National Intelligence Estimate rains on Iran war drive

A we’ve noted before, the National Intelligence Estimateā€”a body made up of analysts from 16 US spy agenciesā€”appears to be in the corner of the “pragmatist” wing of the ruling elites. Its new report, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” finds Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not resumed it, despite initiating the uranium enrichment program at the Natanz facility. The front-page headline in the New York Times Dec. 4 calls the finding a “major reversal.” USA Today states: “The estimate reverses claims the intelligence community made two years ago that Iran appeared ‘determined to develop’ a nuclear weapons program.”

An accompanying New York Times analysis names the architect of the thesis that Iran was aggressively seeking the bomb as Robert G. Joseph, who globe-trotted around to world capitals in 2005 putting the case to foreign officials. The Times, in its maddening way, does not tell us what agency Jospeh then served with, leaving the impression that a presumably unified entity called the “intelligence community” simply made an error in ’05 and has since changed its mind. Yet Jospeh appears to remain in the intransigent camp. “This report will be used to undercut our efforts to build a consensus that Iran must suspend its enrichment program, playing to those who support concessions and undermining the prospects for effective pressure on the regime,” he told the Times.

Joseph’s profile on RightWeb indicates he was serving on the National Security Council in 2005, where was pointman for nuclear issues and “relay[ed] neoconservative views to [then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice.” Later that year, he replaced John Bolton as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security when the latter become UN ambassador.

The new report should be properly read as another salvo against the neocons from within the Beltway elites, and further evidence of the tilt to the pragmatists (also evidenced by Bolton’s own demotion a year ago).

Bush himself sounded less than pleased with his own agencies’ findings. “Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous, if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” he told a press conference, in comments the New York Times called “sounding defensive.” “What’s to say they couldnā€™t start another covert nuclear weapons program?”

AIPAC took a more creative tack, with spokesman Josh Block actually citing the Estimate’s findings as vindication. “Far from acquitting Iran, the NIE reveals that Tehran continues to violate the international community’s calls to end the pursuit of the fuel cycle and the ability to make highly enriched uranium, concludes that Iran has utilized and has at its disposal a hidden, secret second unacknowledged, unmonitored track for enriching bomb fuel, and has engaged in a nuclear weaponization program, an assessment never before made public by the American intelligence community,” Block said. “All in all, it’s a clarion call for additional and continued effort to pressure Iran economically and politically to end its illicit nuclear programs.” (JTA, Dec. 4)

Which raises the question of whether the neocons and their hardline sympathists in the administration (chiefly Cheney) will prevail, and spread the war to Iran despite the countervailing evidence in the year remaining to themā€”or if Israel will strike Iran first. Or if, just maybe, reason will prevail.

See our last posts on Iran and nuclear fear, the pragmatists and the neocons.