Wednesday, December 05, 2007

NIE reaction round-up

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(My own reaction is here.)

Slate's Fred Kaplan, one of my go-to commentators on military and national security issues, examines the recently-released NIE and admits that "President Bush and the administration's hawkish faction, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, can take some solace from the new intelligence estimate. For instance, the NIE states, again 'with high confidence,' that until the fall of 2003, the Iranians were developing nuclear weapons. It also notes that they are continuing civilian work 'related to uranium conversion and enrichment.'"

However, it was "increasing international scrutiny and pressure" that prompted Iran to halt the militarized component of its nuclear program, not the saber-rattling of Cheney and the warmongers.

Kaplan's very sensible conclusion: "If there was ever a possibility that President George W. Bush would drop bombs on Iran, the chances have now shrunk to nearly zero."


But wait. Not so fast.

As I argued yesterday -- see link above -- Bush's NSA/mouthpiece, Stephen Hadley, responded to the NIE by patting the Bush Administration (and himself?) on the back, by praising his boss's "strategy" (which, as spun, includes aggressive international diplomacy, not gearing up for war), and by issuing, between the lines, a carefully and indeed esoterically presented advocation of the warmongering position.

That advocation continued at Bush's press conference yesterday -- needless to say, the scribes on hand were curious: the NIE seems to refute the claims made by Cheney and the warmongers with respect to Iran's nuclear intentions and current capacity. In response to the first question, the president said this: "Here's what we know. We know that they're still trying to learn how to enrich uranium. We know that enriching uranium is an important step in a country who wants to develop a weapon. We know they had a program. We know the program is halted."

In other words, fuck the NIE.

The militarized component of the program may have been halted, but Iran still seeks nuclear weapons and therefore remains a serious threat. Note that this was one of the revisionist arguments made in support of the Iraq War: Saddam may not have had any WMDs, but he once had them and may have sought them again and was therefore a threat -- and so pre-emptive war was justified. The case for immediate war -- Cheney's case -- may have suffered a serious blow with the release of this NIE, but the case for war, according to the warmongers, remains.

To Bush's credit, however, he praised the intelligence community for its "good work" and declared that ongoing international pressure is required -- on the latter point, I agree; on the former point, I assume the intelligence community got this right and is therefore deserving of praise. Still, he argued that "[t]he best diplomacy, effective diplomacy, is one of which all options are on the table" -- this is the thin end of the wedge, an opening for the warmongers. If and when the U.S. determines that diplomacy is not working and/or that Iran is not negotiating in good faith, the "option" of pre-emptive military action can be triggered.

And for all the pro-diplomacy talk from the president, I return to a point made by Kevin Drum (among others): "This NIE was apparently finished a year ago, and its basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House well before that. This means that all the leaks, all the World War III stuff, all the blustering about the IAEA -- all of it was approved for public consumption after Cheney/Bush/Rice/etc. knew perfectly well it was mostly baseless." Which means that Bush and his top officials have essentially been lying about, or at the very least misrepresenting, the Iranian threat for at least the past year -- but probably for much longer.


Some important articles/posts to check out:

Scott Horton, Harper's: "[We] have been pointing for the better part of the year to the very strange goings-on surrounding the preparation and issuance of a vital intelligence report on the state of Iran’s nuclear project. The White House, and particularly Vice President Cheney, has been feverishly attempting to stop its issuance. The Director of National Intelligence, McConnell, has been at odds to oppose its declassification. In sum, something was there and the war party was intensely upset about it."

Think Progress: According to The New Yorker's Sy Hersh, "Bush actually knew about the NIE at least two days earlier and had a 'private discussion' about it with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the Middle East peace summit in Annapolis, MD, last week."

Think Progress: At his press conference yesterday, Bush admitted this: "I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John -- Mike McConnell came in and said, We have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze." So McConnell didn't tell and Bush didn't ask? About something as important as Iran's nuclear program?

TP: "At the same time Bush was ratcheting up the rhetoric on Iran, he was told by his National Intelligence Director that that [sic] have 'some new information.' Yet Bush wants the public to believe he never learned what the information was, nor was he interested." More, WaPo is reporting that "intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration" as early as July. Which means that Bush and the warmongers were making their case against Iran even after the new intelligence was first disseminated.


None of this is stopping the warmongers, however. It didn't stop them earlier this year, and it certainly isn't now.

At Commentary, leading neocon Norman Podhoretz is attacking the intelligence community -- blaming the messenger, that is, and thereby casting doubt on the intelligence itself. It is "bending over backward" to avoid another Iraq fiasco, giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, and seeking to undermine Bush, against whom it has a serious grudge.

The Weekly Standard, home to neocon saber-rattling at its most grotesque, picks up on Podhoretz's sophistic attack and runs with it.

Bush at least talks positively about diplomacy, about the intelligence community, and about keeping all options on the table -- however insincerely. The neocons have no such diplomatic touch themselves. From the weeds of their rags, from the luxury of their think tanks, they can afford to be more blunt.

The drumbeat for war is as loud and as demanding as ever.


Andrew Sullivan: "My hunch is that this is the final collapse of the neocon wing of the Bush administration. They simply couldn't survive Iraq."

I'm not so sure. Not yet. (See above.)

Glenn Greenwald:

Over the past year, the rhetoric from our Serious Foreign Policy establishment regarding the supposed threat posed by Iran's active pursuit of nuclear weapons has severely escalated both in terms of shrillness and threats. Opposition to this building hysteria has been led by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who -- exactly as he did prior to the invasion of Iraq -- has been relentlessly warning that there is no real evidence to support these war-fueling allegations.

Because of that, he has been relentlessly attacked and smeared by our Serious Foreign Policy elite -- yet again. And yet again, ElBaradei has been completely vindicated, and our Serious Foriegn Policy Experts exposed as serial fabricators, fear-mongerers and hysterics.

A long and rewarding post. Make sure to read it all.

Josh Marshall: "If you look closely at what President Bush said this morning about the Iran intelligence, his dodge about what he knew and when is actually worse than the charge he was trying to deny."

John Aravosis: "Bush lied to the media and got us into a war with Iraq. The media refused to do their job, and led us into that war. Now Bush has been caught lying to us again, repeatedly, about going to war with Iran, and the media has, again, rolled over and kicked its legs up in the air.

Not that one should expect much else from the White House press corps.

Steve Benen: "So, let’s review what we’ve learned from the White House over the last 24 hours. The DNI told Bush there was important new information on Iran, but the president didn’t ask what it was. The president was, and was not, told to “stand down” when it came to Iran, advice he both ignored and did not receive. All the while, the White House was publicly making assessments of the Iranian threat, all of which contradicted the evidence they did, and did not, see. Just when it seemed as if the Bush gang couldn’t get any more embarrassing, these guys manage to kick things up a notch. It’s almost impressive."

For more see more Benen, Matt Yglesias, Cernig, Damozel, Clammyc, Kyle Moore here and here, Libby Spencer here and here, and much else at Memeorandum.

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