"Imminent threat" and "slam dunk" mark Tenant book

NY Times:

George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, saying they pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a “serious debate” about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

The 549-page book, “At the Center of the Storm,” is to be published by HarperCollins on Monday. By turns accusatory, defensive, and modestly self-critical, it is the first detailed account by a member of the president’s inner circle of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the decision to invade Iraq and the failure to find the unconventional weapons that were a major justification for the war.

“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.


Despite such sweeping indictments, Mr. Bush, who in 2004 awarded Mr. Tenet a Presidential Medal of Freedom, is portrayed personally in a largely positive light, with particular praise for the his leadership after the 2001 attacks. “He was absolutely in charge, determined, and directed,” Mr. Tenet writes of the president, whom he describes as a blunt-spoken kindred spirit.

The administration never suggested that Iraq was an imminent threat. The case was made on the basis that waiting until it was would be too late to preempt an attack. I think Tenant shines too much about being a scape goat. His agency did supply intelligence on weapons that we were never able to account for. Too much focus has been put on this issue by all sides.

It was the Iraqi regime that was required to account for these weapons under a cease fire agreement as well as several UN resolutions and they were never able to do so. That should have been the case for going to war since it was true and is still true regardless of whether the weapons were ever accounted for. People who did not want to hold Iraq and Saddam to account on his weapons have used the absence of those weapons as an excuse for opposing the war in hindsight and in bad faith. They opposed the war when they thought Saddam had the weapons.

As for the "slam dunk" comment, it was probably used not as a justification for the war, or to blame tenant, but to respond to critics from the CIA itself who were leaking allegations that the administration had ignored intelligence suggesting there were no WMD's in Iraq. In other words, it was used to counter the Wilsons' "Bush lied" lie. It was certainly an appropriate response to the CIA's attempt to scape goat the administration for using its intelligence.

See also Patterico's Pontifications which challenges Tenet's version of the slam dunk.


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