Is Bob Woodward the very best person to review George Tenet's book? Or maybe the WORST? (Can you guess which way the Washington Post voted?)
"Because the United States government doesn't work that way. The president is not the action officer. You bring the action to the national security adviser and people who set the table for the president to decide on policies they're going to implement."
--former DCI George Tenet, on 60 Minutes, answering Scott Pelley's question as to why he didn't go directly to the president for action on the July 2001 intelligence that an al-Qaeda attack on the U.S. could come within weeks or months, as quoted by Bob Woodward in his Washington Post review of Tenet's book
No, I'm not making this up. The Washington Post actually had Bob Woodward review what he calls Tenet's "remarkable, important and often unintentionally damning memoir"!
Well, why not? Maybe the best person to evaluate the insider-outsider obligations of a former member of a U.S. administration is the man who has made a living of conflict of interest, indeed has made it his life's work, spending the whole of the Bush administration, it has appeared, as simultaneously assistant managing editor of a major, or anyway major-ish, newspaper and an honorary member of that administration, gathering information from everybody who would blab--including, it's clear, then-Director Tenet--for his "inside-outsider" (or is it "outside-insider") blabathon books?
Not surprisingly, Woodward devotes most of the review to telling author Tenet what he should have done back when. It's probably just my imagination that there's a suggestion here that all Tenet would have had to do was to ask Woodward what to do during their conversations at the time.
What's not my imagination is that this all seems pretty clear, cut-and-dried to Woodward. So much so that he doesn't actually seem to be listening. When a former director of Central Intelligence says, "The president is not the action officer. You bring the action to the national security adviser and people who set the table for the president to decide on policies they're going to implement," might it not be a good idea at least to pause to ponder what he's said?
Is it true? (If it's not true, why would he say it, and what is the significance of his saying it?) If it is true, why is it true? What does it mean for policy-making? Is it a good idea or a bad idea, or perhaps somewhere in between?
Or is Woodward perhaps speaking from his insider's knowledge of this particular president and this particular administration? Surely one common thread running through all the self-serving tales administration members told him all those years was that the "power" players knew how to "play" that simpering fool who happened to have the title of president of the United States, while having no firm idea what his principles and policies were--apart from the God stuff that he seems to think he gets straight from the source--until he had them explained to him, which means that you want to be the last person to talk to him about a policy decision, even if it means doing what you have to to prevent other people from talking to him after you.
Anyway, it's kind of irresistible to read, or at least skim, Woodward on the subject. My biggest problem is that, like so many other commentators, he has plenty to say about Tenet and hardly anything to say about the fairly momentous issues Tenet's revelations seem to raise. Like about how the country got lied into a war that a clutch of administration insiders were determined to make happen, whatever they had to do to make it happen, and the truth be damned.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share 'em.