Ex-head of CIA accuses Bush over rush to war
Saulus turning into Paulus, if he is supposed to serve as a scapegoat for the bloody catastrophy of the Anti-Terro-War? Why not, if truth finally will be revealed. The row over how President Bush went to war in Iraq has re-erupted with a charge by George Tenet, the former director of the CIA, that a coterie of top officials pushed America into the conflict with no real debate as to whether Saddam Hussein actually posed an imminent threat to the US.
Mr Tenet’s angry indictment of his colleagues is the first of its kind from a top ranking member of Mr Bush’s once-vaunted national security team, and was instantly rebutted by the White House.
“The President did wrestle with those very serious questions,” Dan Bartlett, a senior White House adviser, said yesterday. The former CIA chief, he drily noted, though a “true patriot” was probably unaware of how intensely the President had discussed the case for war with Tony Blair and other allied leaders.
That dismissal, however, is unlikely to be the end of the matter as Iraq is at the centre of political debate here and Mr Bush is poised to veto a measure from the Democrat-controlled Congress that ties $124bn (£62m) of emergency funding for the wars there and in Afghanistan to a phased troop withdrawal starting later this year.
In a sense, the row follows a familar Washington pattern, especially in the second term of a struggling administration, when officials who have lost either arguments or their jobs tend to settle scores with their rivals, usually in the pages of a best-selling political tell-all.
Thus it has been with Mr Tenet, in his 549-page At the Center of the Storm, due to be published on Monday, but whose juiciest segments appeared in the US press yesterday. This time, however, the consequences could resonate far more widely, given the unfolding disaster Iraq has become and that Mr Tenet is confirming from the inside what has long been suspected by most outsiders.
“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” he writes, nor “a significant discussion” about whether Saddam might have been kept in check without an invasion.
This last point will only strengthen criticism that Mr Bush did not give diplomacy a chance, nor the UN weapons inspectors enough time, to establish what after the invasion quickly became evident: that Iraq did not possess WMD.
Instead, Mr Tenet paints a picture of a small group, centred on Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, who had made up their minds that Saddam Hussein’s regime must be removed within weeks of the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Its members include Mr Rumsfeld’s former deputy Paul Wolfowitz – now fighting to keep his job as World Bank president – and Douglas Feith, the Pentagon’s top policy planner.
Mr Tenet is also plainly furious at how Condoleezza Rice, then Mr Bush’s national security adviser, made him designated scapegoat for the debacle of the “16 words” that appeared in the President’s January 2003 State of the Union, claiming that Saddam had sought to buy uranium in Niger. The row made inevitable his resignation in mid-2004.
But nothing enrages Mr Tenet more than the infamous “slam dunk” episode, at a White House meeting in December 2002, three months before the invasion. In his 2004 book, Plan of Attack, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward claimed that Mr Tenet had assured the President that the evidence that Saddam had WMD was a “slam dunk” – a sure thing, in basketball parlance.
Mr Tenet now plainly believes the leak to Mr Woodward was another set-up to pin responsibility on the CIA. In his version, he uttered the two words with which he will forever be associated in reference to a strategy of improving public presentation of the evidence, not to the strength of the evidence itself. Since then both Mr Cheney and Ms Rice have publicly used his “slam dunk” statement to excuse their own pre-war belief Iraq had WMD.
For the CIA director, this was “the despicable thing I’ve heard in my life”.
“Men of honour don’t do this,” he tells tomorrow’s CBS programme 60 Minutes. “How it happened I don’t know, but [it’s] the only thing you have at the end of the day.” From that moment, “the trust was broken between me and the White House,” he added.
As literature and science are of no concern to the surveillance issues of the CIA, Mr. Tenet had sure no time to read Ottosen on key stages of a military campaign to “soften up” public opinion through the media in preparation for an armed intervention, his “trust” into the White House sure had to be shattered. Besides, neither literature nor science would be a bad field of research for a Central Ingelligence Agency, and it might even keep war mongery at bay…
(after Rupert Cornwell, Washington – The Independent )