A Basic Tenet of Public Life…

…should be that, if you are given a vitally important responsibility and screw it up badly, you should thereafter maintain a discreet and humble silence.
Someone forgot to tell George Tenet. He’s now written a book, which I haven’t read and won’t, in which he apparently whines about all the other people who are to blame for whatever has gone wrong in Iraq, while “taking responsibility” for the CIA’s abysmal performance in the usual modern way: that is, by changing the subject.
Tenet apparently admits, as he must, that the CIA misadvised the White House and Congress about Iraq’s WMD programs. Still, the war wasn’t his fault. He blames the administration, and Dick Cheney in particular, for going to war without a proper debate about the need to do so. He premises this conclusion, apparently, on the fact that “those debates did not happen in the presence of Tenet or other senior CIA officials.” What’s too bad, really, is that discussion of intelligence matters did take place in the presence of Tenet and other CIA officials. We might all have been better off if they had been excluded from the process entirely.
As for Tenet’s claim that there was no debate about whether the war was really necessary, it is ridiculous. The decision to go to war was debated in the White House; it was debated in the U.N.; it was debated in Congress; it was debated on Sunday morning talk shows; it was debated in every tavern in North America. If the decision was wrong, as Tenet apparently believes with the benefit of four years of hindsight, it wasn’t for lack of debate.
It’s been reported that Tenet’s book places the “blame” for the Iraq war mainly on Dick Cheney, perhaps because he feels guilty about that Presidential Medal of Freedom that President Bush gave him. (Is it too late to take it back?) Again, this is absurd. The decision to go war was made by President Bush and authorized by something like three-quarters of the members of the House and Senate. I have high regard for Cheney, but it would take powers bordering on the magical for a Vice President to initiate a war.
Michael Scheuer, who once worked for Tenet, says that the book “seems designed to rehabilitate Tenet in his first home, the Democratic Party.” Perhaps so. But the time when the Democrats really needed Tenet to stab his old boss in the back is long past. At this point, it may not buy him much credit.
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