Foreign Policy

Secrets of Slam Dunking

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Former CIA Director George Tenet is wrapping up a memoir, scheduled to be published this spring, that will, among other things, explain the "real context" of his remark to President Bush that the case against Saddam Hussein regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk." Based on the account of "one person who has read early drafts of the book," The New York Times tries to explain Tenet's explanation:

Mr. Tenet defended himself by carefully parsing the "slam dunk" comment: he said he was not telling Mr. Bush that there was rock-solid evidence that Mr. Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, only that the president could make a "slam dunk" case to the American public about these weapons programs.

Does that mean that, although the evidence that Iraq had WMDs was not rock solid, Bush easily could pretend that it was? Or does it mean that, assuming the evidence was rock solid (which it wasn't), no one could reasonably question the need to invade? The latter, it seems to me, is clearly not true (although I may be a little biased by the fact that I opposed the war even though I thought it was likely Saddam had substantial WMD capability). The former seems more plausible—indeed, pretty close to what actually happened. But why does Tenet think he looks better by arguing that, rather than naively passing on bad intelligence or consciously exaggerating its strength, he was advising the president on how to fool the public?

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  1. Aw, and here I thought this was going to be an article about Vince Carter’s inner workings of the 360.

  2. Does anybody think there is a tiny possibility that Bush will be impeached?

  3. Joe,

    Only if Russia really does have mind-control rays aimed at the US House of Representatives.

  4. Joe,

    Only if the American people want to see another Civil War, because the Repubs are going to take a Bush impeachment lying down.

  5. I think it means George Tenet is tryng to cover his ass with whoever’s hide he can find. One cannot help but wonder if this careful parsing of “Slam Dunk” was part of Tenet’s conversation with Bush.

    This reads like “Don’t blame me if people actually took my words at face value instead of telepathically discerning the deeper nuanced meaning.”

    Of course since it seems to fit the H&R blame Bush for everything theme, Tenet will continue to be given a pass.

  6. I get the feeling that Tenet isn’t exactly ready to extract that sword he fell on, yet to spur sales, I think he needs to come out with something a tad more tangible than parsed words. Me thinks his publisher was hoping for something more than a coffee table decoration.

  7. I think it’s standard operating procedure for the police to “frame the guilty”. Having decided to their satisfaction who the guilty party is, they then go through the motions of assembling enough evidence, be it good, bad, or indifferent, to get a conviction. I suspect that the Bush administration’s conduct falls into the same category. They don’t think of it as deception, because they’re just trying to sway people to believe what they think is the truth.

    Think President Furman.

  8. Every time I read a book by someone who was disgraced, I always think worse of them. It’s always one part ‘all these weasel words make me think you’re lying’ and one part ‘what you outright admit to makes you a scumbag’.

  9. he said he was not telling Mr. Bush that there was rock-solid evidence that Mr. Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, only that the president could make a “slam dunk” case to the American public about these weapons programs.

    Stephen Macklin,

    It sounds much like VP Albert Gore Jr. and his “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the internet.” and then Snopes coming along and saying it was “clumsy” phrasing and that is not what he meant at all [insert several paragraphs explaining away the direct quote and trying to pretend that he could have voted for funding long before he was ever elected].

  10. Does anybody think there is a tiny possibility that Bush will be impeached?

    No. At this late date, it wouldn’t be worth it. Just hold your nose and pray for the next 2 years to go by really quickly, and hope that he doesn’t break anything else in the meantime.

  11. I’m all in favor of impeaching Bush. At this point, I’d even pay Ted Haggard to give Bush a blowjob, if I thought it would help the process along.

  12. I’m with you, thoreau. I’d like to see him impeached for posterity, not because I think it’d do much good. Bush just deserves it.

    And way to go, Jacob, saying you opposed the war even though you thought there was a good chance Saddam had WMDs. I was never worried about Saddam whether he had them or not (which I didn’t really think he did anyway).

  13. I’m with you, thoreau. I’d like to see him impeached for posterity, not because I think it’d do much good. Bush just deserves it.

    That’s the spirit…revenge! Can’t we all just moveon.org?

  14. It’s not just about revenge. It’s about sending a message to any future President who might be tempted to make shit up in order to start a war.

  15. It’s about sending a message to any future President who might be tempted to make shit up in order to start a war.

    I hear that…my snide comment was really about the value of ‘sending messages’. Like the strong message the House is considering. Or the strong message that CLinton’s impeachment sent (what was that message about lying again?). If we’re going to impeach, let’s do it on principle, not because Bush just deserves it. Even is he does 😉

  16. It all depends on what the meaning of “slam dunk” is. Tenet’s “slam dunk” only extended to biological and chemical weapons, which virtually everyone assumed Saddam had, in some quantities. Tenet wasn’t saying anything about nuclear weapons, which the Bush Administration was furiously pushing, or Saddam’s involvement with Al Qada, which the Administration was also furiously pushing. And, finally, Tenet wasn’t saying anything about the actual need to invade Iraq, which was the real bottom line. One gets the impression that Tenet, well known as a suck-up, worked hard to give the President a snappy phrase that really didn’t mean anything. “Tenet says it’s a ‘slam dunk.'” “Well, hell, let’s start shooting.”

    I guess we can’t get the big medal back from Mr. T, but I’m damn sure not going to buy his book.

  17. “Making shit up to start a war” is par for the course for presidents.

    The Maine,
    The not-carrying-munitions-my-ass Lusitania,
    Gulf of Tonkin.

  18. The not-carrying-munitions-my-ass Lusitania

    Well, that might not have done it if the Kaiser’s government hadn’t figured the US was coming in anyway and so started having quiet discussions with the Mexican government about it attacking the US. That government recalled losing half its territory in the previous war with the US and was unenthusiastic – but the US intercepted the telegrams.

  19. If impeachment is what it takes to prevent the President from “defending” us from Iran or North Korea, I would certainly support it. After that, we can talk about whether or not to extradite him to Iraq.

  20. Of course, Cheney would have to be impeached, too. Does “high crimes and treason” sound too extreme? Oops, am I egging on the nutbars?

  21. Snopes just isn’t truthy enough for you, eh Gary?

  22. Ironchef –
    In fairness, it wasn’t a President who convinced the US that USS Maine was sunk by a Spanish mine 109 years ago tomorrow – it was newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. President McKinley and his cabinet knew there was a VERY good chance that the sinking had been a accident caused by a fire aboard Maine, but Hearst ran with the mine story from the beginning and managed to get the American public convinced that the Spanish had intentionally sunk Maine. Congress then did its usual ‘lead from behind’ routine, screaming for war once they were pretty sure the public was all for it. McKinley could have tried to resist the pressure, but he felt that it was America’s destiny to control ‘the little brown brothers’, so he went along with it. Had he not done so, whoever had followed him – for McKinley would then have almost certainly lost the 1900 elections – would have found an excuse to do it anyways.

    Mike

  23. Snopes just isn’t truthy enough for you, eh Gary?

    Is there some thing happening here where commenters find out other commenter’s real name and uses it like some sort of veiled threat, like “I know who you really are…”?
    I saw someone refer to another commenter by what looked like could have been their last name.

  24. highnumber,

    Easy there. I typed “Gary” instead of “Guy.”

  25. “”It all depends on what the meaning of “slam dunk” is. Tenet’s “slam dunk” only extended to biological and chemical weapons, which virtually everyone assumed Saddam had, in some quantities”””

    Anything based in an assumption is not a slam dunk.

    Bottom line, he was BSing the President. Tenet did not know, nor could prove that Saddam had WMD yet he made sound like he could.

    The best we found was outdated artie shells. It’s only a slam dunk if you can prove your right, which Tenet could not.

    We sold Saddam military equipment and the government knows more than us as to what was sold. I don’t know if we sold Saddam chemical or bio weapons. But can Rumsfeld say that?

    But I think Bush Sr. bombed anything he knew was a risk. Even if it said milk factory. Iraq’s weapons capibility was greatly reduced after gulf war I.

    Whether or not Saddam still had anything remotely related to WMD after gulf war I was a guess. Certainly, there has been no evidence that has lead to discovery of such.

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