Our friend Mr. Perle

February 18, 2004 10:39 a.m.

Our friend Mr. Perle is giving new meaning to the phrase ‘comedy of errors’. Yesterday in Washington he called for the resignation of CIA chief George Tenet and the head the of DIA. “Heads should roll,” he said, “not in a punitive or vindictive way. But when you discover you have an organization that doesn’t get it right time after time, you change the organization, including the people…. I would start with the head. George Tenet has been at the CIA long enough to assume responsibility for its performance.”

Now, this is truly one of those ‘where do you start’ points of ridiculousness. It’s rather like Andy Fastow and Ken Lay calling for heads to roll at the SEC because the government regulators didn’t get the whole securities oversight thing quite right. Well, Yes, heads should roll, you say in response. But then when you see the would-be executioners, the rationale and the logic of the thing starts to break down.

It is awfully hard to find a single data point on which the CIA or the DIA were ‘wrong’ in which Perle & Co. were not wrong-squared or even wrong-cubed, and in which he and his crew were not playing the same old bureaucratic and media games to mau-mau those agencies into being even more ‘wrong’ than they were. (See this particularly humorous example.)

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We can leave aside for the moment that this is far from the first time. Perle himself was a leader in the effort to second-guess US intelligence agencies about the Soviet threat in the 1970s, arguing that Soviet military was far more threatening and powerful than the folks at the CIA believed.

Of course, the CIA did miss the boat on that one. But their error wasn’t in underestimating but rather in overestimating the military and economic power of the late Soviet state.

They missed the internal rot and economic and military and political degeneration that would bring the whole edifice crashing down in the late 1980s. To say that Perle’s crew failed to see this coming is rather an understatement. As late as 1980, in The Present Danger: Do we have the will to reverse the decline of American power?, neoconservative founding father Norman Podhoretz, lamented whether it might not be too late to prevent the “finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power.”

In any case, if Perle wants to call for others to walk the plank, it’s a call he should be making from the waves, not the deck.

Who will take this claptrap seriously? Advice on honing our intelligence processes from a serial enabler of intelligence ridiculousness stretching back two generations.

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