- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

Tenet resigns

Sometimes you cannot quite believe the extent of George W. Bush’s loyalty to his staff, even when they have failed him and the country again and again. George Tenet presided over the intelligence failure that ensured that the United States was blindsided by September 11. Then he informed Congress that it would take the CIA five years to become able to protect America. He also provided critical intelligence that was used by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations to buttress the case for war against Saddam Hussein. Mr. Tenet apparently described the evidence as “slam-dunk.” It wasn’t. It was, in fact, the biggest diplomatic and political embarrassment for the United States in years.

To go out on a limb, as we rightly did before the Iraq war, requires that you be 100 percent sure of your case. We weren’t, and the CIA is responsible. For all this, the president was able to say yesterday: “George Tenet is the kind of public servant you like to work with. He’s strong, he’s resolute. He’s served his nation as the director for seven years. He has been a strong and able leader at the agency. He’s been a strong leader in the war on terror.”

Let me put this gently: Who in their right mind can believe that? The president was elected to protect and advance what he calls “the responsibility era.” Yet the only people from whom he never demands responsibility are the people who work for him.

Conservative defections

The fascinating thing about the slide in Mr. Bush’s support in the polls is that much of it has come from Republicans defecting. The New Republic’s Ryan Lizza, citing liberal pollster Stan Greenberg, points out that the biggest slippage is among rural voters:

“These rural voters, referred to as ‘Country Folk,’ represent 21 percent of the electorate. In 2000, 63 percent of Country Folk backed Bush. Yet today, only 58 percent support him and only 51 percent want to continue in Bush’s direction; 47 percent want to go in a ‘significantly different direction.’

“An overall drop of 5 points in the Republican presidential vote among these voters may not seem like a major shift, but in a country at parity it could provide the margin of victory. This impact is amplified by where the Country Folk live: they are concentrated in the battleground states, like Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Minnesota.”

But why are these Bush-base voters defecting? My own hunch is that these voters do not like a massive increase in government spending, a huge jump in public debt and a postwar policy in Iraq that seemed blindsided by reality. But here’s my other belief, and it’s about Abu Ghraib. The images from that prison shamed America in deep and inchoate ways. Traditional conservative patriots in particular were appalled. The awful truth is that this president presided over one of the most damaging blows to American prestige and self-understanding in recent history. He may not have been directly responsible; but it was on his watch. And he ensured that no one high up in his administration took the fall for the horror.

I think traditional patriots were saddened, shocked and horrified by the abuse and, to a lesser extent, the Bush administration’s self-protective response to it. For me, at least, even though I am fully committed to the war, the images from Abu Ghraib are indelibly part of my memories of the Bush administration. I cannot be the only one.

Just a question

On the other hand, the objective state of affairs in Iraq is surely encouraging. If someone had said in February 2003 that by June 2004 Saddam would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that Ayatollah Sistani would have blessed the new government; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with military deaths (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no weapons of mass destruction had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out … well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success. And you’d be right.

Yes, there are enormous challenges; and yes, so much more could have been achieved without incompetence, infighting and occasional inhumanity. But it’s worth acknowledging that, with a little perspective, our current gloom is overblown. Stocks in Iraq have been way oversold. I even regret some minor sells myself. Now watch the media do all it can to accentuate the negative.

Christians, Abu Ghraib

Christianity Today magazine recently lamented how few leading Christian groups publicly protested the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Money quote: “It would seem that American soldiers … at Abu Ghraib failed on at least two accounts — working counter to the purpose of peace, and if some reports are true, failing to disobey orders that no Christian could in good conscience follow.”

That much is an understatement. But I didn’t hold my breath for some leaders of the religious right to make a fuss. When you’re primarily devoted to the pursuit of worldly power, it is hard to criticize its abuses.

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