Yesterday I was discussing life, the Universe, and everything with a friend who is a psychologist-turned-mystery novelist. He expressed a theory about the apparent collapse of conventional wisdom regarding Iran in the face of a new National Intelligence Estimate that seems to indicate something about how misplaced the Bush administration’s truculence toward Iran has been. That theory ran, approximately, that the newspapers in more liberal markets would cover the story from the outset, while others would wait and start their coverage with the White House response; the implication, of course, is that the story would only be covered in certain markets once it was framed by the Bush administration. I like his theories. They’re never entirely damning, always relevant and at least partially correct (nobody’s perfect, right?), and amusing in the sense that, as long as we’re stuck trying to figure out what the hell the administration thinks it is doing, we should not let the neck-deep flood of sewage emanating from the White House depress us too much.
Nonetheless, I confess I did not rush home and test that theory. Consider it a personal failing. (After all, I’m overdue following up on a couple of scandalous political stories from the last couple weeks; I look like an idiot leaving them where they are.)
But I did, while picking through headlines, come across Robert Baer’s piece for Time:
Bombing Iran, it seems, is now off the table. There’s no other reasonable take on the latest National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
But there is also no doubt that the Bush White House was behind this NIE. While the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the “intelligence community” contribute to each National Intelligence Estimate, you can bet that an explosive, 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the President.
Naturally, I dropped the link into an email and sent it flying in a matter of seconds.
A couple of questions suggest themselves, and as politely as possible.
The first issue I would ask of Mr. Baer, a former CIA officer with experience in the Middle East, is, “What do we expect that the president green-lit the report? What was he supposed to do, send them back and say, ‘Bring me a report that tells me what I want to hear’?”
After all, cooked intelligence seems to be at the heart of the discussion over the propriety and justice of the Iraqi Bush War. See, the thing is that Baer does not seem to be doing a wash job for the administration. He notes how this NIE will not settle well with neocon hawks, who will accuse the intelligence community of incompetence, and also how National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley claims the administration’s diplomatic efforts forced Iran to back down. And Mr. Baer, to his credit, does not buy either notion.
“The real story behind this NIE,” wrote Baer, “is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far.”
What, exactly, does this mean? That the administration has finally realized that extending the Bush Wars to Iran is politically untenable at home and abroad? That it is a bad investment of military resources?
I recognize that we want to believe the best about our leaders, that it hurts us deeply to think that we have invested eight years of our lives in an administration that is either a testament to human stupidity or a new standard in corruption. But what suggestions do we really have that political viability or the general health of our armed services are remotely important to President Bush and his cronies? What bridge is the administration allegedly unwilling to burn? It does not make sense that the administration would come so far only to stop because familiar challenges—especially a lack of credible justification—have returned?
The second question is to wonder if Mr. Baer actually believes that the NIE will bring any significant changes. As Maureen Dowd noted, “ Just because the facts on which he based his white-hot rhetoric about Iran possibly sparking World War III have been debunked, W. said with his usual twisted logic, why should his policy change?”
It would seem, also, that Ms. Dowd did not miss Baer’s article:
Even though Sy Hersh claims that the top echelon of the White House has long known of the conclusion that Iran had stopped its nuke program, and that Dick Cheney “has kept his foot on the neck of that report,” the president says he was briefed on it only last week. Others conspiratorially speculate that the president had to have green-lighted the report to take the air out of the hawks’ Iran push.
It would appear that the policy is not changing. Certainly, the helm might make a few corrections, but the ship of state appears to be struggling to keep its original course of a showdown with Iran. Kim Landers reported earlier today for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
Two days after a US intelligence report stated Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program, US President George W Bush is calling on Tehran to come clean about it ….
…. “These countries understand that the Iranian nuclear issue is a problem and continues to be a problem that must be addressed by the international community,” he said ….
…. “They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept the longstanding offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate,” he said.
“Or they can continue on a path of isolation.”
And from Peter Baker and Robin Wright of the Washington Post:
President Bush scrambled yesterday to hold together a fragile international coalition against Iran, declaring that the Islamic republic remains “dangerous” and that “nothing has changed” despite a new intelligence report that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.
While his top diplomats reached out to key counterparts, Bush began calling world leaders and held a White House news conference to argue that the new National Intelligence Estimate only reinforces the need for diplomatic pressure against Iran. Although the report determined that Iran stopped seeking a nuclear bomb in 2003, Bush said Tehran’s secrecy shows it cannot be trusted.
Or we could just go straight to the White House:
Q: Mr. President, thank you. Just to follow, I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as “World War III” was making it into conversation, at no point nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, maybe you want to back it down a little bit?
THE PRESIDENT: No, nobody ever told me that. Having said—having laid that out, I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. Nothing has changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don’t we just stop worrying about it. Quite the contrary. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn’t changed.
And I just explained, Jim, that if you want to avoid a really problematic situation in the Middle East, now is the time to continue to work together. That’s our message to our allies, and it’s an important message for them to hear. And here’s the reason why: In order for a nation to develop a nuclear weapons program they must have the materials from which to make a bomb, the know-how on how to take that material and make it explode, and a delivery system.
Now, the Iranians—the most difficult aspect of developing a weapons program, or as some would say, the long pole in the tent, is enriching uranium. This is a nation—Iran is a nation that is testing ballistic missiles. And it is a nation that is trying to enrich uranium. The NIE says this is a country that had a covert nuclear weapons program, which, by the way, they have failed to disclose, even today. They have never admitted the program existed in the first place.
The danger is, is that they can enrich, play like they got a civilian program—or have a civilian program, or claim it’s a civilian program—and pass the knowledge to a covert military program. And then the danger is, is at some point in the future, they show up with a weapon. And my comments are, now is the time to work together to prevent that scenario from taking place. It’s in our interests.
The good news, Mr. Baer wrote, is that “Armageddon is postponed.” How can he tell?