George Tenet's Kiss and Tell

What does it take for a guy to stay bought in Washington, D.C. these days? I had assumed that when President Bush awarded former CIA Director George Tenet the Medal of Freedom, it was a not-too-subtle payoff for Tenet's willingness to be the fallguy on faulty pre-war intelligence. Evidently not.

Because Tenet's book isn't officially available yet, it's hard to figure out exactly how his assessment that the evidence for Saddam's possession of WMD was a "slam dunk" was "taken out of context," but the news reports I've seen thus far make little sense. In yesterday's NY Times story, for example, Tenet says that the White House was going to invade Iraq no matter what. That may well be true, and is very damning of the Bush administration, but it's hard to fathom how it lets Tenet off the hook. The "slam dunk" line was part of what enabled the administration to sell the war to the public. So if we blame Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al for rushing to war, we have to blame Tenet for helping them get away with it.

To be sure, anyone who has read other inside accounts---including reporting by the likes of Seymour Hersh in early 2003, when it should have made a difference---knows that the real storyline on intelligence was that the CIA was skeptical, especially about Iraqi links to al Qaeda, but that the Pentagon and the Vice President created their own alternative intelligence operation to tell them what they wanted to hear. So Tenet is right that the administration's storyline --- "Gee, we believed what the CIA was telling us" --- is full of holes. Tenet is right, in other words, to be upset that he has been made to shoulder the blame for motivating the war. It remains to be seen, however, whether he can evade responsibility for his role in selling it. Either way, he gets to keep his medal.