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Editorial | George Tenet's Book

A schmoozer's lament

If it's not one former or current member of the Bush administration trying to shirk responsibility for monumental governmental lapses on 9/11 and Iraq, it's another.

The exercise in keister-covering would be merely tedious by now - if it didn't reflect this White House's most destructive tendencies - tendencies that figure prominently into Iraq's bloody instability.

The shirker du jour is George Tenet, who was CIA chief during the 2001 terrorist attacks and the run-up to invading Iraq. He resigned in 2004, well after the epic intelligence blunder of declaring that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which Bush cited as a chief reason to wage war.

Tenet has a new job now: trying to reinvent himself through his just released book, At the Center of the Storm. Until this week's book launch, he had been quiet about the flimsiness of the WMD intelligence presented while he headed the CIA.

Running the spy agency isn't an easy job. Tenet, who served under President Clinton before Bush, probably did some things well. But he did so many things badly.

He put schmoozing Bush ahead of candidly telling the president about the contradictory WMD evidence.

Tenet's book makes clear he also knew the administration was predisposed to ousting Hussein. The stakes were as high as they can get - deciding whether to send our troops to war - yet Tenet played down information that didn't jibe with the administration's Iraq obsession.

He now pleads that he was made the White House's scapegoat for the pre-war misinformation. He says his "it's a slam dunk" quote about WMDs was taken out of context.

That's one view, here's another:

Tenet should be held accountable for the skewed intelligence that came out of the agency he led. He could have impressed upon Bush at their many meetings that the intelligence was thin. Tenet did not.

Instead, he writes in his book, the White House never had a deep discussion about whether Iraq actually posed an imminent threat or if anything short of war could contain Hussein.

That's as believable as it is scary.

This administration thrives on secrecy, never admitting mistakes, and dismissing contrary views. Many officials share responsibility with Tenet and Bush for starting a war under pretenses and bungling its aftermath.

Vice President Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his lieutenants Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were masters of selectively choosing intelligence.

The Pentagon trio left the administration insisting that their war and peace plans were just fine. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, was an accomplice to incompetence.

Bush acknowledged mistakes only after intense public dissatisfaction with the continuing violence in Iraq. Cheney still is suggesting, with no facts to support him, that Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks.

Looking back on all of that, maybe Tenet acted better than these other officials. But that's not saying much.