Senate Democrats

Book Report: At the Center of the Storm, by George Tenet

In his book, At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet confirms that the Bush Administration rushed into war in Iraq based on suspect intelligence with no plan to secure the peace.  Here are some of the key revelations from Tenet’s book:

The Bush Administration was planning to invade Iraq on September 12, 2001.  “All this weighed heavily on my mind as I walked beneath the awning that leads to the West Wing and saw Richard Perle exiting the building just as I was about to enter.  Perle is one of the godfathers of the neoconservative movement and, at the time, was head of the Defense Policy Board, an independent advisory group to the secretary of defense…I had just reached the door myself when Perle turned to me and said, ‘Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday.  They bear responsibility.’…The intelligence then and now, however, showed no evidence of Iraqi complicity.”  (p. XXI) 

The Bush Administration never seriously debated whether Iraq was a threat.  “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.  Nor was there ever a significant discussion regarding enhanced containment or the costs and benefits of such an approach versus full-out planning for overt and covert regime change.” (p. 305)

The Bush Administration never considered the consequences of invading Iraq.  “In none of the meetings can anyone remember a discussion of the central questions.  Was it wise to go to war?  Was it the right thing to do?  The agenda focused solely on what actions would need to be taken if decision to attack were later made.  What never happened, as far as I can tell, was a serious consideration of the implications of a U.S. invasion.” (p. 308)

The CIA warned the White House that the U.S. had a small window of time in which to be “greeted as liberators”.  “While some policy makers were eager to say that we would be greeted as liberators, what they failed to mention is that the intelligence community told them that such a greeting would last for only a limited period.  Unless we quickly provided a secure and stable environment on the ground, the situation could rapidly deteriorate.” (p. 309)

Senior CIA official in Iraq warned of a growing insurgency – and was dismissed as a “defeatist”.  “I remember hearing, after some of the first [cables] seeped out, that NSC officials were calling our senior officer in Iraq a ‘defeatist.’  That shoot-the-messenger theme came up time and time again.  He was, of course, being nothing more than a realist. . .” (p. 434)

Iraq helped to create more terrorists.  “ . . . [A] CIA analyst described how Iraq was the latest in a long series of jihads for Islamic fundamentalists.  ‘Iraq,’ she said, ‘came along at exactly the right time for al-Qa’ida.’  It allowed them to tap into deep wells of support and to inspire a permanent jihadist movement and lure Iraqis into the fight.” (p. 438) 

Bush Administration officials aced “like schoolgirls with their first crush” toward the purveyor of faulty Iraq intelligence, Ahmed Chalabi. “We would sit around these White House meeting expressing the hope that a strong, unifying Iraqi leader would emerge, and while you could tell that one name was on the minds of many in the room, no one would utter it.  You had the impression that some Office of the Vice President and DOD reps were writing Chalabi’s name over and over again in their notes, like schoolgirls with their first crush.  At other times, so persistent was the cheerleading for Chalabi, and so consistent was our own opposition to imposing him on Iraq, that I finally had to tell our people to lay off the subject…In the parliamentary elections, once they were finally held, his party got practically no votes, no seats.” (p. 440) 

The Vice President’s presence in meetings had a “chilling effect” on the debate of alternative viewpoints.  “The one big difference between [Vice Presidents Gore and Cheney] was that Gore had his national security advisor, Leon Fuerth, represent him as Principals’ meetings, while Cheney generally sat in on them himself.  That was his privilege, obviously, but having one of the ultimate decision makers actually participating in the debate made it more difficult for Condi Rice, the president’s national security advisor, who chaired the meetings.  The vice president’s presence may also have had an unintended chilling effect on the free flow of views as important policy matters were debated.” (p. 138)

Bush’s National Security Council did not do its job.  “There was never any doubt that we would defeat the Iraqi military.  What we did not have was an integrated and open process in Washington that was organized to keep the peace, nor did we have unity of purpose and resources on the ground.  Quite simply, the NSC did not do its job.”  (p. 447)

The Bush Administration simply ignored bad news.  “As early as the fall of 2003, it was becoming clear that our political and economic strategy was not working.  The data were available, the trends were clear.  Those in charge of U.S. policy operated within a closed loop.  Bad news was ignored.  Our own subsequent reporting – reporting that eventually would prove spot-on in its predictions of what came to pass on the ground – was dismissed.  Yet little was done to make the adjustments necessary to avoid being overwhelmed by a growing domestic insurgency.” (p. 447)

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