Curses, foiled again!

Russell Baker

October 01, 1991|By Russell Baker

IF I'M reading the papers right, Robert Gates qualifies to become head of the CIA because he knew little or nothing about scandalous doings in progress there when he was Number Two on the organization chart.

By this test I'm just as qualified to run the CIA as Gates because I didn't know the first thing about that scandal either.

This is the second big presidential appointment to slip through ,, my fingers this fall. The first was the Supreme Court job soon to be awarded Judge Clarence Thomas for an impoverished boyhood during which he got along without indoor plumbing.

I hate to keep boasting about this, but I would have been willing to match my own childhood experience of outdoor privies against Judge Thomas's if President Bush and the Senate had come right out at the start and told everybody what they were looking for.

I would have liked the job too. Who wouldn't? You wear a handsome black robe that practically screams "Very Important Person" and sit on a high bench where you not only look down on lawyers but are also licensed to torment them to your heart's content.

The Supreme Court needed me too. It already has so many conservatives there's nobody left for them to hiss when he tries to join them in the Supreme Court cafeteria.

What's more, I could show them how to repeal Roe vs. Wade as well as the late Earl Warren in plain English so everybody could understand it.

Running the CIA, on the other hand, is not my kind of job. I like to know what's going on. At the CIA, if I'm reading the papers right, you know what's going on, it's curtains, pal.

Only after hearing that Gates was practically totally out of touch with one of the shop's really big events -- only then did the Senate's confirming committee move toward giving him the top job.

What kind of guy do you want running an intelligence operation? Isn't it obvious? You want somebody who doesn't know what's going on right under his nose, as it were.

This stems from a philosophy of government that holds that if you're governed by people who know the score it's trouble, my friend, right there in Potomac River City, with a capital T, and that rhymes with C, and that stands for Carter, who was not only president but spent all his time trying to find out what was going on.

The new style was developed under the leadership of a recent president I shall not name, out of deference to popular sentiment, which would rather not think about him. Suffice it to say that this White House pioneer brought not knowing what's going on right under your own nose to new heights when:

(1) Upon meeting his secretary of housing and urban development in the Oval Office, he greeted him as "Mayor,"

(2) Under interrogation in court he could not recall his military chief of staff, and

(3) He failed to notice that a lieutenant colonel on the White House staff was running an illegal foreign-policy operation designed to finance the overthrow of a foreign government by selling U.S. weapons to another government so hostile to the United States that its agents kidnapped U.S. citizens and held them as hostages.

It will be a long, long time before we again see anybody in government reach such masterful heights of being totally out of it, but our governing classes continue to strive for it.

Consider the above-mentioned Thomas, for instance, who just a week or two ago declared himself so innocent of opinion on the abortion question that astronauts could scour the faraway planet Pluto without finding his equal in detachment from the passions of American life.

Gates of the CIA has apparently struggled in the same spirit to avoid knowing the score. I won't mention the name of the famous CIA scandal about which he achieved nearly total unawareness. As an American, you hate being reminded of this scandal and, indeed, why should you be? You're just as entitled to be totally out of it as those know-nothings in Washington, aren't you?

William Casey, the last government man aware of anything, including this scandal we don't want to know about, is now dead. He was Gates' superior at CIA. Upon dying, Casey took all knowledge of the scandal with him. What a fine thing he did for the team.

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