the chief US intelligence officer, George Tenet,
resigned, leaving himself open to be handed credit
for foreign policy screw-ups that have plagued
the Bush administration from its beginning. The
best reading on this by his peers and predecessors
is that Tenet did this to save Bush chances for
reelection in November. If it worked, that in
itself would be unfortunate, but the real tragedy
of Tenet's action is that it takes public attention
away from the real flaws in Bush team leadership.
are several ways to view what has happened to
our country and its fortunes on the Bush watch.
One is Bush could argue that since he took office
our country has faced challenges that exceed even
exceptional human talents. That, however, is pure
nonsense. Our country has been in deeper trouble
with fewer side effects. A second scenario is
because of faulty intelligence our leadership
did not have enough facts to make good decisions.
But one of the chief marks of a good executive
is the ability to see when he or she does not
know enough to make a decision. A second mark
is taking time to solve the information problem
before plunging ahead. A third scenario is that
dire emergencies forced Bush and his team to make
decisions quickly on the basis of what they knew
at the time. That scenario is true for virtually
all emergencies. But there has been only one "time
is of the essence" emergency in the whole
Bush administration. That was during the actual
run of the 9-11 attacks, and the Bush team failed
to respond on key matters such as deploying fighter
aircraft to head off the hijacked airplanes.
be fair, if our fighter aircraft had been deployed
on 9-11, their use to shoot down the hijacked
planes would not have been a simple choice. While
intelligence clearly existed that terrorists had
considered such action, up to that point hijackers
had not used an airplane as a guided missile.
If the planes had been blown out of the sky before
any of them struck their targets, the President
would have faced the charge that he needlessly
killed several hundred passengers. Even so, after
the first plane hit the World Trade Center the
second plane might have been stopped, if our fighters
had been in position.
of the time the management of our country's affairs
is not rocket science. The operational details
of national management are spread over thousands
of issues and thousands of decision makers. Presidents
often can do little about them except to read
the results at the margins and take corrective
actions that are within the government domain.
Once in a while exceptional judgment is needed
to deal with a complex set of issues. But the
real failures of the Bush team are not due to
issues that exceeded his IQ. They have been, as
a growing number of critics now point out, ideological
decisions taken in spite of the facts. Decision
makers simply ignored the flaws in intelligence.
basic rule that should be written over the door
at Langley, the CIA headquarters complex, is "You
can never know everything about anything."
The big sport in Washington for some time has
been comparing notes on who knew enough to connect
the dots. But in the context of complex and fast-breaking
events it is easy to confuse the dots with bird
droppings. And if the spaces between dots are
longer than patience allows, it is tempting to
fill in the blanks with one's own bs.
governments hide things. Successful businesses
generally do too. Families have numerous things
they will not put on the street. Those hidden
things often concern national, business or family
interests that are critical to stability, finances,
growth, opportunity, reputation, self-esteem,
et cetera. It is not easy to learn what people
do not want you to know. It is even more difficult
when all you may have is a glimpse of players,
capabilities or intentions. What the Bush team
has done more often than most is confuse the personal
interests and ambitions of the players, especially
Bush and his neocon advisers, with the national
interests of the country, and they have overstepped
or ignored facts or weaknesses in information
that collided with their objectives. The chief
mischief-maker in this has been the neocon agenda
as twisted and turned by hard right preferences
and as distorted by catering to Israel.
that this game has come a cropper may drive the
current Washington scene. But George Tenet's resignation
and today's reactions to it tell us that the Bush
team is neither willing nor able to fix the problem.
The other side of the blame game is blame avoidance.
The White House hope, as several commentators
have noted, is that piling the blame on faulty
intelligence will help George W. Bush come up
smelling like a rose in November.
that occurs, the collective fault lies with us.
We the people will have let ourselves be bamboozled
once again into believing that Bush is blameless
and that he can and will run our country in our
problem was not faulty intelligence. It was making
faulty use of what was actually known, proceeding
undeterred by what was not known, or acting hastily
out of ignorance in pursuit of preference. Faulty
intelligence in this case means faulty judgment,
bad smarts. Can our country afford another four
years of it?
writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: June 13, 2004