A Plague of Toadies

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

November 18, 2004

WASHINGTON

I went to see the magical "Pericles'' at the Shakespeare Theater the other night.

In ancient Greece, the prince of Tyre tires of all the yes men around him. He chooses to trust the one courtier who intrepidly tells him: "They do abuse the king that flatter him. ... Whereas reproof, obedient and in order, fits kings, as they are men, for they may err.''

Not flatter the king? Listen to dissenting viewpoints? Rulers who admit they've erred?

It's all so B.C. (Before Cheney).

Now, in the 21st-century reign of King George II, flattery is mandatory, dissent is forbidden, and erring without admitting error is the best way to get ahead. President Bush is purging the naysayers who tried to temper crusted-nut-bar Dick Cheney and the neocon crazies on Iraq.

First, faith trumped facts. Now, loyalty trumps competence. W., who was the loyalty enforcer for his father's administration, is now the loyalty enforcer for his own.

Those promoted to be in charge of our security, diplomacy and civil liberties were rewarded for being more loyal to Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney than to the truth.

The president and vice president are dispatching their toadies to the agencies to quell dissent. The crackdown seems bizarre, since hardly anyone dared to disagree with them anyway and there were plenty willing to twist the truth for them.

Consider George Tenet, who assured Mr. Bush that the weak case on Iraqi W.M.D. was "a slam-dunk.'' And Colin Powell, who caved and made the bogus U.N. case for war. Then, when he wanted to stay a bit longer to explore Mideast opportunities arising from Arafat's death, he got shoved out by a president irked by the diplomat's ambivalence and popularity.

Mr. Bush prefers more panting enablers, like Alberto Gonzales. You wanna fry criminals or torture prisoners? Sure thing, boss.

W. and Vice want to extend their personal control over bureaucracies they thought had impeded their foreign policy. It's alarming to learn that they regard their first-term foreign policy - a trumped-up war and bungled occupation, an estrangement from our old allies and proliferating nuclear ambitions in North Korea, Iran and Russia - as impeded. What will an untrammeled one look like?

The post-election hubris has infected Capitol Hill. Law-and-order House Republicans changed the rules so Tom DeLay can stay as majority leader even if he's indicted; Senate Republicans are threatening to rule Democratic filibusters out of order.

In 2002, Cheney & Co. set up their own C.I.A. in the Pentagon to bypass the C.I.A. and conjure up evidence on Iraqi W.M.D. Now Mr. Cheney has sent his lackey, Porter Goss, who helped him try to suffocate the 9/11 commission, to bully the C.I.A. into falling into line.

In an ominous echo of the old loyalty oaths, Mr. Goss has warned employees at the agency that their job is to "support the administration and its policies in our work.''

Mr. Bush doesn't want any more leaks, like the one showing that he was told two months before invading Iraq that such a move could lead to violent internal conflict and more support for radical Islamists.

Mr. Goss has managed to make the dysfunctional C.I.A. even more dysfunctional. Instead of going after Al Qaeda, he's busy purging top-level officials who had been going after Al Qaeda - replacing them with his coterie of hacks from Capitol Hill.

Mr. Cheney is letting his old mentor, Rummy, stay on. What does it matter if the Rummy doctrine - dangerously thin allotments of forces, no exit strategy, snatching State Department occupation duties and then screwing them up - has botched the Iraq mission and left the military so strapped it's calling back old, out-of-shape reservists to active service?

Condi Rice and Stephen Hadley did not do their jobs before 9/11 in coordinating the fight against Al Qaeda, and they did not do their jobs after 9/11 in preventing the debacle in Iraq. They not only suppressed evidence Americans needed to know that would have debunked the neocons' hyped-up case for invading Iraq; they helped shovel hooey into the president's speeches.

Dr. Rice pitched in to help Dr. No whip up that imaginary mushroom cloud. Condi's life story may be inspirational. But the way she got the State Department job is not.

Not only are the Bush officials who failed to protect the country and misled us into war not losing their jobs. They're getting promoted.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com