Mr. Tenet said that he was resigning from office for one reason only, for the "well-being of my wonderful family." However, this seems unlikely for several reasons. First, there have been no reports of any illnesses or other situations that would call for him to leave the job he clearly (and by all accounts) loved so much. Second, Tenet was not the type of person who would leave his position with only five months to go before a Presidential election. He indicated that he wanted to spend more time with his son, but his son is about to start his Senior year in high school, which is an odd time to chose to begin bonding with your only child. Bottom line, it doesn't make sense.
We'll miss you?
Even if Tenet was leaving for personal reasons, after the President said that he was a "strong and able leader and I will miss him", the President would surely have asked him to reconsider, right? When asked if the President had asked Tenet to reconsider, Scott McClellan's answer was, "Mr. Tenet did a great job, and the President was pleased with his service." Translation, "No, we were afraid that if we asked him to reconsider that he might." This sentiment may have been telegraphed based on a related question, also to Scott McClellan during a White House Press Briefing in February of 2004. Clip of that below...
Q: Does he anticipate the Director staying on through the course of the investigation?
MR. McClellan: I'm sorry -- through?
Q: Through the investigation, the commission --
MR. McCLELLAN: Director Tenet is -- the President appreciates the job he is doing, and he is in that position and we appreciate his service.
Once again, we see a non-answer to questions about Tenet's longevity. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who was traveling in Asia on Friday, told the crew on the USS Essex that the United States would have stopped the September 11, 2001 attacks if American intelligence had gotten better inside information. He further went on to imply that because we cannot count on Intelligence, that we have little choice but to pursue pre-emptive strikes on terrorists before they can act. Translation, "Be nice to us about Iraq, I only invaded because I couldn't trust the CIA to sniff out terrorists." And we already knew Colin Powell's feelings when he said last month that the sources of his allegations regarding Iraq before the United Nations were "inaccurate and wrong, and in some cases, deliberately misleading...and I regret it". Translation: "Your shoddy work cost me my credibility and now I have to eat crow, thanks."
No time like the present?
Ok, so if that isn't the reason he is resigning, what is? Was he asked to leave? The administration is of course denying that they asked him to leave, but let's look into our crystal ball to see if there may be some reason why now would be an exceptionally good time for Tenet to take a powder...
In the next 2-3 months, there will be several reports on the American intelligence service, the first one being the Senate Intelligence Committee report due later this month. Early reviews of the document indicate that it focuses almost entirely on the CIA's faults, and that it is a "very stinging report of failure inside the CIA", according to one of the members of the committee. The presidential commission on the 9/11/2001 attacks, a commission that the President was originally against, will be producing their report this summer as well. This commission has already strongly condemned the CIA and is expected to recommend dramatic changes to the Agency in report. With these reports coming out just prior to an election year, either Bush has to take the blame or he has to make someone else fall.
Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
But is it fair to roll poor Mr. Tenet in this way? Hasn't he done a good job, in fact a "superb" job to quote the President? Maybe this is just one of those overblown scandals that are not truly worthy of the attention they get. Maybe Tenet had a long history of successes, and the pressure he is feeling now is due to something recent and dramatic, which is only now forcing the President to push for his resignation. Let's look at Tenet's record to see if we can figure out if he has had a history of successes, or if this is a sudden and unexpected fall from grace.
Under Tenet's watch:
1) Two U.S. embassy's were destroyed by terrorism
2) The USS Cole was bombed by terrorists
3) The worst domestic terrorist attack in the country's history
4) The perpetrator of said attack is still free nearly three years later
5) A country was invaded due to faulty information regarding weapons of mass destruction
6) A high level CIA operative's name was leaked, ruining her cover.
7) There are investigations into the appropriateness of the means used by the CIA and Military Intelligence to conduct interrogations overseas
8) Highly classified intelligence information found it's way to Ahmad Chalabi, and then to Iran
To quote Senator Richard Shelby (Republican from Alabama and former Intelligence Committee chairman), "There were more failures of intelligence on his watch as director of the CIA than any other in our history." And mind you, these aren't small oversights. From 9/11, to referring to the case of WMD's in Iraq as a "slam-dunk", Tenet has continually been so far off the mark that one is forced to question what the 'I' stands for in CIA.
Take a deep breath
So let's recap for a moment. Tenet's claim to be leaving for personal reasons has not convinced anyone on either side of the aisle. The President and his top advisors have already washed their hands of the whole affair, and no one was willing to ask him to stay. He is leaving now because of the sheer volume of incriminating and condemning information that is about to become public (ok, not a lot of new information really, but the 'official' word that it was in fact the fault of the CIA). He knows that he cannot survive that volley, and if he is allowed to stay, the administration fears that he could take the President down as well. And more importantly, we have learned that his legacy is one fraught with failures, poor judgment, shoddy follow-up, and controversy. He could have been let go on any number of occasions, for most of the events listed above, but for some reason he has held on this long. And here is where I want to focus. Why has such an abysmally incompetent CIA director been allowed to hang on, to the point where only one person in the history of the CIA, has held that job longer than he has? Why has President Bush not held Tenet accountable for his failings in the past, and why does he now ask for Tenet's resignation in secret, rather than demanding his resignation publicly?
The obvious answer, and perhaps the most cynical, is that Tenet has his own side of the story. There have been allegations and conjecture that Bush was pushing for the war in Iraq, even pushing the CIA analysts to keep cutting the data until it showed up the way he wanted it. Now that we have learned more about Chalabi, we realize that the intelligence he (Chalabi) was providing was entirely trumped up, something that Tenet may have tried to convince the President of. When Bush and Colin Powell came out in February and spoke about the dearth of reliable information regarding the WMD in Iraq, Tenet came out the next day and made a rare public speech. In that speech, he pointed out that he never said "imminent threat" and none of the pre-war reports that the CIA provided to the Bush administration indicated that time was running out. In short, he came out and refuted the administrations claims that Iraq was fraught with poor intelligence. What this means, is that the February speech by Tenet may just be a sampling of what we would hear if Bush came after the Director publicly. And with all of that being said, while this may actually be the truth, what I find to be almost more disturbing is the next possibility for why Bush has not handled Tenet before now.
President Bush is known for his loyalty. This traditionally admirable quality can be taken too far, and it is possible that this is the case with Tenet. Bush kept Tenet when he took office at the urging of his father, Bush Sr. Since that time, President Bush has spoken out in support of Tenet after each and every intelligence failure that we've had. It is my belief that Bush simply trusts his people to a fault, and that he doesn't hold them accountable for the mistakes they make. As long as you support Bush and stay in line with his agenda, he will stay loyal to you. This is evident not only with Tenet, but also with Rumsfeld who has also been implicated in a variety of high profile issues in the past four years. Not enough troops in Iraq, poorly equipped troops, poor post war planning, and micro-managing troop deployments which has lead to numerous cases of troops being detached from their equipment. Yet as in the case of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, even though we learned that the President was displeased about not being kept informed by Rumsfeld, Bush came out and stated what a "superb job Rumsfeld is doing."
However, if Bush thinks that by having Tenet leave in this manner that he will insulate himself from criticism when the intelligence reports come out in a few months, I feel that he is making a strategic mistake. By waiting for years, through numerous failures, and then by sending Tenet off by calling his service "superb" and "great" and "key in the fight against terror", how does Bush expect that when the criticism comes, to not share in that accountability? Even once Tenet is gone, if you have yet to decry him and his failings, and are even lauding him as a great director, then you are showing that you are blind to the realities of the situation, and that even if someone new comes into that position, you will yourself remain as a barrier to progress! How many opportunities will you give your people to let the country down before you will take action, Mr. President?
Blinded by loyalty, naively trusting his team to improve their already dubious track record, and with his own judgment in question, I have grave concerns for another four years with Bush in office. Mistakes happen, but if your leadership style is to never hold anyone accountable, to reward failure, and to trust your people even when they repeatedly let the team down, then maybe the job of President of the United States of America is not for you. How many soldiers have to die, how many international bridges do we need to burn down, and how many wars do we have to start before you ask Rumsfeld to step down? Please show me that you have some capacity to learn from your mistakes, even if those who work for you do not.