Tuesday, May 01, 2007


A Tale of Tenets

Glenn Reynolds debated between two potential sets of “last words,” linking to them both at Instapundit. Reynolds suspects that Tenet may want to opt for the first, contained in commentary from Roger Simon:

My conclusion: an inept organization was led by a stupefyingly inept man.

Simon prefaces his comment with a pretty clear-cut case of fabrication in Tenet’s narrative, in which he claims that Richard Perle on 9/12/01 told him, “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility.”

The only problem being that Perle was stuck in France between 9/11 and 9/15 of 2001, until normal air traffic was allowed to resume after 9/11. This according to some basic research, reported in the Weekly Standard.

Ouch, as they say. Reynold thinks Simon’s take more generous by another he mentions,

A Loser's History, as critiqued by the nettlesome but always entertaining Christopher Hitchens.

The Weekly Standard piece written by Bill Kristol and linked by Simon includes other details of Tenet’s inaccuracy, in which Perle mischaracterizes several aspects of the August 2002 presentation by Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith. Tenet is in plentiful company on that score, as Senator Levin and his associates have taken misrepresentation of the supposedly “cooked intelligence” to the level of high farce.

Tenet describes Feith’s staff as “utterly out of its depth,” and dismisses the main briefer Tina Shelton as a “naval reservist.” Tenet reports that Shelton claimed the case proving Saddam was involved in 9/11 was “open and shut.”

Levin has repeated and extended these claims as well, one has to wonder who feeds him all his best lines. Here’s the problem for both Tenet and his would-be friends for better days to come: the staffer Tenet maligns has a twenty year career as a DIA Analyst. Shelton and Feith deny the statement was ever made, and others confirm the unlikelihood that such a claim would be made.

That’s all stand operating procedure for political hacks and opportunists in any case. I doubt many people other than committed partisans against the war would really look to Tenet as authoritative, in any case.

Hitchens delves deeper, and slams Tenet with rhetorical two-by-fours that Tenet himself helpfully provides, first via Woodward, and now in his own book of fables:

It's difficult to see why George Tenet would be so incautious as to write his own self-justifying apologia, let alone give it the portentous title At the Center of the Storm. There is already a perfectly good pro-Tenet book written by a man who knows how to employ the overworked term storm. Bob Woodward's 2002 effort, Bush at War, was, in many of its aspects, almost dictated by George Tenet.


I only mean to say that it was a very favorably disposed chronicler who wrote this, in describing Tenet's reaction on the terrible morning of Sept. 11, 2001:

"This has bin Laden all over it," Tenet told Boren. "I've got to go." He also had another reaction, one that raised the real possibility that the CIA and the FBI had not done all that could have been done to prevent the terrorist attack. "I wonder," Tenet said, "if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training."

Notice the direct quotes that make it clear who is the author of this brilliant insight. And then pause for a second. The author is almost the only man who could have known of Zacarias Moussaoui and his co-conspirators—the very man who positively knew they were among us, in flight schools, and then decided to leave them alone. In his latest effusion, he writes: "I do know one thing in my gut. Al-Qaeda is here and waiting." Well, we all know that much by now. But Tenet is one of the few who knew it then, and not just in his "gut" but in his small brain, and who left us all under open skies. His ridiculous agency, supposedly committed to "HUMINT" under his leadership, could not even do what John Walker Lindh had done—namely, infiltrate the Taliban and the Bin Laden circle. It's for this reason that the CIA now has to rely on torturing the few suspects it can catch, a policy, incidentally, that Tenet's book warmly defends.

I wouldn’t ever want to get on the outs with Hitchens. I’m glad he’s on the pro-victory side of our Hundred Years War Long War? War against Terrorists [not to be called the Global War on Terror]? Here he concludes:

A highly irritating expression in Washington has it that "hindsight is always 20-20." Would that it were so. History is not a matter of hindsight and is not, in fact, always written by the victors. In this case, a bogus history is being offered by a real loser whose hindsight is cockeyed and who had no foresight at all.

Talk about irritating expressions, I thought of the famous quotation, often attributed online (mistakenly) to John F. Kennedy, but actually written by Thomas Campbell in The Battle of the Baltic (courtesy World of Quotes):

Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

Based on the hindsight criticisms of retired Generals and Clinton-era apparatchiks, defeat is less an orphan than the bastard child of George W. Bush, carried to term by a hapless and helpless bureaucracy, military, and American public. In defeat, it turns out, there will be hundreds of neighborhood gossips suggesting they told the poor unfortunate girl to stay away from the cad who seeded the foundling.

Rich Lowry offered running excellent commentary on his speed read of the Tenet book over at The Corner yesterday. He condensed his running impressions in an article, up at NRO.

He summarizes Tenet as a man of passion:

George Tenet is a man of passion. One of the things he is most passionate about is never seeing unflattering portrayals of himself in the press. Hence he managed to be the second-longest-serving CIA director in history, despite presiding over massive intelligence failures.

And yet, as Lowry notes, Tenet’s account of the run-up to war in Iraq thoroughly debunks the “Bush lied us into war” mythology:

In a book that is hard on Bush-administration hawks, Tenet writes, “Intelligence professionals did not try to tell policymakers what they wanted to hear, nor did the policymakers lean on us to influence outcomes.” He notes that the CIA underestimated Saddam’s progress toward a nuke before the first Persian Gulf War. That surely colored Dick Cheney’s view and “had a profound impact on my views and those of many of our analysts.”

Tenet argues that WMDs weren’t really that important to the administration’s case for war. He’s right that it wasn’t the only reason, but it was central. Tenet writes that it was believed if Saddam had to produce his own fissile material, he might produce a nuclear weapon in the “2007 to 2009” period (in other words, right about now). If he got the fissile material from elsewhere, “it would not be hard for the regime to make a weapon within a year.”

For an American president considering that information in the post-9/11 environment, the case for military action against Saddam had to be close to a ... well, choose your own basketball metaphor.

Tenet’s remembrances are at least accurate enough on the pre-war Intelligence, analysis, and leader assessments that made the vote to authorize war the right decision then. It should silence the “Bush lied” and “cooked intelligence” lies perpetrated by Sen. Levin, Moveon.org, and other tinfoil proponents, but it won’t, surely.

Apropos of nothing, I note the unusually ironic name of today’s protagonist in the Self as Unfairly Discredited Hero fable.

From Wiktionary, definition for tenet:

An opinion, belief, or principle held to be true by someone or especially an organization. From the Latin, Verb form, Second conjugation, “he/she/it has or holds.”

The CIA as an organization clearly held to the tenets that made them blind to secular state sponsors of terror as cooperating with Islamic terrorists. This set up the classic confrontation with Feith and Rumsfeld, played out in battles of press leaks and junkets to Nigeria.

George Tenet, a man who surely maintains a tenet about self, would do better for himself if he let go. However much he tries to serve himself, in rewriting 9/11 and the war against terrorists [not to be called the Global War on terror] as a tragedy with him as neglected sage, he only serves to remind others how dreadfully bad a Director he was.

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