Friday, April 27, 2007

More Like an Air Ball

Published: April 28, 2007


Poor Slam-Dunk.

Not since Madame Butterfly has anyone been so cruelly misunderstood and misused. Slam-Dunk says that when he pantingly told the president that fetching information on Saddam’s W.M.D. would be a cinch, he did not mean let’s go to war.

No matter how eager Slam-Dunk was to tell W. what he wanted to hear while polishing W.’s shoes, that intelligence they craved did not exist. “Let me say it again: C.I.A. found absolutely no linkage between Saddam and 9/11,” the ex-Head Spook writes in his new book, self-effacingly titled “At the Center of the Storm.” Besides, Junior and Darth had already decided to go to war to show the Arabs their moxie.

The president and vice president wanted Slam-Dunk to help them dramatize the phony case. Everyone had to pitch in! That Saturday session in December 2002 in the Oval Office was “essentially a marketing meeting,” Slam-Dunk writes, just for “sharpening the arguments.”

Hey, I feel better.

Slam-Dunk always presented himself as the ultimate guy’s guy, a cigar-chomping spymaster who swapped jokes with the president. But now he shows us his tender side, a sniveling C.I.A. chief bullied by “remote” Condi.

He says Condi panicked in October 2002 and made him call a Times reporter, Alison Mitchell, who covered the Congressional debate about invading Iraq. He told Alison to ignore the conclusions of his own agency, which had said the links between Saddam and terrorist groups were tenuous, and that Saddam would only take the extreme step of joining with Islamic fanatics if he thought the U.S. was about to attack him. His nose growing as long as his cigar, he said nothing in the C.I.A. report contradicted the president’s case for war.

“In retrospect,” Slam writes, “I shouldn’t have talked to the New York Times reporter at Condi’s request. By making public comments in the middle of a contentious political debate, I gave the impression that I was becoming a partisan player.”

Can’t a guy be a lickspittle without being an ideologue?

There were so many nasties trying to push Slam around: Vice, of course, and Wolfie, and Wolfie’s neoconcubine Doug Feith. Once, Slam writes, Wolfie “hounded” a C.I.A. briefer to translate the diary of Abu Zubaydah, a captured Al Qaeda official, even though the C.I.A. had decided it was just misogynistic ramblings “about what he wanted to do with women.” Oh, that sexy beast Wolfie. Look out, Shaha!

But even though he was paid a $4 million advance to settle scores, Slam can’t turn on W. Maybe it’s the Medal of Freedom. “In a way, President Bush and I are much alike,” he writes. “We sometimes say things from our gut, whether it’s his ‘bring ’em on’ or my ‘slam-dunk.’ I think he gets that about me, just as I get that about him.” (He had me at “slam-dunk.”)

The worst meanie was horrid Bob Woodward. Slam socialized with Bob and gave him lots of intel for his best sellers, but then Bob “painted a caricature of me leaping into the air and simulating a slam-dunk, not once but twice, with my arms flailing. Credit Woodward’s source with ... a fine sense of how to make me look ridiculous, but don’t credit him or her with a deep sense of obligation to the truth.”

A deep sense of obligation to the truth is something Slam keenly understands, even though he scurried around like the butler in “Remains of the Day,” trying to toadie up to the president while, as he belatedly admits, W. was going to invade Iraq without debate or casus belli.

He says he warned Paul Bremer about de-Baathifying the Iraqi Army, but hey, he was just a staff guy. That’s probably how the two worst intelligence disasters in our history happened on his watch. He was merely providing intelligence for the guys who wanted to ignore or warp that intelligence and make bad policy. What could he do?

Slam says he was Cassandra. A C.I.A. paper was given to the president’s national security team in September 2002 tot sum up the possible negatives of invading Iraq, including anarchy and a breakup in Iraq, instability in the neighborhood, a surge of terrorism against U.S. interests, oil disruptions, and seething allies.

But it was discreetly tucked away in the back of the briefing book, after the stuff at the beginning about how great it would be to liberate Iraq and end threats to Iraq’s neighbors, and the stuff in the middle about reforming Iraq’s bureaucracy.

Slam gives tips to others who want to engage in public service, including: Don’t forget that there are no private conversations, even in the Oval Office. Another might be: If you worry about your own survival more than your country’s, you might end up as the whiny fall guy.