Jewish World Review April 27, 2004/ 6 Iyar, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Subcutaneous insiders | Yes, yes, this Jamie Gorelick, she of the 9-11 Commission who wrote the memo tying the hands of the FBI, the CIA and others in the alphabet soup of acronymical federalism, should have mentioned her history and penchant for treating terrorists as if they were benign, bespectacled trust-fund embezzlers. Her naiveté about terrorists' chutzpah is as stunning as her blind eye on propriety. If it ain't a conflict of interest to judge the conduct of government agencies when you led the agencies that were part of the problem, then I don't know conflicts.

I should like to give her the big hook and have her dragged through several TSA security checkpoints with metal in her shoes and change in her pockets as punishment. But, she'll just land somewhere else in federal service where she might do more damage.

Ms. Gorelick is the quintessential Washington insider, a sturdy piece of metal in the Iron Triangle that rules our country. She was assistant attorney general under El Reno. She was general counsel for the Department of Defense and vice chair of Fannie Mae. This woman has had more jobs in D.C. than Kerry has had positions on the Iraq war.

The Beltway has a subcutaneous layer that is thousands of bodies thick. Elected officials come and go, but the sub-epidermis of careerists and appointees remains, exercising its power beyond the scrutiny of the ballot box. Regardless of who wins elections, they are always there in some job, writing memos, and wreaking havoc. These political mercenaries bat for both sides. David Gergen, Washington insider extraordinaire, served Republican presidents, landed in the Clinton White House for a stint, and now labors at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

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This subcutaneous layer plays a gigantic game of Stratego, with winners earning more power and prestige. The media are but their handmaidens because our beloved Fourth Estate find their "unnamed sources" in the Stratego crowd. Jobs and titles change, but the goal is the same: reach a position of power where Bob Woodward wants to interview you.

The Iron Triangle of the Beltway is a classic high school clique. They gossip and back-stab, sniping and clawing to higher positions. Bureaucratic fiefdoms are their world and their dreams. They make networking look like a Duck-Duck-Goose game at a nursery school. They talk to each other at social events only until someone more important comes into the room. Ashcroft's slam-dunk surprise in a public hearing with Ms. Gorelick's self-damning memo is classic insider Stratego. Ashcroft got into the Beltway through elected office, the Senate. But, he has become part of the insider power game.

Insiders are consumed with self-importance and personal advancement. Richard Clarke found a new game strategy: publishing books in election years that indict the incumbent so as to secure a plum position in the new administration. Clarke ambled around D.C. for 22 years, hopping allegiances to parties (he voted and donates Democrat, but served both sides) with an eye toward more power and fame. His book made him a media darling, because the media want Kerry, another insider, on the throne.

George Tenet is a glad-handing insider. How is it possible that this man remains in charge of the CIA, an agency that failed so miserably to detect the drum beat of terrorism in the months leading up to 9-11 and then offered erroneous reports on weapons of mass destruction? Gorelick and Tenet are ineffectual insiders who are the prob

lem. Bob Woodward's new book , "Plan of Attack," shows Colin Powell to be the slippery fellow I have written of previously. Powell plays the Stratego game by setting himself above the fray, but then faults the moves of others, despite having whispered those moves all along. Powell's feigned saintly countenance, only enhanced by media sycophants, sets him apart from the Bushies and gives him immunity from flak for the war. There can be little doubt that Mr. Powell put the knife to his president and other members of the cabinet in conversations with Mr. Woodward. That's part of the D.C. game, too — to be the new Deep Throat.

These career bureaucrats are an inevitability in a government grown bigger, even during Republican administrations. Voters can ring the Iron Triangle every few years and shake loose a few of those hangers-on whose patriotism and country-first exist only for political expediency and job advancement. But, Stratego battles are rugged for those outsiders we voters send.

Mr. Bush has a heck of a time with the insiders, including the media. Their disdain for this cowboy from Crawford cannot be concealed. But, the wily W outfoxed these scheming and diabolical insiders. Granting Mr. Woodward access to him and his administration was the perfect foil for the D.C. Stratego champions. Bush combated their skullduggery with truth.

Woodward, another insider, was forced to reveal in his book that Mr. Bush told Condi Rice that he was prepared to lose his presidency if that was the cost of going to war in Iraq. Praise be for W's deficiencies in this insiders' Stratego game. It is positively delicious that the outsider beat the insiders at their own game. Truth trumps. Shallow souls stand humiliated in the bright light of a true public servant, a stunning lesson for these self-focused, subcutaneous cells still trying to break out just for the attention such a boil generates.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Marianne M. Jennings