What We Can Learn From Tenet

George Tenet's revelations that the Bush-Cheney administration exaggerated intelligence to stampede us into war -- without debating the costs and consequences -- do not significantly add to our knowledge.

We already knew that.

After Paul O'Neill's and Richard Clarke's insider books, we knew that the Bushies early decided to use 9/11 as a pretext for war.

After Secretary Rumsfeld told Tim Russert that Bush never asked him his opinion of the merits of going to war, we knew there wasn't a serious debate.

After Cheney's claims about reconstituted nuclear weapons and last throes and Valerie Plame, we knew he was a convincing liar.

Still, when a CIA director exposes the fecklessness of armchair warriors itching to fight, it's an important confirmation of what was once a controversial conclusion. The only people still supporting Bush's war are either folks who don't read newspapers or who are in need of serious therapy -- oh, and Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol.

Given Tenet's book and bitter appearance Sunday on "60 Minutes," there are four lessons to be learned here:

First, when you're in a position of authority and believe your country is being misled into war, that's probably a good time to resign on principle, unless the principle is to make a few millions on a book deal later. Cy Vance quitting after the failed hostage rescue attempt in 1980 and career diplomat John Brady Kiesling quitting in 2003 because he couldn't reconcile his conscience with the invasion of Iraq are useful examples to the next Democratic president's top team.

Second, even though they'll be president and vice president for 17 more months, Bush and Cheney have forfeited the normal presumption of coverage and quotability. Journalists should now never cite what they say at face value without getting a second source or doing independent research. If Cheney says it's Easter, check the calender.

Third, Iraq is such a calamity in part because this administration had no Chester Bowles to John Kennedy, no contrarian who had the smarts and stature to say: Hold it. Groupthink is a disease and the antidote is a chief executive secure enough to hear all sides.

Fourth, though seriously politically incorrect, it's time to blame voters and the Founding Fathers. Please electorate, the next time that a fake patriot waves the bloody shirt of fear, choose facts over demagoguery. And the Constitution leaves us with this polar choice until January 2009 -- impeachment based on "high crimes," which is not going to happen, or acquiescence. So let's not only blame W., Vice, Wolfowitz, Rummy, Powell, Rice, Feith, but also those wise men of 1787 who couldn't come up with a way to evict leaders of proven ignorance and arrogance short of removal by impeachment. Could not there be a standard based on Messianic misfeasance? A process of at least censure?

Until David Broder begins to trust Harry Reid more than Dick Cheney, looks like a long 17 months of incriminating memoirs and delusional misleaders.

Mark Green is president of Air American radio.

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