Opinion

Tenet and Powell could have altered course of history

Instead of George Tenet teaching at Georgetown University, George Tenet should be taught at Georgetown University.

There should be a course on government called "The Ultimate Staff Guy." A morality saga about how much harm you can do as a go-along, get-along guy, spending so much time trying not to alienate the big cheese so he doesn't can you that you miss the moment where you have to can him or lose your soul.

If Colin Powell and George Tenet had walked out of the administration in February 2003 instead of working together on that tainted U.N. speech making the bogus case for war, they might have turned everything around. They might have saved the lives and limbs of all of those brave Americans and innocent Iraqis, not to mention our world standing and national security.

It would certainly have been harder for timid Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards, to back up the administration if two members of the Bush inner circle had broken away to tell an increasingly apparent truth: that Dick Cheney, Rummy and the neocons were feverishly pushing a naive president into invading Iraq with junk facts.

Powell counted on Slam Dunk - a slender reed - to help him rid the speech of most of the garbage Cheney's office wanted in it. Slam, of course, tried to have it both ways, helping the skeptical secretary of state and pandering to higher bosses. Afterward, when the speech turned out to be built on a no-legged stool, Powell was furious at Slam. But they both share blame: They knew better. They put their loyalty to a runaway White House ahead of their loyalty to a fearful public.

Slam Dunk's book tour is mesmerizing, in a horrifying way.

"The irony of the whole situation is, is he was bluffing," Slam said of Saddam on "Larry King Live" on Monday night, adding, "And he didn't know we weren't." He-Man Tenet didn't understand the basics of poker, much less Arab culture. It never occurred to him that Saddam might feign strength to flex muscles at his foes in the Middle East? Slam couldn't take some of that $40 billion we spend on intelligence annually and get a cultural profile of the dictator before we invaded?

If he was really running around with his hair on fire, knowing the Osama danger, shouldn't he have set off alarms when W. and Vice went after Saddam instead of the real threat?

Many people in Washington, D.C., snorted at his dramatic cloak-and-dagger description of himself to Larry King: "I worked in the shadows my whole life."

Six former CIA officials sent Tenet a letter via his publisher berating him for pretending he wrote his self-serving book partly to defend the honor of the agency and demanding that "at least half" of the profits be given to wounded soldiers and the families of dead soldiers (there needs to be a Son of Slam law). One of the signers, Larry Johnson, told CNN that Slam "is profiting from the blood of American soldiers."

"By your silence you helped build the case for war," the former CIA officials wrote. "You betrayed the CIA officers who collected the intelligence that made it clear that Saddam did not pose an imminent threat. You betrayed the analysts who tried to withstand the pressure applied by Cheney and Rumsfeld."

Thus endeth the lesson in our class on "The Ultimate Staff Guy." If you have something deadly important to say, say it when it matters, or just shut up and slink off.

Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times, can be reached at New York Times, editorial department, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.

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