Tenet: White House warned of Iraq chaos
Book by ex-CIA chief highly critical of Cheney; Bush official rejects claims
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:01 p.m. ET April 27, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO - The CIA warned the Bush White House seven months before the 2003 Iraq invasion that the U.S. could face a thicket of bad consequences, starting with “anarchy and the territorial breakup” of the country, former CIA Director George Tenet writes in a new book.
CIA analysts wrote the warning at the start of August 2002 and inserted it into a briefing book distributed at an early September meeting of President Bush’s national security team at Camp David, he writes.
The agency analysis painted what Tenet calls additional “worst-case” scenarios: “a surge of global terrorism against U.S. interests fueled by deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States”; “regime-threatening instability in key Arab states”; and “major oil supply disruptions and severe strains in the Atlantic alliance.”
While the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have been widely criticized for being wrong about much of the prewar intelligence on Iraq, the analysis Tenet describes concerning postwar scenarios seems prescient. Iraq is buffeted by brutal sectarian violence, and there are suggestions that the country be partitioned into ethnic zones.
However, Tenet cautions against concluding that the CIA predicted many of the difficulties that followed. “Doing so would be disingenuous,” because the agency saw them as possible scenarios, not certainties, he writes. “The truth is often more complex than convenient.”
The analysis also presaged an intelligence community conclusion last year that the Iraq war was fueling Islamic resentment toward the United States and giving rise to a new generation of terror operatives.
Tenet’s recollection of the memo also comes at a time when Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress are locked in a high-stakes dispute over war funding and whether to set hard timetables for ending the war.
A copy of the book, “At the Center of the Storm,” was purchased by an Associated Press reporter Friday at a retail outlet, ahead of its scheduled Monday release. Tenet served as CIA chief from 1997 to 2004.
The book is highly critical of Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials, who Tenet argues rushed the United States into war in Iraq without serious debate — a charge the White House rejected Friday. Beyond that, he contends, the administration failed to adequately consider what would come in the war’s aftermath.
“There was precious little consideration, that I’m aware of, about the big picture of what would come next,” Tenet writes. “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 only for a limited period.”
The former CIA director offers a litany of questions that went unasked:
# “What impact would a large American occupying force have in an Arab country in the heart of the Middle East?”
# “What kind of political strategy would be necessary to cause the Iraqi society to coalesce in a post-Saddam world and maximize the chances for our success?”
# “How would the presence of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, and the possibility of a pro-West Iraqi government, be viewed in Iran? And what might Iran do in reaction?”
Tenet laments that “there seemed to be a lack of curiosity in asking these kinds of questions, and the lack of a disciplined process to get the answers before committing the country to war.”
Tenet assigns his own agency part of the blame, saying the intelligence community should have strove to answer the questions not asked by the administration.
The memoir paints a portrait of constant tension between the CIA and the office of Cheney, who Tenet says stretched the intelligence to serve his own belief that war was the right course.
It alarmed Tenet and surprised even Bush, the author says, when Cheney issued his now-famous declaration that, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”
Chastising Cheney nearly five years later, Tenet writes: “Policy makers have a right to their own opinions, but not their own set of facts.” Here again, Tenet blames himself for not pulling Cheney aside and telling him the WMD assertion was “well beyond what our analysis could support.”
For the first time, Tenet offers an account of his own view of a historic moment in the run-up to war: Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 2003 speech before the United Nations, with Tenet sitting just behind him.
“That was about the last place I wanted to be,” Tenet recalls. “It was a great presentation, but unfortunately the substance didn’t hold up,” he says of the performance, in which Powell charged Iraq had WMD stockpiles.
“One by one, the various pillars of the speech, particularly on Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons programs, began to buckle,” he writes. “The secretary of state was subsequently hung out to dry in front of the world, and our nation’s credibility plummeted.”
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