“How can you trust the intelligence community to get it right on Iran? They got Iraq wrong in 2002 and now this?” The “this” is the NIE on Iran and its search for nukes.
That in a nutshell is one of the prevalent reactions of neocons and Bush true believers. But wait, there is more. John Bolton told Wolf Blitzer that the NIE was the handiwork of exiled State Department officials hell bent on undermining Bush and this country.
Well, I think it’s potentially wrong. But I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.
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This is one of the neocon talking points. Check out the ravings of Norman Podhoretz, a senior statesman of the neocons. The Pod Man wrote:
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.This blog was one of the first to report that the NIE was being delayed for political reasons. George Bush tried his moron act again today (i.e., “I didn’t find out about this until last week.”) but this time the turd ain’t floating. The news that Iran ended its nuclear program in 2003 was briefed to George Bush in the Presidential Daily Brief. He has known about this, I am told, for at least one year. George Bush is lying when he insists he had no inkling, until last week, that the intelligence community believed Iran halted its nuke program in 2003.
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.”
This is the kind of earthshaking intel that analysts rarely get to see. What is remarkable about the NIE is the consensus in the intelligence community about the validity of this info. Compare this to the execrable 2002 NIE on Iraq. There was no consensus in the intelligence community about Iraq’s efforts to acquire nukes. The”true believers” held the day and their position was prominently featured in the final draft. Dissenters–State’s Intelligence and Research Bureau and the Department of Energy–were relegated to footnotes and comments separated from the claim.
When you do an NIE it is incumbent on the writers to clearly state whether there is consensus or dissent. And if there is disagreement then that should be reflected in the text. In the case of the October 2002 abortion, the NIC editors should have noted that there was disagreement in the intelligence community about Iraq’s efforts to rebuild its nuclear program. They should have written something like, “analysts at the CIA and DIA believe Saddam is trying but analysts at INR and DOE believe the evidence points to non-nuclear activity”. Instead, the NIC editors let stand the misleading notion that Iraq was rebuilding a nuclear weapons program even though all agreed that Iraq was not trying to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger. The senior NIC officials failed to do their duty in 2002.
Not the case today. The NIC stepped up and refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Dick Cheney and his minions to gut the effort. This happened thanks to the convergence of several factors. First, most of the Bush neocon ideologues are gone–Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Wurmser, Libby, etc. Second, the Democrats control the House and Senate Intelligence committee and were receiving reports from analysts about the bullying by Cheney and others who were trying to sandbag the conclusions. Third, senior intelligence officers learned the lesson of 2002 and returned to the tradition of telling the President the truth, no matter how unpopular or unpalatable. And finally, this Administration’s days are numbered and the analysts can read the tea leaves. They know there is no percentage in pandering to power by serving up half-truths and wishful thinking.
But let’s not celebrate too strongly. It is clear from the Bush presser today that he is not backing off an inch from his delusion about the Iranians and his commitment to do something about them. Fortunately, the release of this NIE hems him in a bit and limits his options for using military force. It also reminds the American people that serious threats can be resolved with diplomacy rather than rely on testosterone laden military fantasies. If political pressure can keep Iran from building nukes then that is the course we should pursue above all others. Eat that one Mr. Podhoretz.
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