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He Was a Hack
June 10, 2004
By Raul Groom

"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf." — The Fool, King Lear

As I sit in the cab of my stinking, gas-guzzling monstrosity of a rental car, breathing the noxious mix of exhaust and sewage that prevails in the streets of Olde Towne Alexandria on a Friday evening, a crazed gunman is rampaging around a sleepy little Colorado town in a bulldozer, trying to knock down the library. Utter madness, of course, but we would all be well advised to get used to it. June is here, and with it the savage weirdness that grips this country as the days stretch out like caramel and the sun's gentle spring rays begin to crash into our bodies at a more authoritative angle, causing many of us, it's sad to say, to lose our minds entirely.

And who do we find getting a nice jump on the summer insanity but world-renowned Early Bird George W. Bush? White House aides spent the week whispering over Kir Royale in dark Capitol Hill bars, wondering why their fearless leader, once a firm believer in regular sleeping habits, has taken to wandering the halls of the West Wing at night, singing Methodist hymns and jabbering on about Nixon's ghost.

Just as things were coming to a head and folks were wondering if perhaps the President didn't need to see someone, Boy George got into a shouting match with his CIA Director, and when Tenet wouldn't back down, Bush sent him packing. At least that's what's being leaked to the vaguely disreputable Capitol Hill Blue by folks who are in a position to do such things. If that's really what happened, Tenet can be commended, in a twisted way, for prudently jumping at the chance to get off the ship of state just as Cheney and his hapless first mate prepare to crash it into an onrushing iceberg and drown everyone aboard. Of course, the mainstream press is trying very hard to pretend that the timing of Tenet's resignation makes sense as anything except the rash flailings of a monstrously unfit and increasingly unstable Chief Executive, but at press time no one had provided a convincing alternative version of the events leading to Tenet's ignominious departure.

I use that word with great confidence, Dear Reader, for while the official particulars of Tenet's resignation have yet to be established, the ignominy of his exit is not in doubt. Kennedy once said of Nixon - prematurely, as it turned out, though eventually even more accurately than JFK could have ever realized - "He went out like he came in. No class." It could just as easily be said of Tenet that he went out like he came in - a useless tub of guts whose only real talent was deflecting political heat, however temporarily, from the man at whose pleasure he served.

One could almost see Tenet's son cringing with disgust as his father nodded in the lad's direction while delivering his final self-serving salvo of lies, alleging that the real reason for his departure was so that he could finally "be a great dad" to the high school senior, who will be leaving for college in about two months. Let it never be said of George Tenet that he did not know how to shut the corral gate after the horses were already gone.

In that sense, Tenet's hilariously hackneyed and half-assed excuse for resigning his post as the world's most powerful spymaster was a fitting epitaph to a career that began and ended with everyone trying pitifully to pretend that there was anything at all about the situation that was not nakedly and acerbically political. Despite the generous treatment Tenet's CIA tenure is currently receiving in the press, history will likely record that most if not all of the successes that the intelligence community notched during the last seven years were achieved not because of Tenet but in spite of him. From the first, and to the last, he was a hack.

Perhaps it is unfair to blame Tenet for the fact that in the months leading up to September 11th, he was unable to raise sufficient alarm among the single-minded, Iraq-obsessed denizens of the Bush White House to mobilize the forces that would have been necessary to short-circuit the terrorist attack that killed almost three thousand people. Perhaps it is too harsh to hold him accountable for a situation in Afghanistan where the U.S.-backed government cannot function due to the lack of any coherent command network in the country. Perhaps he is not truly culpable for the reality that the United States invaded a sovereign nation in the most volatile region in the world without a shred of hard evidence that any of the stated pretexts for the war were actually based in fact.

But his high-profile exit at the kickoff of the true professional political season makes obvious what he could have and should have done at any of these moments in his regrettable and forgettable tenure as U.S. Director of Central Intelligence under George W. Bush. When Bush and Cheney were too obsessed with Iraq to listen to reason in early 2001, Tenet could have resigned in protest, and been remembered as a visionary and a hero. Indeed, the FBI's counter-terrorism chief John O'Neill took this very action in August 2001, leaving his post after trying unsuccessfully to convince the administration that Osama bin Laden should remain a high-priority focal point of U.S. intelligence gathering. Tenet needn't even have gone the extra mile, as O'Neill did, being martyred in the September 11th attacks when a plane struck his Manhattan office building.

When the White House refused to pay sufficient attention to evidence that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan was deteriorating, Tenet could have resigned and worked to help elect some congressmen who might have pressured Bush to follow through. And most of all, when Tenet saw that his "slam dunk case" against Saddam had in fact evaporated into the dry Iraqi air, he should have resigned and apologized to the world.

He could have resigned. He should have resigned. By leaving now, whatever the specific circumstances of his resignation, he becomes just another rat deserting the sinking ship that is the Bush administration, and for that he deserves his fate - obscurity, humiliation, and ruin. No one can stand between a man and his harvest. Tenet's lack of vision had many grave consequences for the nation and for the world, but in the end, the one that did the most damage to him personally is the most inexplicable - he could not see that in a confrontation between his porcine friends in high places and his lupine charges in low ones, it would be the wolves, and not the pigs, who would carry the day.

Satisfied as we may be at having disposed of Tenet, consigning him not so much to the dustbin of history but to its outhouse, we are faced with the much more unsettling question - the implications for the rest of us. What will be the effect of Tenet's cowardly and dishonest flight? The war between the CIA and the neoconservative core inside the White House has escalated in recent weeks, with the CIA finally bringing low the man who stood, in a sense, at the head of the neoconservative plan for the Middle East since the blueprint was first drawn up by Cheney and Rumsfeld during the first Bush administration.

With Chalabi out of the picture, Iraq's interim government is now under the control of CIA favorite Ayed Alawi, whose first major address to the Iraqi people, which focused on talking up the hugely unpopular presence of American and British troops in the country, was titled "Please, Please Do Not Blow Me Up." Suddenly the situation on the ground in Iraq is much more interesting. Rumsfeld's Pentagon, which has until now run the entire Iraq operation with an iron fist, finds itself without a direct line to the ear of the new head of Iraq's transitional authority at the very moment when the future of Iraqi representative government is about to be decided.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Patrick Fitzgerald is calmly and fastidiously putting the finishing touches on a grand jury investigation of the Bush administration's involvement in burning deep cover CIA operative Valerie Plame. It is this and only this development that has Bush and Cheney feeling as if they were perched atop a leaky oil drum above a raging bonfire. Cheney has already been interviewed in the probe, though he was not under oath, and no one is yet saying what exactly happened during the Q&A.

The only thing that is known is that shortly after Cheney got through with his obligation to the Plame grand jury, Bush consulted outside counsel, a move that struck just about everyone in Washington as a pretty ominous sign. The White House was not particularly deft in deflecting speculation that perhaps this development meant that our head of state really might have something very serious to hide from prosecutors, and that the secret is related to Bush's knowledge of the actions of the Vice President's office.

Tenet, weak and pitiful though he was, had until now acted as a sort of firebreak between the growing conflagration of anger in the CIA ranks and the increasingly dry, crackling bundle of sticks that is the Bush White House. With Tenet gone, it's only a matter of time before the place goes up and reduces the whole gang down to charcoal.

Indeed, though it pains me to break it to all of the other political junkies in the audience, we may be about the witness a premature end to the competitive portion of this summer's presidential race. If, as I suspect will be the case, Fitzgerald files an indictment in the Plame case this month, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and company are essentially finished, regardless of whether any of them actually glimpse the inside of a jail cell. No one survives a tussle with the spooks, though we have certainly not seen the last self-styled Machiavelli who'll get it in his head to try.

Bush himself will come out clean enough, of course - if there is one fact to be gleaned from the extensive and disgusting history of The Family, it is that the rules do not apply to them. But with his handlers and leg breakers spending the next six months fending off Pat Fitzgerald and his rabid band of subpoena-toting do-gooders, Little George has no chance of being reelected. Kerry will win a yawner, and those of us addicts who can't get through a 4-divisible year without a mudslinging, hateful horse race to watch will have to content ourselves with the handful of contests that will decide control of the U.S. Senate.

Shakespeare got it right, you know - what brings us down, in the end, is never some outside factor, but is merely a manifestation of those aspects of our personalities that we have not yet learned to control. In Cheney's case, a near-constant need for revenge, treachery and endless money was always bound to do him in, but with Dubya, the reasons are a bit more complicated, and more than a little sad.

Like Tenet, Little George lacked the vision to see what was happening in front of his face. But even if he had seen it, would he have had the wisdom to know that his conniving, plotting "friends" would eventually turn upon their blue-blooded benefactor, casting him into a swamp of recrimination and attrition for which his comfortable, responsibility-exempt career cannot possibly have prepared him? Bush is no fan of Shakespeare, and has never had much time for the common-sense advice of lowly fools anyhow.

Thus there is a lesson in Little George's impending demise for all of us. In clinging only to what was familiar to him - a gang of avaricious, conscienceless sycophants - Dubya only made himself miserable and wretched. And like Falstaff, that other famous slacker, the only thing that will protect him now is a kind of alacrity in sinking.

Visit Raul Groom's blog at

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