CIA Director Porter Goss has been criticized for telling Time that he had an “excellent” idea of Osama bin Laden’s location, while inferring that U.S. respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty prevented action to capture or kill him. Now, I tend to believe Mr. Goss’s statement was part of a concerted U.S. government effort to press Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to do the always undefined “more” to eliminate bin Laden. Mr. Goss’ comments followed harsh criticism of Pakistan’s inaction by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and in a volley from the U.S. gadfly ambassadorinKabul,Zalmay Khalilzad, now on his way to Iraq to replicate the disaster he created in Afghanistan.
Though Mr. Goss’ words are part of Washington’s never-ending quest to find foreigners to do its dirty work, the CIA chief did do a great, even heroic service for Americans by saying the U.S. government had too much respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty to kill bin Laden on its territory. Mr. Goss’ statement is the most frank to date that the U.S. leaders care more about currying international opinion than protecting American lives. While some say Mr. Goss’ statement was a clumsy mistake, I see it as a warning to Americans from a man of integrity who has seen both parties’ leaders refuse to act to defend Americans when given the opportunity.
The truth is that under both Bill Clinton and President Bush the U.S. government has valued the good opinion of the world over American lives. Mr. Clinton and his merry band of national security advisers cum economic hucksters — Sandy Berger, Leon Fuerth, Richard Clarke, George Tenet, et al. — always assigned Americans to the gallows if they could preen before international opinion, sell huge amounts of weapons to Arab tyrants or close an oil deal somewhere in the world. No need to take my word, simply give a close read to the September 11 commission report to see the number of chances the Clintonites had to kill or capture bin Laden in 1998-99 that’s right, 1998-99 and the absurd reasons they came up with to both keep bin Laden alive and keep Americans on al Qaeda’s bull’s-eye.
And Mr. Bush and the tough-talking, gun-slinging Republicans? More of the same. The intelligence community gave Mr. Bush’s national security team precise locational data on Abu Musab Zarqawi nearly every day for the year preceding the invasion of Iraq. No action followed because Bush officials were sweet-talking the Germans and French into joining us in Iraq. The parents of soldiers and Marines killed by Zarqawi’s forces are now mourning because the Bush crew like Mr. Clinton’s before it valued European support and good-will over their kids’ lives.
For those who argue this is a one-off case, it is well to recall that the Bush team refused to use U.S. military power savagely enough to find and kill bin Laden at Tora Bora in late 2001 — too much force might offend the coalition, after all, and cynically wasted the lives of U.S. Marines by ending the first attack on Fallujah on victory’s edge, in favor of trying “political remedies” insisted on by the nervous nellies among — yup, you guessed it — the European members of the Iraq coalition. Republican or Democrat matters not, the bottom line is: Keep the world sweet and worry about American lives later, if it’s convenient.
Let us not, therefore, condemn Mr. Goss for what he said to Time. While he exaggerated our knowledge of bin Laden’s location, he put down a marker for Americans that the bipartisan elite that conducts foreign policy and national defense cares more about what others think than about protecting their lives. This attitude has been manifest to CIA’s counter terrorism officers since 1992, but they had no senior leader willing to voice their concerns, and the September 11 commission buried reams of their damning testimony to protect negligent senior officials who helped make September 11 possible.
So, all praise and honor to Mr. Goss for telling the truth about the willingness of U.S. leaders to sacrifice American lives in favor world opinion, Pakistani sovereignty and arms sales. Mr. Goss words create an opening for the media and through unlikely members of Congress to examine the instances above and find just how cheaply America lives are held by our political elites. Whether or not this overdue study is conducted, Mr. Goss will be remembered as the CIA director who had the patriot’s courage to warn Americans that their children’s lives, at home and abroad, are regularly sacrificed by the favor-currying leaders of both parties.
Unlike his bosses, Mr. Goss clearly prefers to be remembered as an American citizen, not a Citizen of the World. Well done, Sir.
Michael F. Scheuer, a 22-year veteran with the CIA, created and served as the chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center. He is also the author of “Imperial Hubris.”