Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2002/ 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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But this time, Boss,
we've got it right | George Tenet is in the unhappy position of that man in the Playboy cartoon who, discovered by his wife in bed with another woman, famously demanded: "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"

Mr. Tenet presides over the Central Intelligence Agency, the most prominent of the bureaucratic screw-up agencies that failed, and failed utterly, to give any warning that Islamist terrorists were on their way to September 11.

Having slept through all that, the CIA now wants everyone to believe that it finally has the right stuff on Saddam Hussein.

In a less-forgiving administration, Mr. Tenet would have been retired to a cave in West Virginia. But this week he came forward with another verse to the refrain stolen from Alfred E. Neuman: "What, us worry?"

Mr. Tenet wrote a letter to Congress, undercutting George W.'s fervent arguments that Saddam Hussein is a mortal threat to the United States, that is a classic piece of shoulda, woulda, coulda. Well, yes, Saddam is a menace, and his efforts to obtain nuclear weapons to go along with his biological and chemical weapons should be a matter of "concern," maybe even "serious concern," but we can all go back to sleep. As long as the United States doesn't do anything to upset Saddam, he will have "little reason" to do anything bad. George W. should just make sure he makes nice.

"Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or [chemical and biological weapons] against the United States," Mr. Tenet wrote to Congress. "Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions." Note the abundance of weasel words in his letter: "for now," "appears," "should," "could" and "probably." A director of the CIA, even after putting his credibility through the shredder in the run-up to September 11, can indulge in "should" and "could" and "probably," but a president can't.

Loyalty to old friends is a Bush family characteristic, admirable in most circumstances, but the mystery here is why President Bush tolerates the disorder within his official family when he is trying, against great odds, to convince the West that niceness is not necessarily a virtue.

The president sent Ari Fleischer out to argue that Mr. Tenet's letter undercutting the president's message does not undercut the president's message. Mr. Fleischer has not yet convinced even himself. "The only person who has sure knowledge of whether Saddam Hussein will use those weapons is Saddam Hussein," he said. "If Saddam Hussein holds a gun to someone's head, while he denies he even owns a gun, do you really want to take a chance that he'll use it?"

This underlines the inherent fault in the argument of the naysayers, who quickly seized on Mr. Tenet's letter to bolster their argument that although Saddam is bad and probably psychopathic, there's no need to interrupt a nap just yet. Later on, when Lower Manhattan is glowing in the dark, there will be time enough to decide whether to do anything about him.

The argument over whether to do anything about Saddam is over, and the timid, the fearful and the frightened lost. The protestations of the timid, the fearful and the frightened are weaker with each new round of protest. First it was fear of "the Arab street," then of Saddam's mighty army, the most intimidating foe since the Army of Northern Virginia threatened Washington 14 decades ago. Then it was European reluctance to help. Then "quagmire." And only last week two of our most distinguished pundits, reeking of sociological insights, military lore and political acumen, argued that the cause of regime change is tainted with racism. Racial minorities would suffer most, said Phil Donahue and Chris Matthews in the course of interviewing each other (not pretty to watch), because America insists on dispatching black men to fight wars organized by white men. This echoes Rev. Jesse Jackson's slur on the eve of the Gulf war a decade ago that "when that war breaks out, our youth will burn first."

Like so many of the "facts" cited on cable TV smack-and-shout shows, these "facts" turn out to be mere "factoids," things that appear to be facts but aren't. The contributions of bravery and sacrifice by minority troops in the Gulf war were immense, but, since Mr. Jackson brought it up, 86 percent of those who died in 1991 were white, and 12.5 percent were black. Blacks comprised 13.1 percent of the 1991 population.

Most of the pilots, special-ops troops and Navy SEALs, who will take a large measure of the casualties if a new war comes in Iraq, are white, and many of them are from upper-middle-class families. Courage comes in all colors, shapes and sizes, and such comparisons are odious. But the dissenters, including reluctant spooks, are desperate for arguments.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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