Like most Americans, I am confused about the recent public announcements of George Tenet — not the usual Beltway “he said/she said” sort of accusations and meae culpae that we are accustomed from former officials plugging “inside story” memoirs, but how exactly we are now to digest past statements in light of present behavior.
Surely Tenet had some free will, and when he testified under oath to congressional committees in February 2003 are we now to think such statements were misleading, untrue, or coerced by Dick Cheney — or do some remain absolutely accurate to this day?
Among the many accounts of his critical prewar testimony is the Dana Priest’s February 12, 2003, story in the Washington Post. My point in quoting it is not to show the obvious “that was then, this is now” attitude of Tenet, but to focus on his seemingly prescient warning about Zarqawi. His was a sober assessment, that however orphaned it may be now, seems in the light of history to have stood up pretty well. I highlight the relevant pieces of the February 2003 prewar article by Priest.
“CIA Director George J. Tenet, questioned about the value of ongoing inspections by the United Nations, said there is “little chance you’ll find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq unless Hussein cooperates with inspectors. On the other hand, Tenet said he would expect U.S. troops “will find caches of weapons of mass destruction, absolutely,” were they to invade the country.
If the United States decides not to go to war with Iraq and instead waits on inspectors, Hussein will continue developing weapons of mass destruction, Tenet said. “He will continue to strengthen himself over time,” he said. “It never gets any better with this fellow, and he’s never been a status quo guy.”
Tenet also elaborated on the CIA’s understanding of Iraq’s link to al Qaeda, a central issue in the administration’s case for going to war against Iraq in the near future, as opposed to waiting months longer for the U.N. inspectors to do more work. Tenet described Abu Musab Zarqawi, the main character in the administration’s case that Iraq is working with al Qaeda now, as it had not done in the past, as a “senior al Qaeda associate.” Zarqawi sought medical care in Baghdad, has met with Osama bin Laden, has been financially supported by al Qaeda and has taken “sustenance” from Iraq. But Zarqawi, he pointed out, is not under the control of Hussein.”
Both the description of Zarqawi as a threat with al Qaeda links and enjoying sanctuary in Iraq without being under the control of Saddam Hussein seems born out by his later deadly career and blustering letters to al Qaeda heads. So why the contrition now on that casus belli? Al Qaeda was responsible for killing 3,000 Americans; one of its worst terrorists was freely enjoying sanctuary in Iraq; what has changed about that fact?