December 4, 2007
So now we learn that the National Intelligence Estimate given to President Bush two months ago cast doubt on Iran's intention of producing a nuclear weapon. It is now believed that Iran halted its weapons program in 2003 -- the same year that Iraq was liberated. The new NIE represents a strong consensus opinion among intelligence experts, and undercuts Bush's attempt to use the threat of military force as leverage to get Iran to make major concessions on its nuclear research program. Two years ago, the NIE expressed "high confidence" that Iran was determined to build its own nuclear weapons. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley put an upbeat spin on this stunning development, saying it is "good news." See Washington Post. Well, sure it is, but it's going to make it a lot harder to keep up the pressure on Tehran. Moscow and Beijing have been dragging their heels in the U.N. Security Council all along, and this will give them justification to become even more uncooperative with regards to imposing sanctions on Iran. That constitutes a big setback for U.S. foreign policy goals. After all, no one should doubt that Iran remains as hostile and as determined to attack Western interests as ever.
The strange thing is that Bush warned only a few weeks ago that nuclear weapons in Iran would raise the threat of World War III breaking out -- a possibility that we thought had ended with the end of the Cold War. Didn't he believe the report he was given? Bush could have used the NIE report to claim that his Iraq liberation policy had succeeded in persuading the Iranians to back off their nuclear ambitions back in 2003. Instead, now he has egg on his face. As Daniel Drezner wryly noted, "That's one heckuva NIE on Iran." (Referring to hapless former FEMA Director Michael Brown, of course. ) Drezner also pointed out, "One obvious implication: whatever slim chance there existed of a U.S. military intervention in Iran over the next 13 months just got way, way slimmer." I was skeptical about all that saber-rattling, anyway.