Perhaps the most credible words out of George Tenet's mouth at the 9/11 hearings were his confession to have been primarily concerned about keeping his job during the transition in late 2000. He's been a good solider ever since and, given the many reasons that he probably should have been sacked, one can't help but wonder why he's still in place. Perhaps he is protected by what we might now describe as the O'Neill/Clarke factor. Experienced public officials talk after leaving the Bush team, and they don't seem to have such good things to say about either its character or intentions. If we are to believe Clarke, and why shouldn't we, Tenet, his public utterances notwithstanding, may harbor his own doubts about the machinations in the Bush land. Let's have none of that, thank you.
What strikes me is the degree of mendacity in our government, often in the form of routine spin, to which Richard Clarke himself admitted, under oath, being a party. "Put the best face on things" are the routine marching orders. Smooth the edges of truth which, I'm sad to say, while taken to new heights these days are hardly the modus operandi of a single party. People in high places skirt the truth and talk out of at least two sides of their mouths. Is it any wonder that such a large percentage of Americans have given up on voting?
Our government officials are also habitually disingenuous. Watching these hearings in the context of Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Yassin, followed by various sanctimonious expressions of outrage and "concern", I was struck by how desperately we were looking for an opportunity to "take out" Osama bin Laden in 2000. I continue to think the Israeli's are taking the wrong approach in their conflict with Palestinians, but let's not pretend their policy of assassination is unique. We'd love to have the leaders of Al Qaeda in our missile sights. Remember how the Iraq war started a few days early because our "intelligence" told the President that there was an opportunity to take Saddam out? Why can't people be straight with us, treat us like grownups?
The answer is pretty clear. Truth telling raises serious questions and that is something they simply can't have. Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill seem to be pretty candid fellows, both somewhat painfully disillusioned about the process and probably most by their complicity in it. Clarke even apologized to 9/11 families for having failed them. Now that's something different. Hearing them is almost like listing to the confessions of recovering alcoholics at their first AA meetings. Those still addicted to power don't like this kind of behavior, this straying from the reservation. They have tried to discredit or at best to marginalize these two men. I pray that decent Americans will see through this charade.
The months ahead will be important for our country and for the world which is so much in our powerful hands. We need a change, and with it straight talk. Howard Dean had that capacity, even in telling us that we weren't any safer with Saddam's capture (something with which Clarke agrees). It scared the hell out of everyone including the voters which is probably the most depressing part of his implosion. But it's early and John Kerry has a great opportunity to truly herald a change in substance as well as in form. Remember Robert Kennedy and the "why not" question? Indeed, a little truth for a change, why not?