My, how things can change in 2 years (to say nothing of one month — nice try, Deadeye). With the most recent US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) now saying that Iran is not actively seeking a nuclear weapons program (as the Grey Lady puts it, “[r]ather than portraying Iran as a rogue, irrational country determined to join the club of nations that possess a nuclear bomb, the estimate says Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs”–ZOMG you mean they AIN’T CRAAZY?!!11), the foreign policy debate about dealing with the Supreme Council has been turned on its head:
The impact of the National Intelligence Estimate’s conclusion — that Iran had halted a military program in 2003, though it continues to enrich uranium, ostensibly for peaceful uses — will be felt in endless ways at home and abroad.
It will certainly weaken international support for tougher sanctions against Iran, as a senior administration official grudgingly acknowledged. And it will raise questions, again, about the integrity of America’s beleaguered intelligence agencies, including whether what are now acknowledged to have been overstatements about Iran’s intentions in a 2005 assessment reflected poor tradecraft or political pressure.
Seldom do those agencies vindicate irascible foreign leaders like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who several weeks ago said there was “no evidence” that Iran was building a nuclear weapon, dismissing the American claims as exaggerated.
The biggest change, though, could be its effect on President Bush’s last year in office, as well as on the campaign to replace him. Until Monday, 2008 seemed to be a year destined to be consumed, at least when it comes to foreign policy, by the prospects of confrontation with Iran.
There are still hawks in the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney chief among them, who view Iran with deep suspicion. But for now at least, the main argument for a military conflict with Iran — widely rumored and feared, judging by antiwar protesters that often greet Mr. Bush during his travels — is off the table for the foreseeable future.
As Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, put it, the intelligence finding removes, “if nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities.” He added: “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.”
Senator Hagel said he hoped that the administration might in its final year in office show the kind of diplomatic flexibility it did with North Korea over its nuclear weapons or with the conference in Annapolis, Md., last week on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has previously called for the United States to open direct and unconditional talks with Iran to end the state of enmity that has existed since 1979.
He said Iran’s halt of weapons activity had created an opening for such talks, indicating, as the assessment does, that Iran’s government may be more rational than the one that Mr. Bush said in August had threatened to put the entire region “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.”
“If we’re wise here, if we’re careful, I think we have some opportunities,” Mr. Hagel said.
As Senator Hagel says, perhaps it’s time to rethink the present (un)diplomatic approach on the part of Bush administration officials (ahem). Zbigniew Brzezinski (writing in an op-ed published prior to the release of the latest NIE) thinks China could prove to be an effective partner for negotiations with Iran—if the US ratchets down the hawkish rhetoric and brinkmanship. Fat chance, sez an ever-defiant Dubya:
George Bush today ruled out a change in Washington’s Iran policy following the declassification yesterday of a US intelligence report that concluded Tehran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
The US president denied the national intelligence estimate (NIE) – which said Tehran’s determination to develop nuclear weapons “is less … than we have been judging” – had undercut his administration’s repeated assertions that Iran was building nuclear weapons.
“Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” Bush told his first White House press conference in nearly seven weeks.
He said the US would continue to work to “isolate” Iran, claiming the NIE was a “warning signal” to the international community.
“I think it is very important for the international community to recognise the fact that if Iran were to develop the knowledge that they could transfer to a clandestine program, it would create a danger of the world. “And so, I view this report as a warning signal that they had the programme, they halted the programme. The reason why it’s a warning signal is they could restart it.”
As recently as October, Bush was invoking the threat of a third world war in relation if Iran was not prevented from obtaining the necessary knowledge to make a nuclear weapon.
Asked if he had been “hyping” the threat from Iran, Bush said he was only made aware of the NIE last week and insisted it had changed nothing. “I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn’t changed.”
Of course, as noted by BBC News, despite the lack of repentance in the president’s still-bellicose rhetoric, the urgency has been muted, with the president having “gone from raising the spectre of World War III, to saying that Iran could be a danger to the world if it had the knowledge to develop nuclear weapons.”
The most entertaining (if not at all unexpected) hawkish responses to the report come from Michael Ledeen (shorter: “they is TOO batshit crazy!!11”) and Norman Podhoretz, who at some point apparently purchased stock in a tinfoil manufacturer:
I must confess to suspecting that the intelligence community, having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view (including as is evident from the 2005 NIE, within the intelligence community itself) that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons. I also suspect that, having been excoriated as well for minimizing the time it would take Saddam to add nuclear weapons to his arsenal, the intelligence community is now bending over backward to maximize the time it will take Iran to reach the same goal.
But I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations. As the intelligence community must know, if he were to do so, it would be as a last resort, only after it had become undeniable that neither negotiations nor sanctions could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, and only after being convinced that it was very close to succeeding. How better, then, to stop Bush in his tracks than by telling him and the world that such pressures have already been effective and that keeping them up could well bring about “a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program”—especially if the negotiations and sanctions were combined with a goodly dose of appeasement or, in the NIE’s own euphemistic formulation, “with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.”
Yes, how dare the (liberalcommieterrorist-appeasing) US intelligence community undermine the long-standing scheme to bomb bomb Iran by nefariously reporting that, despite the best efforts of the VP’s office, (half-assed) diplomatic measures have actually proven to be effective!
One hopes this nonsense still isn’t being whispered into the President’s ear.
Yeah, well, wish in one hand, shit in the other. As John Bolton puts it, “[w]hile I was in the administration, I saw intelligence march up the hill and down the hill in short periods of time with no reason for them to change their mind… . I’ve never based my view on this week’s intelligence.” In other words,
diplomacy is dead–buy my new book! surrender is still not an option.
Last word goes to Glenn Greenwald:
In a minimally rational society, the Fred Hiatts and John Boltons and Norm Podhoretzs and Rudy Giulianis and Joe Liebermans would be considered laughingstocks. In light of this track record, what rational person would trust a single thing they say? Yet as always in our political culture, those hungry for American wars — both old and new — are, by definition, Serious and Respectable, and those who try to stop such wars (such as ElBaredei) are losers and “apologists” whose judgment and allegiances are equally suspect. Just compare the Very Serious Fred Hiatt’s fact-free, war-pursuing attacks on Mohamed ElBaradei in both 2002 and 2007 with the fact that ElBaradei — both times — was absolutely right on the most vital matters of the day, and one finds all one needs to know about how sad and broken our political establishment is.