By Sydney H. Schanberg
First published on Schanberg Reports, Sunday, May 6, 2007
In Sunday’s Washington Post (May 6), Bob Woodward penned a lengthy appraisal of George Tenet’s book, “At The Center Of The Storm,” about his tenure as George Bush’s CIA director. But it’s not really a review of the Tenet book; it’s more like an explanation of how Tenet could have been a better intelligence chief and written a better memoir if only he had listened to Bob Woodward.
Woodward takes Tenet to task for, among other things, failing to bring his pre-9/11 Al Qaeda alarms directly to the president, one on one, instead of to Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser. The criticism is appropriate; the tone is way off-key.
Woodward cites a Tenet quote from his recent interview on “60 Minutes,” as follows: “The president is not the action officer. You bring the action to the national security adviser and people who set the table for the president to decide on policies they’re going to implement.”
Woodward comments: “Whoa! That’s a startling admission. I’m pretty certain that President Bush or any president, for that matter would consider himself or herself the action officer when it comes to protecting the country from terrorism.”
“I’m pretty certain.” With such words and signals throughout the article, Woodward reminds you of his insider status and access to high places as demonstrated by his own books (“Plan of Attack” and “State of Denial”) about the Bush White House’s march to the invasion of Iraq. The trouble is, “Plan of Attack” showed Woodward to be too close to the White House and its plans for war. The later book, “State of Denial” was an attempt to rehabilitate himself as a principled journalist not too cozy or beholden to his sources.
This book review doesn’t really get him off the hook. He is still using the Washington Post as a venue for justifying his anonymous-source methods – methods which spare his best sources any serious scrutiny or criticism.
It is common knowledge that Colin Powell has for years been one of Woodward’s most available unidentified sources. Woodward goes out of his way in this book review to defend Powell’s actions in the run-up to the war, even though Powell, like Tenet, chose not to tell the President that going to war was a bad mistake and did not resign his post. In short, both men decided to be loyal to the president. Woodward excoriates Tenet for making these choices, and says Tenet owes Powell an apology for the CIA-approved falsehoods about WMD’s in Powell’s infamous selling-of-the-war speech at the United Nations in February 2003. Powell is excused, Tenet is not. Shouldn’t Powell as Secretary of State, whose own intelligence unit had raised red flags about key parts of the CIA’s product, been more diligent? In his rise from combat officer in Vietnam to head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he had to have developed the skills to sniff out weak intelligence.
Tellingly, Woodward spends one-quarter of his book review insisting that Tenet’s versions of events previously described in Woodward’s books are flawed and Woodward’s versions are the correct ones. I don’t know which man is telling the absolute truth because as a journalist for 50 years, I have never encountered any “absolute” truth other than the biological fact of being alive or being dead.
What I do know is my reaction to this book “review” – which is that it’s as much about Woodward as about Tenet.
Woodward is relentless in defending his own versions of events.
An example: “He [Tenet] doesn’t know when Bush decided to go to war. But he writes that in September 2002, ‘there was no decision to go to war yet’ and that by December 2002 the war ‘decision had already been made.’ He provides no evidence or statements to support these claims, and I think he is wrong about the latter date. From my reporting and interviews with Bush and other key players, I believe Bush finally decided to go to war in early January 2003.”
Pardon the digression, but, actually, I think both of them could be wrong. From my own research, I have come to the belief that the Bushies brought the war plan with them when they took office in 2000. There’s a war plan drawn up by Dick Cheney (then Defense Secretary) and Paul Wolfowitz (then his policy chief) in the aftermath of the first Gulf War in 1992. The plan spoke directly of Iraq and laid out a blueprint for the United States to seek world dominion. It embarrassed the first President Bush, and he shelved it. Then, as the Neocons and related war proponents waited out the Clinton years, they formed a Washington think tank in 1997 called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). The founding members included Cheney, Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, I. Lewis Libby, Jeb Bush, Zalmay Khalizad, William J. Bennett, Elliott Abrams – the whole gang. Their first public move was a heated letter to President Clinton describing Iraq’s threat as an urgent priority and urging him to move swiftly to take out Saddam Hussein, by military force if necessary. Two years later, in September 2000, just months before the second President Bush took office, PNAC issued a military manifesto of 70-plus pages, calling for a much more elaborate march to world dominion than the 1992 document. Its core goal was to build an American military machine that could successfully carry out “multiple, major wars simultaneously…across the globe.” It also called for controlling space militarily. It said it would take some time to accomplish all this, “absent” the occurrence of another “Pearl Harbor.” The Pearl Harbor bit is on page 51. Read the whole scary thing in the Letters/Statements and Publications/Reports sections on the PNAC website (www.pnac.com).
So my gut tells me the Bushies all along had the plan ready, waiting for execution.
Finally, I offer up the paragraph in the Woodward book review that convinced me of how needy he is to convince us of his importance in the Washington firmament:
He writes: “Full disclosure: In discussions with Tenet as a reporter for this paper, I many times urged him to write his memoir, and, after he resigned from the CIA, I even spent a day with him and his co-writer, Bill Harlow, in late 2005 to suggest questions he should try to address. Foremost, I hoped that he would provide intimate portraits of the two presidents he had served as CIA director – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Instead he has adhered to the rule of CIA directors: protect the president at all costs.”
Odd, isn’t it. Some reasonable people believe that protecting the president was what Woodward was doing in “Plan of Attack.”