A Slam Dunk -- Or Was It?

     By the end of a long war, it may be hard to remember 
how it began or what it was all about. The Trojan War -- 
let's see -- something about Helen, Menelaus's queen, 
wasn't it? World War II -- Germany's invasion of Poland? 
(Oh yes, the Soviets invaded too! Nearly forgot!) World 
War I? Who knows?

     Now we are arguing about how the Iraq war started. 
Did it have something to do with George Tenet, then 
director of the Central Intelligence Agency, assuring 
George W. Bush that Iraq had nuclear weapons and ties to 
al-Qaeda, posing an imminent threat to the United States 
and its allies? ("Slam dunk, Mr. President," Tenet 
reportedly said.)

     In his new book AT THE CENTER OF THE STORM: MY YEARS 
AT THE CIA, Tenet disputes this legend, though he admits 
he used the term "slam dunk" and was misled. Still, he 
insists that he meant something rather different from 
what it sounded like in the retelling, and he blames Vice 
President Dick Cheney for propagating the distorted 
account. (He lets President Bush off more leniently.)

     Tenet has already given several major interviews 
about the book, including one on 60 MINUTES, contending 
that the neocons in the administration were intent on 
attacking Iraq long before the 9/11 attacks. He quotes 
Richard Perle as saying Iraq must be punished for those 
attacks the day after they occurred! Tenet says the CIA 
already had information pointing to al-Qaeda; and 
al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein hated each other. Casting 
Saddam as the ally of Muslim fanatics was one of the 
administration's most implausible sleights. How did the 
public ever fall for that one?

     Some of Tenet's assertions are already being 
challenged, but I don't see how these, at least, can be 
doubted. If the neocons had anything to say about it, a 
war on Iraq was bound to happen. I seem to recall saying 
that this was obvious over 20 years ago. (Not that I've 
gotten much credit for it, then or now.)

     After all that has happened, Bush seems to have 
learned nothing. He persists in warning us that unless we 
stop our enemies in Iraq, we'll have to stop them here. 
But who are "they" these days? And how are they going to 
get here? Are they training camels to swim across oceans? 
What, exactly, is Bush imagining?

     You can only pity men like Tenet who have had to 
please and placate rulers so dishonest and irrational. 
Beyond that, though, it gets confusing. Why did he wait 
so long to tell us something so important? Was he saving 
it all for his book?

     All the people in positions of power seem to know 
more than they are saying in public. If democracy 
requires an informed citizenry, what was the point of 
"slam dunk," anyway? "Good enough for government work"? 
We seem to be getting further and further away from the 
original reasons for this war, whatever they were.

     I didn't think the Iraq war debate could get any 
more confusing and bitter than it already was. I stand 
corrected. All that is clear is that nobody in Washington 
is eager to hog all the credit for this war.

     Now please don't ask me to explain what set off the 
Wars of the Roses.

Democrats on Parade

     The Democratic presidential candidates have now had 
their first televised debate, to call it that, and better 
men than I seem to agree that Hillary Rodham Clinton 
bested her rivals, especially Barack Hussein Obama and 
John Reid Edwards. She spoke of "retaliating" against 
attacks on this country, while the others tried to pander 
to those who just want peace.

     So why did my own heart go out to the candidate 
nobody favors -- Delaware's Sen. Joe Biden? I've poked 
fun at him for years, but suddenly I was listening to him 
with respect, affection, and even a little yearning, not 
only during the pseudo-debate but also, even more, during 
the Sunday talk shows.

     First, he made me laugh. Asked whether he could 
restrain his notorious garrulity, he shot back with a 
grin, "Yes." It was a delightfully humble moment.

     But my heart didn't turn over until Sunday, when I 
noticed a subtle change in his overall tone. He didn't 
talk like the standard liberal 
personally-opposed-but-pro-abortion Catholic Democrat I'd 
always taken him for. He recalled that he'd spent five 
months in the hospital for two brain aneurysms, the top 
of his skull removed, an experience that would leave 
anyone changed, more reflective and self-critical.

     If I'm any judge of people at all, Joe Biden takes 
his faith very seriously now. That may explain why he 
doesn't seem to take himself very seriously.

     Not that I'm endorsing him for president. That would 
be taking =myself= much too seriously. Besides, I can't 
even endorse the presidency, so what would be the point?

     Let me put it this way. The U.S. presidency is a 
fantastically powerful office; nobody should hold it, 
because in its present form it should not even exist. But 
if we are doomed to have a president, the only Democrat 
who doesn't frighten me is Joseph R. Biden Jr.

     If I'm wrong about him, I'm wildly wrong and I'm 
very sorry. He'll be put to the test soon enough.

     But our merciful Lord, who brings good out of evil 
itself, has glorious surprises in store for us. Surely 
some of the greatest of them will come from people we 
always thought were our enemies.

Piety and Orthography

     Just to show that my power of finding things to 
complain about is unimpaired by age, allow me to grumble 
about my pet peeve: the modern practice, peculiar to 
English, of capitalizing pronouns referring to God and 
Jesus Christ.

     What does it achieve, beyond cluttering up the page? 
No translation of the Bible does it. Is that impious? By 
this logic, unknown to any other language I know of, 
wouldn't it make much more sense to apply it to divine 
attributes ("his Will") or even body parts -- e.g., to 
write "his Hands" (or even "his Spittle") than "His 

     If piety is to be expressed this way, then 
capitalizing the name of Satan must be a step toward 

     Having endured many scoldings from readers on this 
score, I've been waiting to say this for years.

                 +          +          +                  

     "Whom did the great Laurence Olivier salute as 'my 
favorite actor'? Why, Mickey Rooney! Who else?" REGIME 
CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME -- a new selection of my 
Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian -- will provoke 
thoughts and smiles.If you have not seen my monthly 
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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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