A Question for George Tenet

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I watched Sunday night as George Tenet promoted his new book on 60 Minutes. Tenet protested his innocence, and maintained his steadfast lack of complicity in Bush’s road to war in Iraq.

I was amazed at the sophisticated and hard-hitting questions thrown Tenet’s way by CBS, now four long years after the invasion of Iraq. Well over three thousand American soldiers, Marines, and contractors are dead, tens of thousands more damaged beyond all recognition. Untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, maimed, and traumatized. Millions of Iraqis live as impoverished tenants in their own country or refugees elsewhere, and this number grows daily on both sides.

How nice it must be for everyone involved. A clean studio, the sober semblance of mainstream media curiosity, just the right note of moral outrage, and a former Bush insider spilling the beans — what more could CBS or any of the rest of us ask for?

Each new day seems to bring us one more whining Washingtonian. As an insider witness to the moral depravity that led to the lie-based invasion and the illegal and murderous occupation, I have a simple question for George Tenet.

I won’t ask him about his performance as Central Intelligence Puppy Dog. He’s presumably explained that in his book.

I won’t ask him about the Medal of Freedom he accepted not long ago, although what he ought to do about that is a good question.

I won’t ask him about who leaked his "slam dunk" comment "out of context." I mean, seriously, people! He was just talking about the only thing left to do in 2002 — sell the public on the upcoming regime change in Iraq. That sale was easy, it was a slam dunk and Tenet was right. On the question of the leak of the "slam dunk" phraseology to Bob Woodward, it was clear from the interview that Tenet thinks this particular knife came from Cheney’s office. Modus operandi, and all that.

Instead, I have a very simple question. Why are we in Iraq? Tenet made it clear that no debate ever occurred on whether the United States of American should invade and occupy Iraq — at least not with the Director of Central Intelligence in attendance. Instead, as so many others have reported, revealed, and witnessed — the decision to "do" Iraq had long been made. In 2001? In 2000? In 1998? In 1991?

The questions debated by the administration in late 2001 and 2002 were only about when and how to sell the story to a frightened flock of American sheep. The forcible rape of Iraq was, according to the second-longest serving CIA Director, already scheduled.

Am I to believe that Tenet — presumably in the know on all things intelligence, the go-to boy on national security, the man about town loved by both Republicans and Democrats under Clinton and Bush — this guy doesn’t know why we are in Iraq?

I want to know. I have my theories, as do most people. I don’t believe we destroyed a secular Arab country along with our army, our global reputation and our honor because Dubya wanted a) to vindicate his father, or conversely; b) to show Pop what he was made of.

I don’t know how much of our actions on Iraq were influenced by Foreign Country A, or B, or even C. Israelis and Saudis, or even the Pakistan military might have their reasons, I suppose — but unless they were gambling on chaos and fickleness, or just love a percolating disaster next door, it seems they were mainly cheerleading their friends in Washington, rather than leading them. In any case, it would be nice if Tenet would clear that up for the rest of us.

I don’t know how much of this is related Christian premillennial dispensationalism. I’d sure like to find out.

I’m pretty sure freedom and democracy had little to do with the invasion or occupation of Iraq. Our most reliable regional allies are despots, dictatorships, or militaristic socialist states, as Iraq had once been.

None of the above makes sense to me — but I’d like George Tenet’s help and gentle correction, now that he is speaking freely.

I think the invasion and occupation of Iraq — at its heart — was and remains institutionally supported because it allows all of the key governing bodies in the United States (including the Congress) to reallocate and confiscate more of the national treasury, and to build more military bases around the world. Certainly that has happened, and I don’t hear a loud unified demand from the Congress or anywhere else saying return the money to the taxpayer, and close the American bases in Iraq immediately and permanently.

I think it was timely in light of the circa 2000 euro-based Iraqi oil economy, and the imminent relaxation or cancellation of trade sanctions. While arguably heavy-handed and stupid, invasion provided a face-saving way to ensure US-beholden companies could play with a major advantage in a post-sanction Iraq, and to ensure Iraq’s reversal back to a dollar-based economy. This explanation also has real beneficiaries, all of whom (Congress, establishmentarians including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages and most of the Washington thinktanks) actively support the occupation even as they grow bored with the continued death and destruction.

I also think there are frightened men in Washington with conflicted identities who believe playing war while wearing fine cloth and nibbling the lightest of soufflés will somehow make them manly, admired, virile, and powerful.

So Mr. Tenet, you’re looking good these days. One question, sir! Why are we in Iraq?

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. Archives of her American Forum radio program can be accessed here and here. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.

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