- Yesterday the chief US intelligence officer, George Tenet,
resigned, leaving himself open to be handed credit for foreign policy screw-ups
that have plagued the Bush administration from its beginning. The best
reading on this by his peers and predecessors is that Tenet did this to
save Bush chances for reelection in November. If it worked, that in itself
would be unfortunate, but the real tragedy of Tenet's action is that it
takes public attention away from the real flaws in Bush team leadership.
- There are several ways to view what has happened to our
country and its fortunes on the Bush watch. One is Bush could argue that
since he took office our country has faced challenges that exceed even
exceptional human talents. That, however, is pure nonsense. Our country
has been in deeper trouble with fewer side effects. A second scenario is
because of faulty intelligence our leadership did not have enough facts
to make good decisions. But one of the chief marks of a good executive
is the ability to see when he or she does not know enough to make a decision.
A second mark is taking time to solve the information problem before plunging
ahead. A third scenario is that dire emergencies forced Bush and his team
to make decisions quickly on the basis of what they knew at the time. That
scenario is true for virtually all emergencies. But there has been only
one "time is of the essence" emergency in the whole Bush administration.
That was during the actual run of the 9-11 attacks, and the Bush team
failed to respond on key matters such as deploying fighter aircraft to
head off the hijacked airplanes.
- To be fair, if our fighter aircraft had been deployed
on 9-11, their use to shoot down the hijacked planes would not have been
a simple choice. While intelligence clearly existed that terrorists had
considered such action, up to that point hijackers had not used an airplane
as a guided missile. If the planes had been blown out of the sky before
any of them struck their targets, the President would have faced the charge
that he needlessly killed several hundred passengers. Even so, after the
first plane hit the World Trade Center the second plane might have been
stopped, if our fighters had been in position.
- Most of the time the management of our country's affairs
is not rocket science. The operational details of national management are
spread over thousands of issues and thousands of decision makers. Presidents
often can do little about them except to read the results at the margins
and take corrective actions that are within the government domain. Once
in a while exceptional judgment is needed to deal with a complex set of
issues. But the real failures of the Bush team are not due to issues that
exceeded his IQ. They have been, as a growing number of critics now point
out, ideological decisions taken in spite of the facts. Decision makers
simply ignored the flaws in intelligence.
- The basic rule that should be written over the door at
Langley, the CIA headquarters complex, is "You can never know everything
about anything." The big sport in Washington for some time has been
comparing notes on who knew enough to connect the dots. But in the context
of complex and fast-breaking events it is easy to confuse the dots with
bird droppings. And if the spaces between dots are longer than patience
allows, it is tempting to fill in the blanks with one's own bs.
- All governments hide things. Successful businesses generally
do too. Families have numerous things they will not put on the street.
Those hidden things often concern national, business or family interests
that are critical to stability, finances, growth, opportunity, reputation,
self-esteem, et cetera. It is not easy to learn what people do not want
you to know. It is even more difficult when all you may have is a glimpse
of players, capabilities or intentions. What the Bush team has done more
often than most is confuse the personal interests and ambitions of the
players, especially Bush and his neocon advisers, with the national interests
of the country, and they have overstepped or ignored facts or weaknesses
in information that collided with their objectives. The chief mischief-maker
in this has been the neocon agenda as twisted and turned by hard right
preferences and as distorted by catering to Israel.
- Recognition that this game has come a cropper may drive
the current Washington scene. But George Tenet's resignation and today's
reactions to it tell us that the Bush team is neither willing nor able
to fix the problem. The other side of the blame game is blame avoidance.
The White House hope, as several commentators have noted, is that piling
the blame on faulty intelligence will help George W. Bush come up smelling
like a rose in November.
- If that occurs, the collective fault lies with us. We
the people will have let ourselves be bamboozled once again into believing
that Bush is blameless and that he can and will run our country in our
- The problem was not faulty intelligence. It was making
faulty use of what was actually known, proceeding undeterred by what was
not known, or acting hastily out of ignorance in pursuit of preference.
Faulty intelligence in this case means faulty judgment, bad smarts. Can
our country afford another four years of it?
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome comments at email@example.com