, was left holding the bag for September 11.
As the Trunk would say: George Tenet, RIP.