By William Fisher
There was a time, not too long ago, when the Presidential Medal of Freedom really meant something. That was when its recipients included such genuine American heroes as George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Felix Frankfurter, Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy.
That time come will come to an end next week, when President Bush confers the nation’s highest civilian honor on former CIA chief George Tenet, Iraq Viceroy L. Paul Bremer III, and General Tommy Franks, who led the US invasion of Iraq.
Can we not be forgiven for being just a tad cynical about these three recipients? After all, it was George Tenet who told the president that finding WMD in Iraq would be a slam-dunk, and is generally believed to have been pushed out of office. It was General Franks who gave us Mr. Bush on the aircraft carrier trumpeting, “mission accomplished”. And it was Ambassador Bremer who allowed the unchecked looting of Baghdad, dissolved the Iraqi Army, and was father to a host of other uninformed decisions that opened the way for the current insurgency.
But, hey, maybe a medal is not too high a price to pay to reward Gen. Franks for campaigning for the president, or for the silence of Mr. Tenet and Ambassador Bremer, whose greatly anticipated kiss and tell books might just prove an embarrassment for the Administration.
We all know how Mr. Bush feels about loyalty. Didn’t he just reward it by giving the Secretary of State job to a National Security Advisor who greatest skills appear to be piano playing, ignoring the advice of counter-terrorism experts like Richard Clarke, and telling the boss what he wants to hear? By extending the tenure of a Secretary of Defense who has consistently used his charisma and charm to paper over the huge cracks in our military establishment? By nominating as his new Attorney General a lawyer who finds the Geneva Conventions obsolete and ‘quaint’?
George Tenet will receive his Medal of Freedom even as his successor burns the midnight oil to tear up his old and dysfunctional agency. Ambassador Bremer may have been passed over for the Secretary of State slot, but will get his medal nonetheless –and only a few weeks after he started his campaign to blame others for our shortcomings in Iraq, and then was coaxed to quickly retract his ‘off the record’ comments about our not having enough troops to get the job done.
Not to misunderstand. Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks and George Tenet are good people who did their best.
But the Presidential Medal of Freedom? When Harry Truman established the award in 1945, it was to recognize ‘exceptional meritorious service’ in the war. When President Kennedy reintroduced it in 1963, it was to be an honor "for especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors".
There may be just a few people who have trouble seeing these three recipients as having contributed much to world peace, national security or “cultural or other significant public or private endeavors".
Think about it.