Cheney: Blame George Tenet

It is a grey day in D.C. The subdued sky, a stark contrast to the brilliantly blue one five years ago, seems to fit the national mood. America has not been attacked again, but the world still seems a forbidding and frightening place. Five years ago, there was remarkably little blame game for what had ...

607162_Tenet5.jpg
607162_Tenet5.jpg

It is a grey day in D.C. The subdued sky, a stark contrast to the brilliantly blue one five years ago, seems to fit the national mood. America has not been attacked again, but the world still seems a forbidding and frightening place.

Five years ago, there was remarkably little blame game for what had happened. The attack was so shocking that somehow debating the intelligence failures that had led to it seemed inappropriate or petty. It also helped that the attacks occurred just a few months into a new presidency and one by different party. If Gore had won in 2000, there would have been no such moratorium on debate. It's for this reason that no one was ever dismissed for the failure to uncover the plot. A sacking would have blurred the moral clarity that Bush was so keen to express.

The biggest beneficiary of this was George Tenet, who stayed as CIA Director. This Clinton administration appointee is now, though, being hung out to dry by the Bush administration. The most noticeable thing about Dick Cheney's appearance on Meet the Press this weekend was not his usual stonewalling, concede-no-ground, hyper-partisan approach, but the way in which he laid the blame at Tenet's feet at every opportunity.

It is a grey day in D.C. The subdued sky, a stark contrast to the brilliantly blue one five years ago, seems to fit the national mood. America has not been attacked again, but the world still seems a forbidding and frightening place.

Five years ago, there was remarkably little blame game for what had happened. The attack was so shocking that somehow debating the intelligence failures that had led to it seemed inappropriate or petty. It also helped that the attacks occurred just a few months into a new presidency and one by different party. If Gore had won in 2000, there would have been no such moratorium on debate. It’s for this reason that no one was ever dismissed for the failure to uncover the plot. A sacking would have blurred the moral clarity that Bush was so keen to express.

The biggest beneficiary of this was George Tenet, who stayed as CIA Director. This Clinton administration appointee is now, though, being hung out to dry by the Bush administration. The most noticeable thing about Dick Cheney’s appearance on Meet the Press this weekend was not his usual stonewalling, concede-no-ground, hyper-partisan approach, but the way in which he laid the blame at Tenet’s feet at every opportunity.

George Tenet sat in the Oval Office and the president of the United States asked him directly, he said, “George, how good is the case against Saddam on weapons of mass destruction?” The director of the CIA said, “It’s a slam dunk, Mr. President, it’s a slam dunk.” That was the intelligence that was provided to us at the time, and based upon which we made a choice.”

Cheney also implicitly accused the CIA of making claims and then not having the courage to stand by them. Take these two choice quotes:

This was the reporting we received from the CIA when I responded to your question and said it had been pretty well confirmed that he’d been in Prague. The—later on, they were unable to confirm it. Later on, they backed off of it.”

The evidence we also had at the time was that he had a relationship with al-Qaeda. And that was George Tenet’s testimony, the director of the CIA, in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if the bitter nature of these attacks has anything to do with the fact that Tenet has a book coming out next year. Unusually, there are no galley copies and no pre-releases for it, which suggests there is a “stop the presses” revelation in there. The Ron Suskind book illustrates that Tenet feels that the “slam dunk” quote has been unfairly used. So, expect some push-back on this. According to his publishers,

Tenet will give a privileged view of the controversial decision to go to war – providing previously unreported context and background, including an insider’s account of how the controversial “sixteen words” made it into the President’s State of the Union speech, the real context of Tenet’s own now-famous “slam-dunk” comment, and the CIA’s views on the rise of the Iraqi insurgency.”

I suspect that we shall soon be hearing the line: The White House doesn’t do book reviews.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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