This week's big news story has been the new National Intelligence Estimate summary that claims that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This is a complete turnaround from the NIE summary released two years ago that warned of Tehran's obsession with acquiring a nuclear weapon and placed a ten year time line on that goal.
Of course the Bush Administration, and Democrats like Hillary Clinton, who must viewed as "hawkish", have been warning for some time that Iran is on a dangerous quest to develop a nuclear weapon, and that the US will not allow that to happen. Democrat leaders smelled blood in the NIE summary, and their reactions (compiled by RushLimbaugh.com) were predictable:
HARRY REID: I would be very surprised if, when this report came out yesterday and was made public, that the president didn't already know all about it.
JOE BIDEN: The president raised the specter of World War III with Iran because, as he said, its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, months after he had been told by our intelligence community it's likely that Iran had halted its weapons program.
RAHM EMANUEL: This report is a game changer. Okay?
HILLARY CLINTON: I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing's changed and, therefore, nothing in American policy has to change. I have, for two years, advocated diplomatic engagement with Iran, and I think that's what the president should do.
BARAK OBAMA: They should have stopped the saber rattling, shouldn't have never [sic] started it, and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.
JAY ROCKEFELLER: I have to believe that he knew what was going on. Why was he talking about a nuclear Holocaust? Why was he talking about all of those things?
This is amazing, isn't it? US intelligence is flawed, it's unreliable, it's manipulated by the Bush White House for propaganda purposes ... yet suddenly, when it seems that US intelligence can be used to damage Bush, our intelligence is inerrant and infallible. At what other time have you heard Democrats or anyone else demand that we completely alter our foreign policy based on one intelligence summary?
Let me put this in perspective. Historically, the NIE reports have been notoriously inaccurate -- for example, take a few minutes and read through this summary of the 2002 NIE report that stated that "Iraq 'is reconstituting its nuclear program,' 'has chemical and biological weapons,' and that 'all key aspects--R&D [research and development], production, and weaponization--of Iraq's offensive biological weapons program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.'" And in a summary of the August 2005 NIE summary on Iran, The Washington Post reported that "U.S. intelligence knows "disturbingly little" about Iran, and about North Korea."
John Bolton has a good analysis of the flaws and ambiguities of the report in today's Washington Post. Bolton also notes, "The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause."
Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh had this conversation with a very knowledgeable woman who had worked previously in the Defense Intelligence Agency:
CALLER: Look at page four. I'll read it to you. "This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons." That's actually in boldface type on page four of the NIE.
RUSH: Well, that's absurd!
CALLER: It's the kind of thing... It's a Zen sort of statement. You know, you could be communicating your stance on this and then this is what I'm going to tell you. It's not the way... A military officer who wrote something like that would get locked up by the commander and told to go sit in the corner.
CALLER: Because it leaves an invalid impression. You may lay out the exact truth with respect to each of your supporting points and comments, but if you say up front things that leave a misleading impression, then you should be shot.
RUSH: (laughs) Well, wait a minute. Isn't it consistent, though, for them to say, "We do not assume they're pursuing nuclear weapons"? Isn't that consistent with the opening line in the key judgment?
CALLER: Well, it leaves an impression of inconsistency, although I can tell you that an intelligence officer who wrote this thing would come back and say, "Well, that sentence doesn't mean that we don't think they intend to acquire nuclear weapons. It just means that we didn't assume that in writing this NIE."
RUSH: Oh. Oh, oh, oh, oh. Oh, okay. I misunderstood you. I'm sorry.
CALLER: Well, and I can fully understand how you would misunderstand that. I wouldn't have written that sentence in that way.
RUSH: It's a CYA.
CALLER: Pretty much, yes.
RUSH: It's an ambiguous CYA, so that no matter what ends up happening in the future they can't be held accountable for what they wrote.
CALLER: That's how it comes off, yes. When you are in the line of intelligence, you learn to put your key judgment up front, meaning, "If you take nothing else away, remember this 25-word summary of what I said."
RUSH: Which has got a lot of politics behind it in this case.
CALLER: Exactly. I will tell you this, having worked with the DIA and the military service agencies, the way they probably were gotten to sign off on this is because their loyalty is to their military bosses. They're not going to sign on to something that's misleading. I imagine that the way they signed off on this was that it was couched in these kind of non-accountable terms. Basically, everything CIA said is probably technically correct as far as they know. It's the structure of this thing that makes all the difference. ... My bottom line on this is that, as an intelligence document, it is a waffling document in terms of where it should be accountable and make statements, and that's what we... Okay, if Iran halted its program in '03, what does that mean about Iran's intentions? You know, "How was Iran, in fact, influenced to do that?" and this document doesn't do that.
And that's really the big question. Why did Iran halt its nuclear weapons program? Why did they do it in 2003? Why do the Israelis still believe that Iran is set on acquiring nuclear weapons? We know that Iran has openly mocked the UN and has unwaveringly pursued its program to enrich uranium into nuclear fuel. As far as we know, they are close to mastering - or have already mastered - the nuclear fuel cycle.
Of course the Iranian government was thrilled with this report. They know that President Bush's hands are tied, because now "everyone knows" that their nuclear fuel enrichment program is "peaceful."
Iran presents us with the perfect example of a situation in which we may endanger ourselves greatly by not "honoring the threat." Iran is a bully. She supplies munitions and training to terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. She controls the governments of Syria and Lebanon. She controls Hezbollah. She provides weapons and training to Iraqi insurgents and possibly to al-Qaeda operatives inside Iraq. And she has been philosophically and culturally at war with America for nearly 30 years. We dismiss Iran at our own peril.