Today, Tenet, in his media tour of shirking responsibility and creating his own history, told Chris Matthews that one of the things we really need to do is hunt down and account for all the fissile material. In the same breath, he speaks of “generational challenge.”
I’d submit that Tenet is facing (among other things) a generational challenge himself.
He speaks of terrorism like so many of our leaders do – as a tactical problem. If we just account for every piece of nuclear material, we’ll be alright. This is a slightly more highbrow version of Bush’s doctrine: kill them all so they don’t “follow us home.”
Those of us a generation younger than Tenet seem to know that the march of technology is unstoppable. You may track down all the fissile material (ok, perhaps not) but you won’t track down all the other technological tools that make it increasingly easy for one bad person to do really horrible things to thousands of others.
This is not something we’ll be able to stop.
What we can do is realize terrorism is a strategic problem. If we learn to behave ourselves in the world and make friends – rather than being the ham-fisted schoolyard bully of the world – we just might win out after all. But not before some terrorists continue to make life very interesting.
It gets better:
MATTHEWS: What moved President Bush – who said when he came into office that he wanted humility in foreign policy – to take the American Army into Arabia?
TENET: You’ll have to ultimately talk to the President.. I think he was moved by what we said about WMD…
MATTHEWS: I’m on the outside … and I thought we were headed towards war in December 2001, when I’d hear from people about meetings at Camp David where Wolfowitz was yelling at the President that we have to go to Iraq….
TENET: That made no sense to anybody at the time..
MATTHEWS: He ended up winning the argument, though. Did Colin Powell have any influence in this administration?
TENET: Well, of course he did.
MATTHEWS: What did he accomplish?
TENET: I think the Secretary did a great job.
MATTHEWS: But he was against the war.
TENET: Well, Chris, at the end of the day the Secretary and I served. And we did our best.
MATTHEWS: Do you wish you’d resigned?
TENET: No. No. You know, I’ve heard people talk about this…
MATTHEWS: It’s up to you. I’m just asking.
TENET: No, no, no.. and I’ll tell everybody why. Intelligence and policy in Iraq is a contact sport. We had a war with Al Qaeda… We had British and American intelligence officers working to disarm Libya – it worked… we were rebuilding the American intelligence community – it was important… my days were filled with tough issues. My view was: you stay in your job, you do your job, and do the best you can.
MATTHEWS: Who got into the President’s company, and despite all the knowledge of history that must have been available to him about how difficult an occupation would be… and put in this idea that we, the American People, with our vast military advantage.. could go into a third world country and create [a democracy] where there has never been one before… because we’ve got more guns than they do? Who told him that would be true?
TENET: I don’t know who told him…
MATTHEWS: Somebody did – he says it in all his speeches.
TENET: Let me just make a very important point to you. What have we learned? If democracy is only equated with elections .. it’s never going to work. You’re never going to remake the world in your image in the absence of a vibrant civil society. Institutions, educational systems, the preparation and the groundwork – simply having votes is not going to work in this part of the world. You have to prepare people with a foundation … at the end of the day, these countries are all different – they have a different cultural history, different religions, they’re going to do this in their own ways … if you tie it back to the terrorist phenomenon –
MATTHEWS: Did you ever give this lecture to the President when it mattered?
TENET: Well, I don’t lecture –
MATTHEWS: Because I think we could have all benefited from that.
TENET: I’ve written a book –
MATTHEWS: – and I hope people read it … but, this information would have been very valuable in a sit-down with the President.. a couple cigars, talk about the world, and what happens when you invade an Arab country. Woulda been helpful.
TENET: Chris, I think that if you look at what we said .. we said a lot of these things all over town…
Ugh .. and so on.
Mr. Tenet: you were confronted with perhaps the biggest geopolitical challenge of our times – with decisionmakers turning to you to lubricate the wheels of their ten-year-old plan to knock over the Iraq domino.
You claim to have “said these things all over town.” Well, sir – you were the intelligence chief, not chief foreign-policy gossip. You were not an abused paralegal who needs to go out and whine to his friends over burgers about how shitty his job is. Your responsibility was to advise the President on this extremely critical issue.
You can blame Cheney (who also blames you for “bad intelligence”) but there’s no question you were a co-conspirator. You and Secretary Powell – whom I viewed as the most sane within that circle (not that that’s saying much) – marched to the United Nations and deceived the world in order to pave the way to Baghdad for your bosses.
In those moments, you were implicitly (we assume) asked to create a justification for an illegal war. You could have, of course, stood up, resigned and called bullshit. This possibly – possibly – could have stopped a war that has fucked us up for a generation or perhaps much longer. It may very well mark the beginning of the end of the Great American Experiment.
But no, you chose to shut your mouth, follow orders, accept a medal, and write a book. How eminently American.