The resignation of CIA Director George Tenet comes on the eve of a Senate committee’s release of a very critical report on intelligence gathering surrounding Iraq’s pre-war “weapons of mass destruction.” Tenet was a very political CIA director, who was eager to skew intelligence to the policy predilections of both Democratic and Republican administrations, and deserves to go. But Tenet’s failures, although great, pale in comparison to those at the high levels of the Pentagon.
The Bush administration is trying to make Tenet a sacrificial lamb for its blundering into an Iraqi quagmire. But that ill-advised military adventure was actually championed by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and their subordinates. Either blinded by preconceived notions of a nefariously dangerous Iraq or cynically citing any evidence that would buttress their case for invasion, these war hawks embarrassed themselves by relying on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi–an Iranian sympathizer and maybe even an Iranian spy. Chalabi, in turn, showed his disloyalty to the United States by divulging to the despotic Islamic regime in Tehran that the United States could read encoded Iranian government transmissions. Chalabi’s shameless and ungrateful action worked against the interests of a U.S. government that had given him countless millions to undermine Saddam and was made possible by the illegal passing of highly classified information to him from his allies in the Bush administration–”most likely from the Pentagon. To better his position in Iraq, Chalabi sold out the United States to curry favor with the Iranian government, the world’s most notorious state sponsor of terrorism. So much for Bush’s “war on terror.”
Because Tenet is a holdover from a Democratic administration, his sacking will relieve pressure on the administration to hold someone accountable for the debacle without angering an already disgruntled conservative base. He’ll need to keep that group mollified in what promises to be a close election in the fall. Since the voters will have a chance to fire the Vice President in November, that leaves Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz to be held accountable in the meantime. Those two so richly deserved to be fired, even ahead of Tenet. But the politicos in the administration know that during an election season, firing either one would be an admission that the president’s Iraq policy was a failure. The Iraq issue will be a major one in the election, and the administration doesn’t want anything to smudge its rosy faÃ§ade that things are getting better there.
If either Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz is personally linked to the prison torture scandal or the leak of ultra-sensitive information to Chalabi, the administration will be forced to hand them a pink slip. But in that event, scandal will have done them in, not a failed Iraq policy. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz exhibited mind blowing arrogance in believing that a much despised United States could invade a sovereign Islamic nation, remove the only force (Saddam’s government) holding a cauldron of ethnic rivalry in check, and socially engineer a fractious society with an unfamiliar culture into a western-style free market democracy. Iraq had no prior experience with either free markets or democracy. Many Middle Eastern scholars raised warning flags about the planned invasion, but the self-assured Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were too busy studying their military chessboard to pay any attention.
To get better results from future government actions, heads should roll when current initiatives turn out to be a disaster. That is what finally did in Tenet. But Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz should also go–”and soon.