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White House to 'Gut' CIA

Purging for disloyalty makes us sick to our stomachs.
 
 
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Whilst the punditry wanders weak and weary in the deep fogs of the "moral values debate," what say we pay some attention to what is going on, eh?

According to Newsday, "The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Ladin..."

Bad Nooz. In the first place, the concept of "purge" has not hitherto played much part in our history, and now is no time to start. Considerable pains have been taken to protect the civil service from partisan pressure for extremely good reasons.

"Disloyalty to Bush," or any president, is not the same as disloyalty to the country. In fact, in the intelligence biz, opposing the White House is sometimes the highest form of loyalty to country, since when we fight without good intelligence, we fight blind.

I would not have been troubled to learn there was to be a "purge" at the CIA of those responsible for giving bad information to the administration about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Even a "purge" of those who caved in under pressure from the White House to confirm the dubious WMD theory might be useful. (George Tenet is already gone.) But that's not what they're fixing to do here. This is not a purge of incompetent officers or of those who have caved under political pressure – this is a political purge of those "disloyal to George W. Bush."

That's what I was most afraid of in the next four years: the complete closing of the circle, the old Bush emphasis on loyalty as the first and most important asset, above brains, judgment or expertise. Bush has been making this mistake for years, and it is clear it will now get worse. The clash of ideas is not welcome in his office. He wants everything solved in a one-page memo. This effectively limits him from being exposed to anything but obsequious third-rate thinking. It's precisely how he got into Iraq.

One of Bush's personal weaknesses is his tendency to go with his "gut" when both facts and logic are against him. This used to be just an intellectual failing, one that led many who know him to conclude he cannot think very well.

It is more alarming to find that those around him are so familiar with the phenomenon that they have now invented a sort of justifying philosophy for it. According to Ron Suskind's much-noted New York Times Magazine article, some White House staffers now refer slightingly to "reality-based" decision-making, as though it were quite inferior to delusional thinking. This bodes poorly.

One does not have to be an expert on the CIA to see the problem here. Bureaucracies are peculiarly vulnerable to bullying from the top: Everyone who has ever worked in an office is familiar with the gesture toward the ceiling for "upstairs" to explain some damn fool command from on high. Punishing those who were right is not smart.

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, who wrote "Imperial Hubris" as Anonymous, has now resigned. The book is about the Bush team's failure to pursue bin Laden and about the diversion of intelligence and military manpower from the war on Al Qaeda to the war in Iraq. The thesis is dirt common, not a state secret.

Another leak involved a report that concluded the likely outcomes in Iraq are all fairly grim and the worst-case is civil war. Since I wrote the very same thing all by my little self before this war even started, without a shred of input from the CIA, this strikes me as a "leak" of the self-evident.

It's no secret there is a sort of culture war at the CIA – see "Charlie Wilson's War," among others. The tug-of-styles is between gung-ho risk-taking agents prepared to jump into any harebrained scheme and the more cautious higher-ups, often Ivy Leaguers, who worry about dull stuff like breaking international law and starting World War III. Naturally, we like the gung-ho sort ("Huah!"), but it's not a bad idea to keep some grown-ups in charge. Otherwise, you wind up with stuff like the plot to make Castro's beard fall out or Ollie North taking a cake to Iran.

We consistently see this administration trying to solve real policy problems by knocking out dissent, as though dissent itself were the problem. The Bushies always remind me of Cousin Claude, a major political thinker.

Claude says: "Hell, yiss, I believe in the right to dissent. H'it's in the Constitution! What I can't stand is all this criticism. Criticize, criticize, criticize. Why don't they leave poor Dubya alone and let him fight his war in peace?

"We're sendin' our best boys over there, and you know what them Eye-raqis do? They come out at night. Wearin' dirty robes. Not even Christian. If they don't like what we're doin' for 'em, whyn't they just go back where they come from?"

Molly Ivins is a best-selling author and columnist who writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.