His assessment, he said, was that the reactor was planned to be part of a weapons program, but in an apparent reference to the Iraq WMD mistake, the briefer said, “There are lessons learned that are — that came out of previous experience about how to put more rigor into our process. So there’s a difference between evidence and an assessment.”
In his memoir, Bush described the debate about the Syrian reactor, writing that Hayden and the other intelligence experts “had only low confidence of a Syrian nuclear weapons program.”
“Mike [Hayden]’s report clarified my decision,” Bush wrote, adding that he called then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who wanted the United States to destroy the reactor. Bush says he told Olmert, “I cannot justify an attack on a sovereign nation unless my intelligence agencies stand up and say it’s a weapons program.”
Bush didn’t reveal, however, that his vice president wanted a military strike in the face of “low confidence” intelligence that the reactor was part of a nuclear weapons program. Cheney said he wanted the United States to commit an act of war to send a message, demonstrate seriousness and enhance credibility — a frightening prospect given the doubts.
Two participants in the key National Security Council meeting in June 2007 said that after Cheney, the “lone voice,” made his arguments, Bush rolled his eyes.
At the CIA afterward, the group of specialists who had worked for months on the Syrian reactor issue were pleased they had succeeded in avoiding the overreaching so evident in the Iraq WMD case. So they issued a very limited-circulation memorial coin. One side showed a map of Syria with a star at the site of the former reactor. On the other side the coin said, “No core/No war.”
Bob Woodward is an associate editor of The Post. His assistant, Evelyn M. Duffy, contributed to this column.
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