The War Continues

Last night, the dogs were howling, the sky was alight, and President Bush stared blankly at George Tenet as the Director of the CIA delivered his resignation in person to the Oval Office.

The war has not been going well. It was only a matter of time before one of those in charge had to accept the inevitable, and relinquish their position of power. Unfortunately, George Tenet, although culpable in this administration’s conduct before and during the war, is not the man most would like to see clear out his office. He was a director of one of the more powerful institutions in our government, but he was still outside of the small circle whose dreams of empire have led us into Iraq.

George Tenet has been at the forefront of American intelligence for seven years. During that time, the CIA and other intelligence services in our country have shown an inability to understand and analyze world events and situations to the detriment of the United States. In the case of 9/11, the information that was needed to possibly prevent the attacks was in the hands of the intelligence services, yet insufficient action was taken. There were many factors, most notably interagency rivalry and a failure to communicate between the multiple agencies tasked with preventing terrorist aggression, which caused this failure. In addition, there was a lack of communication within the agencies themselves that prevented critical intelligence from moving up the chain of command and into a position where it could be acted upon effectively.

I doubt that the 9/11 attacks could be prevented. But the evidence has shown, mostly through the public hearings of the 9/11 Commission, that the effort that went into preventing the attacks was far short of what the government was capable of providing. The collective shock and surprise that was expressed by the government on the day of the attacks and in the aftermath shows a bureaucracy that was ill-prepared for a situation that many felt was inevitable. Still others felt that the intelligence they had observed was lacking only in an exact time and date when the attacks would take place. The movement and activities of many of the principals involved in the attacks had been observed for months, and intercepted communications and intelligence gathered from outside sources had pointed to the targets and methods. Regardless of who knew what, and when, our conduct leading up to the attacks amounts to the greatest intelligence failure in the history of this country. Tenet, along with many other intelligence services officials and law enforcement officials, should have been held more accountable in the period immediately after the attacks. But because the pervading view at the time was one of a nation caught completely by surprise, they were allowed to remain at their posts, thus becoming partly responsible for the greatest political blunder of at least my lifetime — the invasion of Iraq.

In the months leading up to the war, White House and Pentagon officials repeatedly called upon the CIA to provide evidence to support their two main claims against the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein: that he was actively pursuing programs for the production and storage of various types of weapons of mass destruction, and that his government had been complicit with Al Qaeda in threatening American interests abroad and at home. These two accusations amount to two of the biggest whoppers our government has ever told to the American public. The administration manipulated intelligence to suit its needs, and George Tenet allowed this to happen. In my opinion, this man ran himself out of his office years ago, and his resignation comes too late, but it is no surprise.

Shortly after Saddam’s armies were defeated, when it became clear that we would never find stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, it appeared as if Tenet was being offered as the administration’s sacrificial lamb. From George W. Bush, to Donald Rumsfeld, to Dick Cheney, to Condoleeza Rice, to Colin Powell, the refrain was the same: “we acted on the intelligence we had.” What they failed to mention was the pressure they brought to bear upon the intelligence community to provide only the intelligence that would justify their case for war, not just among the international community, but also to the citizens of this country and those who would be going overseas to fight.

It has now been over a year since the administration blatantly abused its power and authority in this country and the world and entered us into an unprovoked war in Iraq. Since then, we have trounced Saddam’s conventional armies, only to find ourselves faltering in the face of an angry Iraqi citizenry that is willing to take up arms to drive out the occupying U.S. and British forces, and a resurgent terrorist community (which has found new purpose in battling America in Iraq).

Those responsible for charging our armed forces with seizing Iraq were, and more than likely still are, operating in a fantasy world that made them believe the Iraqis, after being oppressed for decades by Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship, would welcome the Americans with open arms as liberators. Maybe if the country had not descended into chaos mere hours after the Iraqi army was defeated, a feeling of elation would have been felt amongst the Iraqi populace. Instead, our forces were either unable or unwilling to prevent the outright looting, destruction, and general anarchy that pervaded Iraq for weeks following the collapse of their government. The Iraqis were right to blame us for this new state of chaos. It was our fault. We invaded another country under the naive assumption that our way of life is so unbelievably desirable above all others, that we would be setting free over 25 million Middle Eastern Americans with our victory in Iraq. As it turned out, we were victors in Iraq for only as long as it took the populace to figure out there weren’t any police officers in sight.

In addition, once the country returned to some semblance of order after there was nothing left to loot, the administration failed to recognize that the idea of an Iraqi identity is tenuous at best. It is very easy to consider Iraq a country of three different nations: the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds. Once free from the restrictions Saddam Hussein placed on all three ethnicities (including his own, the Sunnis), the old rivalries, which never went away, were once again brought to the forefront. The naïveté continued as we believed these ethnicities would cast aside these rivalries as we forced them to accept American democracy at the barrel of a gun. All attempts by the United States to establish a native regime in which to hand over power have failed, although there is a sign of hope. This morning, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq, gave cautious acknowledgment to the new body that had been formed under the auspices of the United Nations.

Those in charge of our government have grand, and wholly unrealistic, ideas about the state of the world. America cannot succeed as a world power if it tries to bully foreign cultures into adopting our way of life under the pretense of protecting our nation from terrorism. We can’t expect to impose freedom, nor can we expect to reap the benefits of a cheap tank of gasoline from our new subjects. The setbacks we have had to deal with resulting from our involvement in Iraq are not worth the price we have paid and will continue to pay, in lives, equipment, international reputation, etc., when you consider that Saddam Hussein had not been a threat to anyone but his own people for years.

Someday the occupation of Iraq will end. It will not be until that day that we find out just how much damage this war has done to us. It is quite possible that President Bush, upon entering the White House at the peak of American power, has managed, along with those who rule around him, to piss much of it away in a matter of just a few years.

Al Qaeda could not have picked a better time in history to launch their offensive on America’s home front than after the Bush administration had taken office. George Tenet is not the only leader in Washington who must be held accountable.