Coming at Iraq from All Angles

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As the White House and Congress debate over a war-funding bill that proposes a timetable for a pullout from Iraq, political strategies emerge from all corners. And former CIA director George Tenet's book revisits the lead-up to war.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now some of the news this week involves a country where the government and religion are closely tied. Iran has decided to take part in a high level meeting on Iraq, it's neighbor, where religion is at the heart of much of the violence. The U.S. will at that same meeting, by the way.

Here in Washington this week, President Bush receives a war-funding bill, a bill he plans to veto. And the former CIA chief is making news with his criticism of the administration's lack of debate in the run-up to the war.

Let's get some analysis, as we do every Monday morning, from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Cokie, Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what are the president's problems with this bill?

ROBERTS: Well, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, went all over the airwaves yesterday to say that the president not only objects to the timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, but also to the requirements in the bill calling on Iraq to achieve certain benchmarks they're called in order to keep troops there, get certain things done in the country.

Well, what you're seeing here, Steve, is public negotiations over a bill before the congressional leaders go to the White House on Wednesday. And both sides are drawing lines that are making it harder to do that negotiating. The Democrats are digging them because their presidential candidates have been out on the road this weekend, including in California where there's a lot of upset about the war. And so some Democrats are saying, just keep sending the president the same bill over and over again and have him veto it over and over again and the public will love us.

Others are saying, well, send them a short-term bill and go through this exercise every month or two. And the people in the Senate who are running for president are saying, keep the benchmarks and twist Republican arms to sign on and override of presidential veto. So what you've got is a lot of politics going on here. The bill will go to the president tomorrow, which is also a somewhat political decision since that's the fourth anniversary of his famous mission accomplished speech.

INSKEEP: So, as all that debate happens in Washington, there's going to be this meeting between Iraq and its neighbors and the United States later this week. And what are the implications that Iran will be there?

ROBERTS: Well, the secretary of state says that she will not rule out a one-on-one meeting with Iran, but that the meeting, which is in Egypt, will be about how Iraq's neighbors can help stabilize that country, not about Iranian nuclear materials. Still, the fact that there is some diplomatic opening here is seen as a good thing.

INSKEEP: And amid all this discussion about a possible end to the war at some point you have discussion about the beginning.

ROBERTS: The former CIA director George Tenet has a new book out and he's been out defending his pre-war actions. He says there was no real discussion in the White House leading up to the war in Iraq. There was no real moment of truth about whether we should be going to war. And he claims he's been made the fall guy for saying the words slam-dunk to describe the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before the war. He defended his intelligence that he gave the secretary of state, Colin Powell, before Powell's appearance to the U.N.

Here's Tenet interviewed on the CBS program, "60 Minutes."

Mr. GEORGE TENET (Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency): Intelligence, you know, my business, is not always about the truth. It's about people's best judgments about what the truth may be. We believed it. We wrote it. We let the secretary down.

ROBERT: And that, of course, is what really led into the war. Tenet was also very hard on the White House, particularly then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about the intelligence before September 11th. They thought that they did not pay enough attention to the possibility of an attack.

INSKEEP: And Cokie, what does it mean that an architect of the war, former administration official, is under attack. I'm talking about Paul Wolfowitz, the president of World Bank, who's going to be appearing before a bank panel today to try to defend himself.

ROBERTS: Well, it's just we're seeing, and we've talked about this a little before, Steve, sort of the unraveling of an administration this far end of the second term. Wolfowitz got some unusual support in the pages of the Washington Post today, the op-ed page from Andrew Young, former U.N. ambassador, big Democrat, who says he's doing a good job at the World Bank. But there's reports that Wolfowitz might resign. There's still the problems with the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, hanging out there. And, over the weekend, the deputy secretary of state and head of the USAID resigned after stories that he used an escort service. He says he had a massage, no sex. But this escort service is under indictment, and this could be the beginning of a big D.C. scandal if this woman who is in trouble names names.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's analysis as we get every Monday from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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