This cheap sacrifice offers little solace to those who question the the Iraq war

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There are personal reasons and "personal reasons" and, fairly or not, it is hard to classify the reasons for George Tenet's resignation from the CIA as anything other than "personal". For all President George Bush's loyal - if peremptory - valediction, the head of the world's largest intelligence service thus becomes the first senior government executive, on either side of the Atlantic, to pay for the disastrous miscalculations of the Iraq war with his job. There is more than a little irony in the fact that the first head to roll belongs to the director of the organisation that was once headed by George Bush's father and carries his name.

There are personal reasons and "personal reasons" and, fairly or not, it is hard to classify the reasons for George Tenet's resignation from the CIA as anything other than "personal". For all President George Bush's loyal - if peremptory - valediction, the head of the world's largest intelligence service thus becomes the first senior government executive, on either side of the Atlantic, to pay for the disastrous miscalculations of the Iraq war with his job. There is more than a little irony in the fact that the first head to roll belongs to the director of the organisation that was once headed by George Bush's father and carries his name.

As head of the CIA, Mr Tenet can be held responsible for failings that have been as numerous as they have been catastrophic. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, which not only felled the World Trade Centre buildings, but came close to annihilating the Pentagon, the White House and the Capitol, exposed one of the biggest intelligence failures in any country, ever. Grilled recently by members of the 9/11 Commission, Mr Tenet admitted that the US was "in effect, unprotected" when the attacks took place.

Since then, the CIA and its director have been held responsible for a veritable catalogue of errors. It was Mr Tenet who advised, on the basis of available intelligence, that removing Saddam Hussein and bringing democracy to Iraq would be a "slam dunk" or a "cakewalk", against the better judgement of many in the US top brass. It was the CIA that provided documentation that supposedly proved Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. It was the CIA that supplied Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, with material for his UN Security Council presentation on those weapons, a presentation that an unhappy General Powell now describes as almost all wrong.

It was the CIA, we are told, that was sweet-talked by the Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi, into believing not only that Iraq was an imminent threat to international security, but that US forces would be rapturously received when they rode into Baghdad. And it was intelligence operatives who have largely been blamed for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. In short, there is plenty to damn George Tenet and the organisation he led. And yet, and yet. Mr Tenet is in many respects the cheapest and most convenient of the scapegoats Mr Bush could have chosen. He was appointed by President Clinton, so he is not a personal Bush appointee. Formerly deputy CIA head, he has been a technocratic rather than political director, who kept himself apart from the neo-conservative ideologues who argued so forcefully for the war. And because so many sins can be laid at Mr Tenet's door, from the misleading intelligence on, his resignation lifts a weight of baggage from Mr Bush as he sets off for the weekend of D-Day commemoration in Europe. Mr Bush may be no Einstein, but he is much underestimated as a politician. The more flak Mr Tenet takes, the less falls on anyone else.

If the departure of Mr Tenet is a cheap sacrifice from Mr Bush's perspective, it offers at least a little consolation to all those Americans who now question the war; some half-admission of culpability by someone. Had the intelligence proved correct, had the war gone well, Mr Tenet's job would have been safe.

On this side of the Atlantic, no one in government has yet paid any price for the Iraq debacle. The Hutton inquiry absolved everyone in a political or executive position of malign intent. The only people subsequently to fall on their swords, voluntarily or not, were the purveyors of inaccurate, or unwelcome, news. Like the American public, we have heard no apology for the inaccuracy of the intelligence, for the credulity of ministers, or for the fatal miscalculations of the war.

We await the findings of the Butler inquiry into the intelligence services next month. As of now, however, the head of MI6 is passing into comfortable semi-retirement as head of a Cambridge college, while the author of Downing Street's misleading weapons report has been named as his successor.

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