WASHINGTON -- George Tenet has a very mixed legacy. On the one hand, he presided over the two biggest intelligence failures of this era -- 9/11 and the WMD debacle in Iraq. On the other hand, his CIA did devise and carry out brilliantly an astonishingly bold plan to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Tenet might have just left it at that, gone home with his Presidential Medal of Freedom and let history judge him.
Instead, he's decided to do some judging of his own. In his just-released book and in hawking it on television, Tenet presents himself as a pathetic victim and scapegoat of an administration that was hell-bent on going to war, slam dunk or not.
Tenet writes as if he assumes no one remembers anything. For example: ``There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.''
Does he think no one remembers President Bush explicitly rejecting the imminence argument in his 2003 State of the Union address in front of just about the largest possible world audience? Said the president, ``Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent'' -- and he was not one of them. That in a post-9/11 world, we cannot wait for tyrants and terrorists to gentlemanly declare their intentions. Indeed, elsewhere in the book Tenet concedes that very point: ``It was never a question of a known, imminent threat; it was about an unwillingness to risk surprise.''
Tenet also makes what he thinks is the damning and sensational charge that the administration, led by Vice President Cheney, had been focusing on Iraq even before 9/11. In fact, he reports, Cheney asked for a CIA briefing on Iraq for the president even before they had been sworn in.
This is odd? This is news? For the entire decade following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was the single greatest threat in the region and therefore the most important focus of U.S. policy. U.N. resolutions, congressional debates and foreign policy arguments were seized with the Iraq question and its many post-Gulf War complications -- the WMDs, the inspection regimes, the cease-fire violations, the no-fly zones, the progressive weakening of sanctions.
Iraq was such an obsession of the Clinton administration that Clinton ultimately ordered an air and missile attack on its WMD installations that lasted four days. This was less than two years before Bush won the presidency. Is it odd that the administration following Clinton's should share its extreme concern about Iraq and its weapons?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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