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Woodward: Tenet told Bush WMD case a 'slam dunk'

Says Bush didn't solicit Rumsfeld, Powell on going to war


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George W. Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About two weeks before deciding to invade Iraq, President Bush was told by CIA Director George Tenet there was a "slam dunk case" that dictator Saddam Hussein had unconventional weapons, according to a new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.

That declaration was "very important" in his decision making, according to "Plan of Attack," which is being excerpted this week in The Post.

Bush also made his decision to go to war without consulting Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Secretary of State Colin Powell, Woodward's book says.

Powell was not even told until after the Saudi ambassador was allowed to review top-secret war plans in an effort to enlist his country's support for the invasion, according to Woodward, who has written or co-written several best-selling books on Washington politics, including "All the President's Men" with Carl Bernstein.

The book also reports that in the summer of 2002, $700 million was diverted from a congressional appropriation for the war in Afghanistan to develop a war plan for Iraq.

Woodward suggests the diversion may have been illegal, and that Congress was deliberately kept in the dark about what had been done.

Woodward talked about his book Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes."

The book is based on interviews with 75 people involved in planning for the war, including Bush, the only source who spoke for attribution.

Woodward quotes Bush as saying he did not feel the need to ask his principal advisers, including Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell, whether they thought he ought to go to war because "I could tell what they thought."

But he said he did discuss his thinking with Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser.

"I didn't need to ask them their opinion about Saddam Hussein. If you were sitting where I sit, you could be pretty clear. I think we've got an environment where people feel free to express themselves," Bush is quoted as saying.

In the book, Woodward reports that on November 21, 2001 -- about three months after the September 11 attacks and shortly after the Taliban regime crumbled in Afghanistan -- Bush took Rumsfeld aside, ordered him to develop a war plan for Iraq and told him to keep it secret.

'The best we've got?'

As the war planning progressed, on December 21, 2002, Tenet and his top deputy, John McLaughlin, went to the White House to brief Bush and Cheney on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Woodward reports.

The president, unimpressed by the presentation of satellite photographs and intercepts, pressed Tenet and McLaughlin, saying their information would not "convince Joe Public" and asking Tenet, "This is the best we've got?" Woodward reports.

According to Woodward, Tenet reassured the president that "it's a slam dunk case" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

In his CBS interview, Woodward said he "asked the president about this, and he said it was very important to have the CIA director, 'slam-dunk' is as I interpreted it, a sure thing, guaranteed."

About two weeks later, shortly after New Year's Day 2003, Bush -- frustrated with unfruitful U.N. weapons inspections -- made up his mind to go to war after consulting with Rice, according to Woodward.

She urged him to act on his stated threat to take military action if Saddam did not provide a full accounting of his weapons of mass destruction, Woodward reports.

"If you're going to carry out coercive diplomacy, you have to live with that decision," Rice is quoted as telling Bush.

On "Face The Nation" Sunday, Rice insisted that Bush's conversation with her in January did not amount to a decision to go to war, which she said wasn't made until March when military strikes were ordered.

"Part of the relationship between a national security adviser and a president is that the president, in a sense, kind of thinks out loud, if I could put it that way," she said.

Questions about Hans Blix

Woodward also reports that U.S. officials were skeptical about the weapons inspections because they were receiving intelligence information indicating that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was not reporting everything he had uncovered and was not doing everything he said he was doing.

Some of the president's top advisers thought Blix was a liar, according to the book.

Shortly after the meeting with Rice, Bush told Rumsfeld, "Look, we're going to have to do this, I'm afraid," according to the book.

Subsequently, on January 11, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers met in Cheney's office with Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

At that meeting, Myers showed Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, a map labeled "top secret noforn," meaning that it was not to be seen by any foreign national, Woodward told CBS.

The map outlined the U.S. battle plan for Iraq, which was to begin with an air attack, followed by land invasions moving north from Kuwait and south from Turkey, according to the book.

Myers said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition" that though he had not read Woodward's book, he was familiar with the account of the meeting, and it was "basically correct."

"At that time, we were looking for support of our allies and partners in the region. Saudi Arabia's been a strategic partner in the region over a very long time," he said.

Powell's skepticism

Two days after the meeting with Bandar, on January 13, Bush met with Powell in the Oval Office to inform his chief diplomat that he had decided to go to war.

"You know you're going to be owning this place?" Powell is reported as telling Bush, cautioning him that the United States would be assuming the responsibility for the postwar situation.

Bush told Powell that he understood the ramifications, Woodward said.

Despite his reservations about the policy, Powell told the president he would support him, deciding that it would be "an unthinkable act of disloyalty" to both Bush and U.S. troops to walk away at that point, according to Woodward.

In her interview with "Face The Nation," Rice disputed the suggestion that Powell was kept less in the loop than the Saudi ambassador.

She said again that the decision to go to war did not take place until March, well after Bush had informed Powell of his intentions and after his U.N. presentation.

"The secretary of state was privy to all of the conversations with the president, all of the briefings for the president," she said.

"It's just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in a way that Secretary Powell was not."

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