Lack of courage facilitated Iraq's invasion

Some jobs seem to fit certain people like a glove. Former CIA chief George Tenet, holding these days the chair as Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, is one of those perfect fits. He no doubt has distinguished himself in the practice of tactfulness, discreetness and finesse; never mind the key element required for the position he held for seven years as head of the CIA: truth.

His anticipated book written; now it’s Professor Tenet’s turn to make the pilgrimage route in the promotion of his narrative of events in hope, one guesses, that with a little luck, and a small measure of persuasion, he might enhance not only his pocketbook but also his foggy image with the American public. But… fat chance for poor “slam-dunk” George! He has truly made a portentous jackass of himself in the inaugural stop, TV’s Sixty Minutes, coming out of that interview with less credibility than the paltry amount he had going in.

A former CIA chief, with political ambidexterity to handle right-of-center Bill Clinton and right-of-right George W. Bush, this public servant has got to be among the most incredible bootlickers to any presidential duo. Even his tone of voice and mannerisms have denounced him, whether he’s been telling the truth or passing out lies – a truly unbelievable demeanor for a man whom President Bush had bestowed the Medal of Freedom, together with fanciful, and grossly incompetent, Paul Bremer of Iraq infamy. An old friend jokingly commented when that happened in December 2004, how the Medal of Freedom was becoming in the United States as lightly regarded as the Cross of Queen Isabella had been during Franco’s reign, when they seemed to have been issued in bulk, and the bestowing of such exalted cross had become but an act of protocol given to most dignitaries visiting Spain, specially those from Latin America.

Bremer and Tenet bemedaled… incredible! But for the lack of people with honor and courage in government, who else can medals be given to? Our leaders need to bestow medals if for no other reason than to remind us of their own importance and power, notwithstanding any gratitude they may feel for the recipients’ loyal service.

We seem to be politically satisfied in this nation as long as those who govern can be judged to be “decent men,” something that implies conformity to a recognized set of standards in both propriety and morality of today. To expect leaders with honor and courage is not just hoping for a bonus, but tapping into the delusional.

But it shouldn’t be! Lack of honor and courage for those who lead us should have dire consequences, least of them being the loss of those positions… in disgrace. However, unlike their counterparts in some nations, American government officials, elected or selected, do not resign of their own accord. They just don’t. That, perhaps better than anything else, gives us a clear indication that their loyalty is to those interests that paid to get them their jobs. High profile examples of those lacking in honor, or showing pitiful, unredeemable cowardice, are increasingly more evident than ever before.

Take two people who really stand out during this past decade, both considered by most Americans as good and decent men: Colin Powell and George Tenet. Singly, either one of them might have prevented the invasion of Iraq, if either had tendered an “open and public” resignation with an honest explanation as to the reason why; and, had it been done jointly, Powell and Tenet would have surely prevented such invasion from occurring regardless how badly desired by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate, thus saving America from itself, and forcing much needed accountability for a cadre of influential neocons… and incompetent to boot! But that would have required honor… and courage. And those abstracts, in today’s concrete America, are proving to be scarce commodities… some would even insist that they are non-existent!

There is an old German proverb that brings home today’s reality in American politics. It has to do with both possession and dispossession of three key ingredients that seem to rule behavior, ultimately determining who we really are: wealth, honor and courage. The proverb states: wealth lost, something lost; honor lost, much lost; courage lost, all lost.

Politics in today’s United States are the result of inbred wealth, eclipsing in degree the “money politics” which similarly exists in much of the world. And that captivity imposed by the power of wealth on America’s body politic has suppressed, certainly greatly diminished, any chance for the resurgence of people with honor and courage – not in the higher echelons of the federal government which require a long apprenticeship in artful corruption.

Have we become a nation, a society that excels in mediocrity… seemingly content in being led by people totally lacking in honor and courage, shrugging our shoulders to their incompetence simply because they are all we expect them to be: “decent men”?

In the US, we acknowledge with an air of cynicism that “we have the best government money can buy.” And indeed we do… honor and courage having been relegated as virtues for quixotic fools.