At the Periphery of the Storm

One of Mr. Tenet’s main arguments is that he was somehow disconnected from the decision to go to war. Under the circumstances, it seems odd that he would call his book “At the Center of the Storm.” He should have called it “At the Periphery of the Storm” or maybe: “Was That a Storm That Just Went By?”



Doug Feith reviews Tenet’s book, closing excerpt:

…Fairness, evidently, was not Mr. Tenet’s motivating impulse as an author. His book is defensive. It aims low — to settle scores. The prose is humdrum. Mr. Tenet includes no citations that would let the reader check the accuracy of his account. He offers no explanation of why we went to war in Iraq. So, is the book useless? No.

What it does offer is insight into Mr. Tenet. It allows you to hear the way he talked — fast, loose, blustery, emotional, imprecise, from the “gut.” Mr. Tenet proudly refers to the guidance of his “gut” several times in the book — a strange boast from someone whose stock-in-trade should be accuracy and precision. “At the Center of the Storm” also allows you to see the way he reasoned — unimaginatively and inconsistently. And it gives a glimpse of how he operated: He picked sides; he played favorites. The people he liked got his attention and understanding, their judgments his approval; the people he disliked he treated harshly and smeared. His loyalty is to tribe rather than truth.

Mr. Tenet makes a peculiar claim of detachment, as if he had not been a top official in the Bush administration. He wants readers not to blame him for the president’s decision to invade Iraq. He implies that he never supported it and never even heard it debated. Mr. Tenet writes: “In many cases, we were not aware of what our own government was trying to do. The one thing we were certain of was that our warnings were falling on deaf ears.”

Mr. Tenet’s point here builds on the book’s much-publicized statements that the author never heard the president and his national-security team debate “the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” whether or not it was “wise to go to war” or when the war should start. He paints a distorted picture here.

But even if it were true that he never heard any such debate and was seriously dissatisfied with the dialogue in the White House Situation Room, he had hundreds of opportunities to improve the discussion by asking questions or making comments. I sat with him in many of the meetings, and no one prevented him from talking. It is noteworthy that Mr. Tenet met with the president for an intelligence briefing six days every week for years. Why didn’t he speak up if he thought that the president was dangerously wrong or inadequately informed?

One of Mr. Tenet’s main arguments is that he was somehow disconnected from the decision to go to war. Under the circumstances, it seems odd that he would call his book “At the Center of the Storm.” He should have called it “At the Periphery of the Storm” or maybe: “Was That a Storm That Just Went By?”

I’ve no interest in rehashing the Iraq/al Qaeda relationship — but Feith’s review is quite interesting for insights into the workings of the intelligence community.