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Tenet: No 'Serious Debate' Held over Iraq Options

Former Deputy Director John McLaughlin Reacts

Former CIA chief George Tenet said the Bush administration used him as a scapegoat over intelligence issues with the war in Iraq, and debate among top officials was absent when decisions were made to invade the country.

In an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes to air Sunday night, Tenet discussed claims made in his forthcoming memoir At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, which focuses in part on his dealings with the Bush administration in the weeks and months leading up to the Iraq war.

Tenet, who has rarely been seen in the media since leaving the CIA in June 2004, said his comment on Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction being a "slam dunk" was taken out of context by the administration. The comment, he said, was made in a meeting in late 2002 in reference to the idea that the Bush team needed to make a better case for going to war.

No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, which was a blow to the Bush administration because it was its key justification for going to war with the country.

Tenet told CBS, "The hardest part of all this has just been listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on 'Meet the Press' on the fifth year of 9/11, you know, and say, 'Well, George Tenet said slam dunk,' as if he needed me to say 'slam dunk' to go to war with Iraq, as if he needed me to say that."

In the memoir, Tenet expresses frustration with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz, claiming they pushed the country toward war without debate about other options.

In an interview with NBC's Today show Friday morning, Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush, disputed Tenet's claims that the president and his advisers didn't consider options other than war when it came to Iraq and Saddam.

"This president weighed all the various proposals, weighed all the various consequences, before he did make a decision," Bartlett told NBC.

He also stated that Tenet's "slam dunk" comment was not the only basis for going to war.

"There was a whole body of evidence and behavior by Saddam Hussein that led President Bush to believe that he had to be removed with force," Barlett said in the interview. "So, look, we're all recognizing today, three years later, that the evidence, the case of WMD, was wrong. And we have taken extreme steps to reform our intelligence community to make sure that that doesn't happen again."

New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti obtained a copy of the memoir, which goes on sale Monday. In an interview with NPR on Friday, Mazzetti said Tenet states in his memoir, "There was never a debate about whether the threat was imminent from Iraq. There wasn't a debate about other options besides invasion."

Scott Shane, who co-authored a piece in the Times with Mazzetti on Friday, told NPR, "It's quite an indictment of the process" leading up to the war.

Tenet was appointed CIA director in July 1997 during the Clinton administration, when a previous appointee, Anthony Lake, withdrew his name. President Bush reappointed Tenet to the role.

Tenet headed up all government intelligence immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. Over the years, he built up a long list of security and intelligence credentials. He landed his first government job in 1982, joining the staff of U.S. Sen. John Heinz.

In his NBC interview, Bartlett called Tenet a "fine American, a patriot to his country, who served his country quite well."

He also said "the president has a high regard for him."

Mazzetti and Shane said Tenet is fairly favorable to President Bush in his memoir. But in his interview with 60 Minutes, Tenet said he was thrown "overboard."

"You don't do this, you don't call somebody in. You work your heart out. You show up every day. You're going to throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection? Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me. Okay, that's how I feel," Tenet told CBS.

He continued: "Now, how it happened and who orchestrated it and what happened — you know, at the end of the day, the only thing you have is trust and honor in this world. That's all you have. All you have is your reputation built on trust and your personal honor. When you don't have that anymore, well, you know, there you go. Trust was broken."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Meghan Collins Sullivan is a senior editor on the Arts & Culture Desk, overseeing non-fiction books coverage at NPR. She has worked at NPR over the last 13 years in various capacities, including as the supervising editor for NPR.org – managing a team of online producers and reporters and editing multi-platform news coverage. She was also lead editor for the 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog, written by five scientists on topics related to the intersection of science and culture.
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