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Friday, April 27, 2007

How Tenable Are Tenet's New Claims?

This morning's NYT reports on the juicy parts of George Tenet's new, and self-serving, account of his time "At the Center of the Storm."  While POTUS is described in glowing terms as determined and "in-charge," Tenet rips into Cheney for having twisted his words and the national intelligence to rush the US into Iraq without any "serious debate" about the imminence of the Iraq threat or measures to contain Iraq's hegemonic instincts aside from war.  Depressing.

There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.  Mr. Tenet admits that he made his famous “slam dunk” remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on President Bush’s decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war. A copy of the book was purchased at retail price in advance of publication by a reporter for The New York Times. Mr. Tenet described with sarcasm watching an episode of “Meet the Press” last September in which Mr. Cheney twice referred to Mr. Tenet’s “slam dunk” remark as the basis for the decision to go to war.  “I remember watching and thinking, ‘As if you needed me  to say ‘slam dunk’ to convince you to go to war with Iraq,’ ” Mr. Tenet writes. As violence in Iraq spiraled beginning in late 2003, Mr. Tenet writes, “rather than acknowledge responsibility, the administration’s message was: Don’t blame us. George Tenet and the C.I.A. got us into this mess.”

Tenet's take on the emergence of the "slam dunk" case is also notable.  He writes that he wouldn't otherwise be writing this book but for Cheney's gross distortions.  Specifically, he recounts the time at the White House in December 2002, as the gov't was "preparing to make public its case for war against Iraq."

During the meeting, the deputy C.I.A. director, John McLaughlin, unveiled a draft of a proposed public presentation that left the group unimpressed. Mr. Tenet recalls that Mr. Bush suggested that they could “add punch” by bringing in lawyers trained to argue cases before a jury.  “I told the president that strengthening the public presentation was a ‘slam dunk,’ a phrase that was later taken completely out of context,” Mr. Tenet writes. “If I had simply said, ‘I’m sure we can do better,’ I wouldn’t be writing this chapter — or maybe even this book.”

If I understand Tenet's claim correctly, he thinks there's a world of difference between a) the quality of the intelligence indicating the wisdom of military action and b) the need to better present the case for the wisdom of military action.  Normally, I'd be inclined to agree with him if and only if the person making the assessment were a critical outsider to the conversation. 

But Tenet was the inside intelligence man and he doesn't give much indication (at least given the NYT report) that he felt at the time that the quality of the intelligence indicating the wisdom of military action was poor or misleading. On the contrary: Tenet believedthat Iraq had unconventional weapons. “In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible.” 

So for him to say effectively: "I probably wouldn't write this book but for my anger at Cheney, who repeatedly said I thought the intelligence was a slam dunk reason to go to war" strikes me as itself overstretched.  Sure it changes the context in which that remark came up, but does it much change the characterization of Tenet as someone who was "at the center of the storm" and who failed to argue effectively for the need for critical discussion about entry into war? I doubt it.

One last chilling note from the article best left in Tenet's own words, his reflections on Al Qaeda in America and the aftermath of 9/11:

“I thought about all the people who had died and what we had been through in the months since,” he writes. “What am I doing here? Why me?” Mr. Tenet gives a vigorous defense of the C.I.A.’s program to hold captured Qaeda members in secret overseas jails and to question them with harsh techniques, which he does not explicitly describe. Mr. Tenet expresses puzzlement that, since 2001, Al Qaeda has not sent “suicide bombers to cause chaos in a half-dozen American shopping malls on any given day.”  “I do know one thing in my gut,” he writes. “Al Qaeda is here and waiting.”

Posted by Administrators on April 27, 2007 at 09:37 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink

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