Politics & Policy

Unpunished Failure

What are we waiting for?

Let’s start with a simple, albeit apparently unasked question: Who got fired for permitting Wolfowitz to stay at a hotel in Baghdad, when there was abundant evidence that Iranian-sponsored terrorists had been instructed to target the hotels? When a relative of mine recently asked for advice before making a trip to Baghdad, I had just one strong recommendation: “Never, ever, set foot in a hotel in Baghdad.”

Evidently nobody told the deputy secretary of defense.

Placing Paul Wolfowitz in such a place at such a time was a criminal blunder, and everyone who okayed the decision should be fired, along with the people on the ground in Baghdad who seem unable to understand that we are really at war, and that our men need proper protection and intelligence, whether they are in helicopters or in convoys or in hummers. And if my information is correct, the terrorists now have anti-tank weapons, which we may see in action in the near future.

It’s long past time–since September 12, 2001 to be precise–for people to be sacked for failure, and the fact that virtually no one has–except for Larry Lindsay (seemingly for insufficient aerobic exercise) and a couple of others dealing with “the economy” or with faith-based initiatives and volunteerism–is the greatest failure of this administration. The bureaucracy has learned that there is no penalty for failure. The only way to change their mindset is to do to them what Reagan did to the air controllers.

Unfortunately, Dubya has embraced the Loyalty Thing that is one of the Bush family’s most cherished values. He doesn’t turn on his own loyal aides, even (perhaps especially) when they come under attack. But this is no way to wage a war, where the only thing that matters is victory.

As of now, there is reason to think that this administration does not understand that we are at war. The president occasionally reiterates the old themes (we make no distinction between terrorists and the states that support them, etc., etc.) but his administration does not act on them. This was obvious in last week’s instructive testimony by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Armitage first said United States policy is “to support the Iranian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous country.” If that were true, then we would (as we should) support regime change in Iran, since the country today is anything but democratic and prosperous.

But it is not true. In the last paragraph of his prepared testimony, Armitage said, “it is not up to the United States to choose Iran’s future.” And when asked directly by Senator Chuck Hagel (a man who has rarely met or even thought about a tyrant he did not want to appease) whether our Iran policy was regime change, Armitage flatly said “No.” So the bit about supporting democracy in Iran is the usual State Department two-step: They tell you what they think you want to hear, and then, figuring you won’t read the small print, they go ahead and do what they want to do, which is usually to appease the tyrants and open a new round of negotiations.

That this is the essence of State Department intentions is clear from Armitage’s words. A few weeks ago, he had spoken optimistically about getting Iran to turn over the al Qaeda terrorists who even State now agrees are there. But in his testimony, this demand had been downgraded to “turn over or share intelligence about all al-Qaida members and leaders.” And he added these plaintive words: “resolution of this issue would be an important step in U.S.-Iranian relations and we cannot move forward without this step.”

As if our goal were to improve relations with the Islamic Republic! What happened to the Axis of Evil and the war against terrorism? It got gutted by Powell and Armitage, that’s what. Never mind the president, who said, after all, that we would not distinguish between the terrorists and the states that support them. Never mind that Iran is the foremost supporter of terrorism in the world–the State Department says so every year; Powell and Armitage do indeed distinguish between the Iranian regime and the terrorists Iran supports.

And the hell of it is that they make this distinction, and work very hard to improve relations, even though they know that Iran actively supports the terrorists who are killing Americans in Iraq (anyone who thinks that these well-planned attacks by well-armed professionals are the actions of die-hard Saddam loyalists, rather than of the intelligence organizations of Iran and the other terror masters, should stop reading now and simply subscribe to State Department transcripts).

Simple commonsense and an elementary concern for American lives would dictate that we actively support the Iranian people in their desperate struggle for freedom, but instead, the next round of schmoozing with the mullahs has already been set, in Geneva, within the next couple of weeks. This sort of activity chills the blood of the Iranian democrats, and plays right into the hands of the turbaned tyrants of Tehran.

The two appeasers who run the Senate Foreign Relations Committee–Sens. Richard Lugar and Joe Biden–might have contributed to public enlightenment, and even good policy, if they had asked Armitage why he had failed to obtain Iranian cooperation in the matter of the al Qaeda terrorists. The correct answer is that Iran will never betray al Qaeda leaders, because Iran supports al Qaeda. The mullahs would no more give us Osama’s henchmen than they would cut off an arm or a leg. Al Qaeda is part of their enterprise, which is to kill Americans and American friends wherever they can, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Armitage would probably not have said that. When the Iranians humiliated him by refusing to cooperate in any way, Armitage blamed the debacle on the fact that Pentagon experts had had conversations with Iranians who did not like the regime.

Powell and Armitage, and their buddies at CIA don’t like it when other people talk to Iranians, which is easy to understand: State and CIA don’t know very much about Iran, and they hate it when they’re shown up. What to do? They went for total censorship: They threw a hissyfit and demanded that Rumsfeld order his people to stop doing their jobs. No more talking to Iranians. Only State and CIA should do that.

Incredibly, it was done. As of today, the Pentagon’s Iran analysts can only talk to themselves, or to the misnamed intelligence community. Why those famously tough guys, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, acquiesced to this outrageously stupid demand is hard to comprehend. In effect, they agreed to blind their own eyes and deafen their own ears on the subject of Iran, even though that puts their soldiers and even themselves at mortal risk. As we have seen, existing information is so bad that Wolfowitz was sent to sleep in a deathtrap. So shouldn’t they be looking for better, and independent sources of understanding Iranian activities instead of forbidding their people to work on it?

I guess some top official will have to die at the hands of (obviously) Iranian-supported terrorists before the Pentagon is permitted to work on the subject.

Deliberately refusing to know about Iran is an old story for this crowd. If we had intelligence oversight committees worthy of the name there would be hearings to ask, inter alia, why Powell (twice) and Tenet (once) ordered the termination of a program about Iranian terrorist activities, even though it saved Americans in Afghanistan. The program had been approved by the National Security Council and carried out by Pentagon experts, risked no American lives, cost only some travel expenses, and yielded terrific results, far beyond anything that the American participants expected.

This question should be asked again and again, by the two chief overseers, Congressman Porter Goss and Senator Pat Roberts: Why did the secretary of state and the director of central intelligence deliberately deprive the U.S. government of information that saved Americans from Iranian-sponsored terrorism?

People who refuse information that saves American lives aren’t likely to know very much about plans to assassinate the deputy secretary of defense, or the vice mayor of Baghdad, or leading moderate Iraqi Shiite leaders. Nor are they very likely to know the location of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, as I personally discovered in September and October, they won’t even take a few hours to check out the claim that there’s some enriched uranium in Iraq.

They don’t want to know about Iran, because if they did, they would be driven to take actions that they do not want to take. They would have to support democratic revolution in Iran, and they prefer to schmooze with the mullahs.

All of which can be briefly and sadly summarized: We don’t have a war cabinet, and we are once again giving our enemies time and opportunity to figure out how to kill us.

Faster, anyone?

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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