Teaching Recent History From Opposite Perspectives
Monday, May 7, 2007
On Douglas Feith's first day as a visiting professor at Georgetown last year, he dropped in on another new professor down the hall. George Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, was friendly and welcoming, Feith recalled. Feith, who as the No. 3 at the Pentagon had served in the Bush administration with Tenet, suggested they get together for lunch.
Not long afterward, Tenet moved his office, four floors down. He told friends he wanted to be as far away as possible from Feith.
The tale of the two professors is shaping up as a reproduction in miniature of the Bush administration's titanic struggle over Iraq.
The two men, who played key roles in building President Bush's case for war, had spent countless hours together in meetings in 2002-2004, poring over intelligence and hammering out policy. Feith recalls the relationship as amicable, even if they often disagreed.
No longer. Tenet and Feith are teaching rival versions of recent history and taking their disagreements public. Each is teaching a class that reflects his own worldview and experience in institutions -- the Defense Department and the CIA -- that saw the world in starkly different terms. Both classes concentrate on al-Qaeda and the events preceding Sept. 11, 2001, as well as on Iraq.
"They come from such different points of view, the way they argue is so different, it is hard to imagine they worked for the same president," said David Salvo, a graduate student and one of only two students admitted to both classes.
In his new memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet draws an unflattering portrait of Feith as a man eager to manipulate intelligence to push the country to war. Last week, Feith, who is completing his own memoir, shot back. In a critical review published in the Wall Street Journal, he highlighted factual errors in Tenet's account while defending the work of his Pentagon office.
Feith said his memoir will portray an administration filled with intelligent people who expressed contrasting views about Iraq and al-Qaeda. Of Tenet, he said: "There was no animus between us. His experience came from inside the intelligence world, mine from the policy world. But obviously, we are writing books that are of a very different species."
Salvo said neither professor used the class to defend his record. "They stood on their principles but acknowledged where things went wrong," he said. They also blamed one another, with Feith noting the faulty CIA intelligence on Iraq's weapons program and Tenet lashing out at the Pentagon for questioning CIA analysts' work.
"There was definitely some tension over DOD's work where Tenet really resented the fact, and he made it clear, that DOD was challenging the CIA's assessments," Salvo recalled. "And Feith on so many occasions really was challenging the CIA's assessment, and he insisted that his office was not doing alternative intelligence work, but doing policy work."
The readings in Tenet's class, "Intelligence in Practice," focus on Bush administration policy and the history of intelligence. Feith's course, "The Bush Administration and the War on Terror," covers the Iraq war and the battle against al-Qaeda.
Each professor asks his students to play the role he gave up in 2004. Assignments include briefing the president on threats and preparing plans for war. At one point, Tenet played the president, grilling students about terrorism threats and chastising them for being unprepared for rigorous inquiry, Salvo recalled.