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A wartime resignation

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Speculation will continue for a long time on whether CIA Director George J. Tenet jumped or was pushed out of his job as the Bush administration's intelligence chief. Either way, the timing was a commentary on how the nation is fighting the war in Iraq and on terrorism generally.

In President Bush's speech at the dedication of the World War II Memorial, he compared the current conflict with the fight against fascism. But in that one, America went into total mobilization and stayed there for nearly four years. In this one, while Mr. Bush paints himself as a wartime president, he tells us to continue enjoying ourselves as usual.

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Even as U.S. troops of the volunteer army in Iraq are being held in service involuntarily past their enlistment, we are informed by the CIA director, tearfully, that he is leaving his critical post to spend more time with his teenage son.

Such is the wartime footing on which this president puts the country. Such a reasoned exit was not likely to have happened in World War II, when Americans - including teenage sons - were drafted by the millions and were required to serve for the duration.

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Nor would taxpayers at home during World War II, especially the rich, have been given tax cuts as they are now so they could buy gas-guzzling SUVs and other luxury items. Rather, they were asked throughout that war to buy war bonds to finance the fight and had their gas consumption severely rationed, keyed to their participation in the war effort at home.

In the World War II to which this president compares the war in Iraq, a senator from Missouri named Harry Truman achieved renown investigating and uncovering examples of war contract abuses. In this war, private contractors such as Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old outfit, get no-bid deals to serve meals to U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

So it should not be surprising if Mr. Tenet really is leaving his CIA command post to, as government officials in hot water always say as they go out the door, "spend more time with my family." This surely is the most bizarre "wartime" the American people have been asked to endure since the real wartime of World War II, and, for that matter, of Vietnam, when young American men were drafted.

All this is not to suggest that Mr. Bush's war in Iraq is a war without sacrifice. The more than 800 Americans who have died in it have made the ultimate sacrifice, and the thousands more who have suffered wounds have given more than their share.

So have the thousands of regular military families and those of National Guard and Reserve members who have been deprived of their bread-winning loved ones for periods of time far beyond what they were led to believe they faced when their call-ups first came.

But the invasion of Iraq more than a year ago was a war of choice, and if Mr. Tenet is to be believed, his decision to no longer serve this "wartime president" was his choice as well. The grunts who have been fighting the war of choice, however, are signed up for a full tour of duty that in some cases is being extended.

At the same time, the damage sustained to the Army's reputation and image by the disclosure of Iraqi prisoner abuse is a special price the military itself is paying by risking the undermining of recruitment.

This administration blundered not simply by launching a pre-emptive war in Iraq without solid international support, but also by not putting the nation at home on a true wartime footing to fight it.

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If the World War II climate of we're-all-in-this-together prevailed today as it did about the war on terrorism right after that fateful Sept. 11, Mr. Tenet would have had a harder time walking away, as we're told he is doing.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


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