Our spies blind to a jagged fall into the abyss

A lot of lives have been snuffed out, a lot of lives have been otherwise shattered, and a lot of limbs have been torn asunder since we went to war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.Obviously, this is hardly news. But was it newsy here in Berks County Wednesday because former CIA director George Tenet and former New Jersey governor and 9/11 commission chairman Tom Kean participated in a decision-makers forum at Kutztown University.Of course, the cold light of hindsight has put a harsh light on the fact Tenet and the CIA were asleep at the switch on Iraq and 9/11. Not a good thing when you’re a spy, I might add.Tenet admitted at KU that the two dumbest words he ever said were “slam dunk” when he made the case for going to war against Iraq. If you recall, everybody back then in the Bush Administration saw nothing but purity and clarity in kicking Saddam’s butt. After all, they told us, Hussein was up to his eyeballs in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.As we all now know, that wasn’t the case. The rays of the hot Iraqi sun may lean heavily on flesh and bone, but no WMDs were glinting in the sun while Saddam was bluffing badly in the worst hand of international poker anybody ever played.Still, Tenet shouldn’t beat himself up for screwing up. Let’s be honest. It was a slam dunk that George W. Bush was going after Saddam no matter what the details were. George W. fancied himself as a gunfighter, and the quickest draw wins. He couldn’t wait to pull the trigger on Saddam. Not to mix historical metaphors, but Bush was determined to ride like the young Lochinvar out of the west to smite the eastern heretics.So he brought down the Iraqi sky on Saddam. Big deal! The guy who picked the fight on 9/11 was Osama bin Laden, not Saddam. But Bush, perhaps because Saddam was more of a stationary target than bin Laden and perhaps because his father hadn’t finished off Saddam when he had his shot in the White House, struck back at Iraq. And now the U.S. still is stuck there because like a desert half-crossed, the only thing that keeps us going ahead is what’s behind.Unfortunately, what’s behind is a lot of needless death and destruction, a lot of maiming of bodies and searing of souls. Meanwhile, bin Laden, the fiendish architect of 9/11, is footloose and fancy free in the mountains somewhere.Kean’s commission reported that U.S. leaders failed to grasp the gravity of bin Laden’s threat. Tenet disagreed Tuesday night with that assessment, but admitted that years of apathy toward terrorism, compounded by intelligence budget and personnel cuts, had the CIA fighting with one arm tied behind its back.More sobering was Kean’s assertion that the Bush administration and Congress have been slow to plug gaps in our national security. Obviously it’s not a good thing to be even pokier than humidity in such a grave endeavor.The U.S. already swallowed a mammoth wrecking ball of terror on 9/11. We should be hungry enough to do everything possible to help duck the next shot. In fact, do it with as much warp speed as we displayed in taking the fight to Iraq.