Beyond Ridiculous | Harper's Magazine

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Beyond Ridiculous


Take a second this morning to look at the Washington Post’s editorial page, and particularly to Richard N. Perle’s “How the CIA Failed America.” This may be the most profoundly dishonest op-ed that has ever run in the editorial pages of that publication (an honor as to which it surely faces stout competition). Perle fails to give a meaningful response to Tenet’s key accusation against him, that immediately after the events of 9/11, Perle was talking about going to war against Iraq. His entire response rests on Tenet’s mistake about the date of the exchange—September 12—a mistake that Tenet has already all but acknowledged. The record is full of Perle’s war-mongering against Iraq in this period, so that Tenet’s charge is hardly implausible—and Perle’s carefully worded denial is deceitful.

But the real plum of the piece is this:

George Tenet and, more important, our premier intelligence organization managed to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist while failing to find links to terrorists that did—all while missing completely the rise of Islamist fundamentalism. We have made only a down payment on the price of that failure.

There certainly is plenty of blame to go around, but the record is now extremely clear: the CIA was raising continuous alarms about the threat from Islamist fundamentalism (specifically, Al Qaeda) throughout this period, whereas Perle and his colleagues (and the Defense Policy Board which he chaired) were highly dismissive of this as a threat and instead focused elsewhere. Indeed, Perle had been among those in 2001 who were busy portraying Iraq as the major Middle Eastern threat and China as the long-term geopolitical adversary. This is an aggressive effort to rewrite history.

It is unsurprising that Perle would pen such a piece. And it’s unsurprising that the Washington Post would publish it. But it’s extremely revealing of both and the relationship between them.

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