Shorter: FUCK yo couch, you lying sack of monkey shit.
With the publication of Sy Hersh’s recent New Yorker article detailing how Bush administration officials have ramped up US special forces activity in Iran, all eyes are once again fixated on the contentious Gulf state–and the potential of an Israeli-initiated proxy attack.
A senior defense official told ABC News there is an “increasing likelihood” that Israel will carry out such an attack, a move that likely would prompt Iranian retaliation against, not just Israel, but against the United States as well.
The official identified two “red lines” that could trigger an Israeli offensive. The first is tied to when Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility produces enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. According to the latest U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments, that is likely to happen sometime in 2009, and could happen by the end of this year.
“The red line is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point,” the official said. “We are in the window of vulnerability.”
The second red line is connected to when Iran acquires the SA-20 air defense system it is buying from Russia. The Israelis may want to strike before that system — which would make an attack much more difficult — is put in place.
Juan Cole is dismissive of the former benchmark:
This [first] “red line” is pure bullshit. There is no evidence that Iran is enriching uranium to weapons grade at all, much less that it is making enough highly-enriched uranium that it will be able to make a bomb in 2009.
You can’t use low-enriched uranium to make a bomb. It has to be highly enriched. Iran–as far as anyone has proved–is only making the low-enriched kind, and from all accounts it isn’t doing such a great job of that, either. If it made high-enriched uranium, that could be detected by the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who regularly inspect Iran’s facilities. I.e., it just isn’t there and the idea that Iran could have enough material to make a bomb by next year is ridiculous. Now if it turned all its centrifuges to this task, then maybe it could achieve that result, though most experts think Iran’s ability to enrich is still exaggerated. It could not highly enrich without creating atomic signatures detectable by the inspectors.
The IAEA says that there is no evidence–zilch, zero, nada– that Iran has facilities for enriching to weapons grade or that it is trying to do so
With that mind, along with last year’s all-but-forgotten NIE (y’know, the one that unequivocally states that Iran isn’t actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons), how potent a threat does Iran actually present? Geoffrey Kemp, director of Regional Strategic Programs at The Nixon Center and special assistant to the president for the Middle East during the first Reagan administration, provides a Realist analysis of the ‘threat’ posed by Iran to the US, Israel, and Middle East, dubbing it “an imaginary foe”:
Rhetoric about Iran’s malign propensities has received much attention. A worst-case analysis, most vigorously argued by Norman Podhoretz, an advisor to former-presidential-candidate Rudolph Guiliani, would suggest that once Iran gets hold of nuclear weapons, its messianic president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be inclined to use them, especially against Israel. Ahmadinejad and his coterie believe in scenarios that call for a bloody battle between true believers and infidels as the precursor for the return of the Hidden Imam and the establishment of a world government. This is why Iran, unlike other nuclear powers–including the Soviet Union and China during the cold war–may not be susceptible to the logic of deterrence. For this reason they must be stopped from getting the bomb. In the absence of any diplomatic solution this simply calls for a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. (1)
While such apocalyptic visions are frightening, to infer, as Podhoretz does, that Ahmadinejad is another Adolf Hitler does not take into account the reality of Iran’s strengths and weaknesses. [Iran] is an important regional power that wants to be taken seriously and have an influence on Middle East geopolitics. Yes, it has energy reserves, a talented, educated population, and a unique geographical position that strides both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea–and it may even soon have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. But its ability to act as a regional hegemon is constrained by political, economic and military limitations. For all the rhetoric about Iran as a new Mideast colossus, the reality is that Iranians are not a martial people.
With regards to an attack on the part of Israel, Kemp evaluates the steps Israel would have to take to initiate a series of strikes against Iran:
Israel could conduct such an attack with cruise missiles from its small fleet of tactical submarines from locations in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. Yet these submarines have limited inventories of missiles. A purely seaborne strike could do little more than mount a token attack on the key Iranian facilities—especially the well-protected and deeply buried uranium enrichment facility at Natanz—unless it used nuclear weapons.
In terms of conventional air-strike capabilities the Israeli Air Force is certainly capable of reaching a number of targets in Iran. The problem is it would have to pass over either Turkey; Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq; or fly a nearly three-thousand-mile-long one-way route via the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. It is inconceivable that Turkey would give permission for the use of its airspace—though Israel might be prepared to ignore the wishes of the Arab countries. But once its aircraft enter Iraqi and Gulf airspace, they will encounter the full array of air defenses that the United States has established since the beginning of the Iraq War. Unless the United States gave permission for such an Israeli attack Israel would risk encountering U.S. anti-air action before it even reached Iran.
But, as Kemp notes, “the consequences of such an attack on oil markets, U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reaction of Iraq’s government and possible Iranian retaliation against Israel are awesome and suggest such action has a low probability of being authorized.” He does however acknowledge that, despite his conclusion that Israeli air strikes against Iran are counterproductive to US interests and regional stability (and won’t put much of a dent in Iran’s nuclear ambitions), an Israeli-initiated attack could still take place if “this is what the Bush administration wants to happen.” Despite this, Kemp remains convinced that “while some White House advisors may still contemplate such an action, it would be far more difficult to convince the secretaries of defense and state that another Middle Eastern war would serve American interests.”
In a recent analysis, Haaretz correspondent Yossi Melman cautioned those who would interpret the recent brinkmanship emanating from Tel Aviv as a signal that that military action on the part of Tel Aviv is a done deal:
Israeli leaders and officials have recently intensified their campaign against nuclear Iran. The messages from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Ambassador to Washington Salai Meridor and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is clear: Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. Indeed Israel is very concerned by the likelihood that Iran, whose leadership has called for the Jewish state’s destruction, will be able to produce nuclear weapons.
These public statements, as well as closed talks between Israel’s leadership and leaders around the world, can be interpreted as “preparing the ground” for the possibility that Israel will attack Iran. It is also correct that all the bodies dealing with the “Iran case,” including the Mossad, Military Intelligence, Operations Directorate of the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Air Force and the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, are planning for the worst-case scenario. This is their professional duty. But one cannot conclude, as many have following a report in The New York Times (June 19) that an Israeli attack is certainly around the corner. Not only has such a decision not been made in any relevant forum in Israel – the question has not even been discussed.
Melman notes that a “significant factor” in any decision to strike Iran is the political landscape in Tehran:
Next May, presidential elections are scheduled in Iran. If Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decides he is fed up with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mostly because of the worsening economic situation, and prevents him from running for another term, or does not support him, this dramatic turn of events could also affect Iran’s nuclear program.
Marc Perelman, writing in The Forward, has more on Ahmadinejad’s domestic woes:
On June 1, Ahmadinejad’s archrival and likely 2009 opponent, Ali Larijani, was elected to the powerful post of speaker of parliament for one year. Within hours of Larijani’s victory, an Iranian media outlet reported allegations that close to $35 billion in oil proceeds — nearly half of Iran’s annual revenue from oil — was missing from government coffers.
“Electioneering has started in earnest,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israel-based Iran scholar and co-author of a biography of Ahmadinejad. “Larijani wants to expose Ahmadinejad by casting light on corruption and even challenging him on the nuclear issue. In other words, he wants to beat him at his own game.”
While key decisions on Iranian national security and foreign policy remain firmly in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, observers say Larijani’s return to power suggests that Khamenei’s support for Ahmadinejad is on the wane. Much of the rising discontent among Iranians is centered on the economic woes the country has endured under Ahmadinejad, but among the ruling clerical elite there is also growing resentment of the president’s frequent invocation of religious principles to justify his policies.
And from Kamal Nazer Yasin of Eurasia Insight:
Concern is mounting among various conservative factions in Tehran that Ahmadinejad’s confrontational approach to international politics, combined with his thorough mismanagement of the economy, is undermining the traditionalists’ hold on power. While many continue to view Ahmadinejad as the man who can best unite key conservative constituencies — militant nationalists and Islamic pietists — traditionalists want to place greater restraints on Ahmadinejad, hoping that he becomes a less divisive figure in Iranian politics.
Presently, Larijani is viewed as one of the few politicians in Iran with sufficient stature to make Ahmadinejad listen to the complaints and desires of other conservative factions. In accepting the parliamentary speakership, Larijani made two key policy statements designed to put Ahmadinejad on notice. Concerning the nuclear issue, Larijani announced an intention to strengthen parliament’s oversight of the government. He went so far as to indicate that he might open an alternate, parliament-controlled channel of communication with the United Nations.
Whether all this is enough to deter ‘bomb bomb Iran’ hardliners within the Bush admin (or, more realistically, bolster the resolve of Defence Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Rice, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to resist acquiescing to hawkish demands) remains to be seen. But, as Kemp warns, “punishing the Iranians and setting back their nuclear program for months or years will reinforce the nationalism of the country and give the mullahs a further lease on life”–a view shared by noted Iranian human rights activists Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, who both note that the international community’s focus on Iran’s nuclear program has, according to Ganji, “pushed aside the struggle for democracy and human rights”, allowing the regime to exploit “the pretext of an “impending war” to crack down more severely on its opponents.”
Ebidi puts it succinctly: “As a human rights activist I tell the people of the world that if you want to help people in Iran the solution is not to launch an attack.”
An elusive Taliban leader with links to Al Qaeda is emerging as the key suspect in Thursday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto, killed as she campaigned for a third term as Pakistan’s prime minister.
Intelligence services in Pakistan and the West yesterday identified Baitullah Mehsud, a 34-year-old pro-Taliban militant commander, as the man behind the plot to kill Bhutto, leader of the popular Pakistan Peoples Party, in the run-up to Jan. 8 elections in the nuclear-armed nation.
Yesterday, Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, cited an intercepted telephone conversation between Mehsud and one of his operatives as proof the terrorist organization was responsible.
“We have an intercept from this morning in which he congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act,” Cheema said.
“We have irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda and its networks are trying to destabilize the government,” he added. “They have been systematically attacking our government, and now a political icon.”
“Irrefutable”, eh? Insert Inigo Montoya quote here:
The government released no audiotape of Mehsud’s purported conversation in the Pashto language with another militant, whom he called Maulvi Sahib, or religious leader. But, in a government-provided transcript, Mehsud is quoted congratulating Maulvi Sahib for the deadly work of the two men who were apparently directly involved in Bhutto’s assassination.
Unsurprisingly, the PPP has called “bullshit”:
The Pakistan Peoples Party rejected government claims that a Taliban commander linked to al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto, as the death toll from rioting rose to 32.
Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban commander linked to al-Qaeda, is suspected of plotting the Dec. 27 suicide attack that killed Bhutto, the Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters yesterday. Mehsud denied the claim, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a spokesman.
The government “is trying to divert the investigations into Bhutto’s killing,” Farhatullah Babar, her spokesman, said in a phone interview today. “Mehsud had already denied he planned to assassinate Bhutto.”
“If the government had accepted our demand of holding an independent inquiry by overseas experts into the Oct. 19 bombing on Bhutto, this would not have happened,” Babar said.
Also, in an article examining the shifting explanation re: cause of death, The Star touches upon why Pakitsan’s gov’t is trying so desperately to establish the convoluted “bumped her head” narrative:
The question of whether she died of violence or an unfortunate accident is important because if she did not die because of foul play there is less chance that her death would be considered that of a martyr.
At this point, I would say their efforts aren’t succeeding. Unified in anger and frustration, Bhutto’s supporters continue to demonstratively express their emotions, as chaos threatens to engulf the nation:
Masked gunmen killed a supporter of Benazir Bhutto early on Saturday, while security forces shot dead two other party activists as a mob tried to force its way into an oilfield, police said.
The killings take the death toll since Bhutto’s assassination on Thursday to 40, including four policemen, and came as protesters torched shops, lorries, welfare centers and ambulances overnight as violence entered a third day.
A 27-year-old man wearing a tunic made from a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) flag had just shouted “Bhutto is great” when he was gunned down while returning from the mausoleum where Bhutto was buried on Friday, police said.
“Two gunmen were waiting in a vehicle, their faces covered, and they opened fire,” said Shaukat Ali Shah, deputy inspector general of police in the city of Hyderabad in Sindh.
Separately, up to 400 PPP activists carrying banners portraits of Bhutto and wielding bricks, tried to burst into an oilfield facility near Hyderabad before dawn, when security forces acted on orders to shoot violent protesters on sight.
“The mob was warned,” Shah said. “Two people were killed.”
Almost all of the deaths since Bhutto’s killing occurred in the southern province of Sindh, the PPP’s power base, where the Election Commission said several of its offices were set on fire and electoral rolls and ballot boxes destroyed.
VOA reports that Musharraf wants “firm action” to be taken against rioters, reportedly telling security officials “those looting and plundering cannot be allowed to damage lives and property in the guise of protest.” Cutting through the euphemistic fog, Pakistani blogger Inspirex reports that “[a]ccording to varios [sic] news reports, Sindh Rangers have been issued Shoot at Sight orders across the province.” Metroblogging Karachi has posted several personal accounts of the violence currently gripping the region.
Regardless, whether matryr status will have any lasting effect on events in Pakistan (other than inspiring protests and rehabilitating Bhutto’s spotty reputation) remains to be seen. As analyst Ayesha Siddiqa notes:
…”al-Qaida” is just a name which can be used to mean everything or nothing. It will now be difficult to find out who exactly killed Benazir – especially when the government made sure they washed away all forensic evidence in the twelve hours after the murder.
And it’s not like there isn’t historical precedence for the undertaking of extra-judicial measures on the part of the Pakistani security and intelligence apparatus. In a recently published LRB essay examining the the US-brokered “arranged marriage” between Bhutto and Musharraf, Tariq Ali recalls at length the assassination of Benazir Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza:
[I]n September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation – false entries in police logbooks, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated, the provincial PPP governor (regarded as untrustworthy) dispatched to a non-event in Egypt, a policeman killed who they feared might talk – made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister’s brother had been taken at a very high level.
As Robert Fisk, commenting on Ali’s essay, notes:
When Murtaza’s 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, rang her aunt Benazir to ask why witnesses were being arrested – rather than her father’s killers – she says Benazir told her: “Look, you’re very young. You don’t understand things.” Or so Tariq Ali’s exposé would have us believe. Over all this, however, looms the shocking power of Pakistan’s ISI, the Inter Services Intelligence.
This vast institution – corrupt, venal and brutal – works for Musharraf.
But it also worked – and still works – for the Taliban. It also works for the Americans. In fact, it works for everybody. But it is the key which Musharraf can use to open talks with America’s enemies when he feels threatened or wants to put pressure on Afghanistan or wants to appease the ” extremists” and “terrorists” who so oppress George Bush.
Speaking of George and Co., The Guardian reports that the US is scrambling for a Plan B:
US officials based in Pakistan were sounding out senior members of her opposition Pakistan People’s party about a possible successor. They were also in contact with members of the other main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League, led by Nawaz Sharif, even though the US had previously opposed his return to Pakistan because of links between his party and Islamist extremists.
President George Bush called for the election to go ahead, though he avoided mention of whether Pakistan should stick to the January 8 timetable. An announcement on whether to delay the election has been left until the end of the three days of mourning.Asked whether the US was confident that Pakistan could stage an election in January, the US state department spokesman, Tom Casey, said: “Well, we’re going to see what happens.”
The assassination of Bhutto has thrown into disarray Bush administration hopes of establishing a degree of security in Pakistan. Since 9/11, Bush has relied on the military-run government of President Pervez Musharraf as an ally in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. With Musharraf’s loss of popularity, the administration placed its hopes on a return to democracy and the emergence of a Musharraf-Bhutto coalition.
US intelligence analysts warned that al-Qaida, which has a hold in Pakistan’s tribal areas – where the US believes Osama bin Laden is hiding – and in cities such as Karachi would be strengthened by the chaos in the aftermath of the assassination.
John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA, predicted that the chaos would last for weeks at least and that the capacity of Pakistan’s authorities to deal with al-Qaida during that time would be diminished.
WaPo has more:
President Bush held an emergency meeting of his top foreign policy aides yesterday to discuss the deepening crisis in Pakistan, as administration officials and others explored whether Thursday’s assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto marks the beginning of a new Islamic extremist offensive that could spread beyond Pakistan and undermine the U.S. war effort in neighboring Afghanistan.
U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s growing turbulence.
“The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied,” said
J. Alexander Thier, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
How the United States responds will hinge largely on the actions of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in whom U.S. officials have mixed confidence. If there is indeed a new challenge by Islamic militants emerging in Pakistan, then the United States will have to do whatever it can to support Musharraf, the U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.
“Pakistan must take drastic action against the Taliban in its midst or we will face the prospect of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of al-Qaeda — a threat far more dangerous and real than Hussein’s arsenal ever was,” he said, referring to the deposed Saddam Hussein.
The same WaPo dispatch indicates that the US is running with the Interior Ministry’s al Qaeda/Taliban story (if not dictating it outright):
U.S. intelligence and Defense Department sources said there is increasing evidence that the assassination of Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, was carried out by al-Qaeda or its allies inside Pakistan. The intelligence officials said that in recent weeks their colleagues had passed along warnings to the Pakistani government that al-Qaeda-related groups were planning suicide attacks on Pakistani politicians.
The U.S. and Pakistani governments are focusing on Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, as a possible suspect. A senior U.S. official said that the Bush administration is paying attention to a list provided by Pakistan’s interior ministry indicating that Mehsud’s targets include former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, and several other cabinet officials and moderate Islamist leaders. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a hit list, but we take it very seriously,” the official said. “All moderates [in Pakistan] are now under threat from this terrorism.”
Mehsud told the BBC earlier this month that the Pakistani government’s actions forced him to react with a “defensive jihad.”
After signing a condolence book for Bhutto at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Rice said the United States is in contact with “all” of the parties in Pakistan and stressed that the Jan. 8 elections should not be postponed. “Obviously, it’s just very important that the democratic process go forward,” she told reporters.
A quick “compare and contrast review: “Asked whether the US was confident that Pakistan could stage an election in January, the US state department spokesman, Tom Casey, said: “Well, we’re going to see what happens.””
Ok, let’s continue:
“We’ve really got a new situation here in western Pakistan,” said Army Col. Thomas F. Lynch III, who has served in Afghanistan and with Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Pakistan and the Middle East. He said the assassination marks a “critical new phase” in jihadist operations in Pakistan and predicted that the coming months would bring concentrated attacks on other prominent Pakistanis.
Over at Bread and Roses, the ever-quotable skdadl made the following astute observation:
What is out of control in Pakistan is the military and intelligence elites. They aren’t unified, but the different factions are all very powerful, and any one of them could do something bananas at any time. Musharraf’s days are probably numbered.
I don’t know how this problem is addressed, but one thing I am sure of: Americans don’t know how to address it.
They certainly don’t, but someone forgot to inform the usual suspects of this all-too-apparent fact. I wouldn’t be surprised to see O’Hanlon and Kagan’s preemptive strike optiongiven greater consideration now that Plan Bhutto is no longer on the table.
(This also seems like the perfect time to post a link to Najum Mushtaq’s aptly titled The Neocons on Pakistan: Neat, Simple, and Dangerously Naïve.)
Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister who had brought a raft of corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto and her family, needs to forge an alliance with her currently leaderless political party to challenge the government of President Pervez Musharraf. On Saturday, he flew on a chartered plane to Moenjodaro, where South Asian civilization was born some 5,000 years ago, and from there he drove in a long, dusty convoy of cars to this ancestral village of Ms. Bhutto’s, where senior leaders of both their parties met briefly to condole and discuss the way forward.
Mr. Sharif has already said his party would boycott the polls, scheduled for next month. Aboard the plane to Moenjodaro, he said he hoped Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party would join the boycott.
The party was noncommittal. Farhatullah Babar, a party spokesman, said it was too early for his organization to make a decision about whether to go ahead and contest the elections. The party’s executive council is scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon to discuss its future plans, including “how the party will be led and by whom,” he said.
If Ms. Bhutto’s party does forge ahead with elections, it is unclear whether Mr. Sharif will be persuaded to drop the boycott and join the race. A Peoples Party spokeswoman, Sherry Rehman, said both parties shared the same goal: the restoration of democracy. “We had a very good meeting,” she said Saturday evening. “They were very deeply aggrieved by our loss. They said it’s their loss.”
As they say, developing…
Update 2: The Pakistani Spectator makes note of the obvious parallel between the Kennedys and the Bhuttos.
Update 3: Bloomberg News updates its report from earlier today:
The [PPP] will name Bhutto’s successor tomorrow and may also decide on whether to participate in the elections or call for postponement, AAJ television channel reported, citing Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari. Bhutto has named a successor in her will, Zardari said.
Update 4: Sylvia @ Problem Chylde has compiled an exhaustive, must read collection of Bhutto-related links, including this unfortunate post from Moe @ Jezebel (yes, Jezebel *sigh*):
So, was Musharraf, who’d just grudgingly conceded to share power with Bhutto and give up his army leadership position, behind the hit? That’s what conspiracy theorists inside my kitchen seem to believe. But then you’ve gotta wonder how he did it. Did Mr. Enemy of Terrorism Musharraf contract out a suicide bomber from Al Qaeda Inc.? Or does the Pakistani Army have a top-secret suicide unit, and if so, what do you have to do to get yourself enlisted in that? Josh Foust, of Registan.net and “That’s So Jane’s!” columns of yore says the theory doesn’t make sense. “She works much better as an opponent than as a martyr” for Musharraf, he claims. CNN seems to be focused on the question of what happens next: will they invoke military rule? (Isn’t that what you would do?)
Ok, I don’t expect Foreign Affairs or Le Monde diplomatique to opine on Paris Hilton’s recent inheritance trouble. Methinks the folks @ Gawker Media should avoid attempts at serious foreign policy analysis (note: ZOMG Bhutto was gettin’ teh FAT!!111 doesn’t cut it) and stick to their area of expertise, ie, insubstantial celebrity panty-sniffing. To quote Ilyka Damen, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
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.
x-posted @ Comments From Left Field
Which is to say, not in the fucking least.
I second Alison: please, for the love of God, enough with the slavering, credulous media greenwashing re: nuclear power. Because the prospect of this and this demands serious scrutiny, not lazy stenography.
Related: The Financial Post on how nuclear PR has helped transform a once-feared technology into an ‘environmentally friendly’ energy alternative, noting that market realities may ultimately render industry re-branding efforts irrelevant; David Fenton: fighting fire with fire.